I cannot believe it has been one and a half years since the first case of Covid-19 in Kenya. For many of us, the pandemic feels like a forever crisis, when is it going to end? Will it end?
The idea of a new normal has been thrown around, it feels like we are expected to forget our previous lives and get on board with this different reality. Don’t get me wrong, I think adaptation is the only way for people to survive, so we must adapt. However, we can all agree that adaptation is hard. Change is painful and slow and I see it often as many people in my community struggle with the losses that have been brought by Covid-19, the financial implications and the deepened inequalities. If it were up to me, I would rather have my BC (Before Covid) life back. As a Kenyan, a health crisis is not a situation you want to be in, trust me. The public healthcare system is a mess and the private system is just that….private. Private health care in Kenya is not only expensive but also exclusive. It is very dehumanizing because it prioritizes profits over people.
So you’d think that a health crisis will teach us lessons, probe our leaders to govern better, make us more involved and active as citizens, so much so we would hold our elected leaders accountable. Unfortunately, this is not the story of Kenya.
The story of Kenya is that, during a pandemic, we have been looted, perhaps more than we ever have. The story of Kenya is that, we have lost loved ones to police brutality, have experienced the highest rates of gender based violence, have higher unemployment rates and an overwhelmed healthcare system….in a pandemic. All this, while politicians gather crowds and politic, with no regard or empathy for their constituents who are struggling to survive.
As a country, we are exhausted. Our power has been watered down, our agency undermined. What could we possibly do to save this country?
Vote better? Maybe.
The General Elections are coming up in less than a year. This time, I am not only worried about electoral violence, but also that we are unprepared to have an election during a pandemic. You know how elections are held in Kenya: – long queues, crowds, commotion or stampede depending on the polling station you are in. And let us not forget all the physical touch needed to cast your vote in the ballot. With the vaccine rollout, there is hope that perhaps it may be a little safer for us to go out and cast our votes.
The vaccination process in Kenya is quite slow. It is highly unlikely that every Kenyan will be vaccinated by the next General Election.
Democracy, especially in African countries come at a high price. From wastage and looting of resources, to the losses that the electoral violence brings to communities and businesses – elections are definitely cheap. This has had me thinking, what is the cost of holding a general election during a pandemic? If Kenya is not going to vaccinate its entire population by 2022, what compromise will be made, what is the price Kenyans will pay to hold a peaceful, free, fair and credible election?
Will it be the loss of lives due to increased cases of Covid-19 or will it be the financial implications of ensuring Kenyan voters are vaccinated thus protected albeit not fully from the deadly Covid-19?
The safest way of conducting a general election during this pandemic would be to conduct it in hybrid format; that is electronically and physically for those with limited or no access to a mobile phone. With the mobile penetration levels in Kenya, we would only need a smaller percentage (I don’t have the numbers haha, do your research) to go to polling stations on the election day including in casting the vote. Conducting such an election would not only be safe but would also improve the transparency of our elections.Advocating for this kind of voter system is one I would rally around, however our 2017 history with technology tells me otherwise
So what do we do?
I believe that the IEBC and by extension the Government of Kenya needs to speak to its citizens and collectively develop strategies to ensure a people centered, peaceful, free, fair and credible General Elections. Here are some of the ways I believe we can work towards achieving this;
Recommendations for a Peaceful, Free, Fair and Credible General Elections
- Ensure full vaccination for all high risk individuals and at least 50% of the Kenyan population by July 2022.
- Public Participation is mandatory for the formulation and review of legislative frameworks related to Covid-19, General Elections including but not limited to the Pandemic Response Management Bill and the Elections Act of Kenya.
- Ensure adequate training on safety and well being for all Kenyans involved in the management of the election process including registration and polling clerks, political agents and returning officers
- Provision of protective gear for all Kenyans involved in the management of the election process. Strict adherence to masks and sanitization to minimize risk of infection.
- Set up adequate hand washing stations for voters to sanitize at the different voter registration and polling centres.
- Schedule voters and provide each voter with their own pens and papers to minimize long queues on the Election Day.
- Increase the number of polling stations to ensure social distancing in voting queues at all times.
- Special procedures for Covid-19 patients and those at risk. Patients should be able to vote in the hospitals. The right to vote must be protected for all Kenyans and the decision to vote or note can only be made by the voter.
- Political rallies must be limited. These rallies have proven to be super spreader events as evidenced during the BBI rallies. The Government should ban political gatherings and/or restrict where necessary to a limited number of people.
- Civic Education for all Kenyans to enable them understand their rights and also encourage the support of citizens in ensuring a free, fair and credible elections.
These are just but examples of the different ways we can manage our General Elections. I am certain that if more citizens are involved through public participation, we can collectively come up with solutions to these challenges of our time.
Over the next coming months, we will be running our political and civic education campaign – #TakeItToThePolls online and offline to ensure that we advocate for a people centered, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. To follow our work kindly check us out on Instagram @lesstalkke.
This is our country. We must protect it at all costs. This is why as young people, we must continue to educate and mobilize so that we can change our country. And what better way than to register as a voter and #TakeItToThePoll.
Join us today in advocating for a Peaceful, Free, Fair and Credible Election.