Kenya’s electoral commission is this month expected to roll out the second mass voter enrolment in four months, hoping to add about three million new voters to its list ahead of this year’s General Election to be held on August 9.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in a statement on New Year’s eve encouraged eligible citizens to turn up at its registration centres across the country during the final mass enrolment.
The IEBC has been keen on emphasising that the scheduled voter registration, including the last one done between October 4 and November 5, 2021, are only enhanced activities in light of the constitutional requirement that the listing be continuous. High Court judges in May 2021 cited a failure by the electoral commission to continuously enrol voters among grounds for their decision to block a government-backed proposed constitutional referendum.
The latest scheduled enrolment of voters locally will run concurrently with that of eligible Kenyans in the diaspora. A majority of the new voters being targeted are young people who turned 18 in the past four years after the last elections.
But widespread apathy witnessed in the last mass voter enrolment three months ago has raised concerns that the IEBC may not realise its target of having 23 million on its voters register for the 2022 elections, up from about 19 million in 2017.
Only 1,519,294 new voters were listed by the end of the last voter registration drive on November 15, even after the IEBC revised down its target from 6.5 million to 4.5 million. The electoral commission linked the low number of people showing up at its registration centres partly to the large number of youth yet to be issued with the national identification (ID) cards, which, like a valid Kenyan passport, is a key requirement for one to be enrolled as a voter. But media reports indicate that disillusionment about poor governance, especially among unemployed youth, and the notion that elections are not transparent are also fueling the apathy.
Deputy President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who are the leading contenders in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, have in recent weeks sought to fire up their supporters to come out and register as voters during the final enrolment window set to open this January 17.
Conspiracy theories around an alleged plot to block Dr Ruto’s ascendancy to the top seat of power have been rife owing to his fallout with President Kenyatta.
The deputy president has been seen to feed the narrative with public rhetoric about the existence of a Deep State scheming against his State House ambitions. But he has recently changed tune, having apparently realised that the victim mentality could transmit apathy across his support base and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mr Odinga, who has himself alleged rigging in the past three elections, is going into this year’s election as the unlikely establishment candidate having secured the backing of senior administration figures and President Kenyatta’s campaign financiers.
Likening his fifth bid for the presidency to a war, he has been urging his supporters to arm themselves with the voter’s card to give him a chance of winning this time around.