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Youths can bring change, but only if they register as voters



IEBC clerks at the Huduma Centre in Meru at the start of the Enhanced Continuos Voter Registration. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, was also known by his brand number 46664. An amalgamation of his prison number and year of actual imprisonment, 46664 went on to have such serious brand equity that it lent itself to various charity causes. Mandela, a paragon of selfless leadership, served just one term as president, a rarity in a continent where many leaders die from the vagaries of old age while in office.

Recognising his frailties and the need to pass the baton on to the next generation, he went on to do so. In a closing statement of a speech delivered in 2007, he declared, “It is in your hands,” thus relinquishing the brand and passing on his generation’s torch to a more youthful and vitalised leadership.

Kenyan youth are familiar with such hackneyed phrases as “leaders of tomorrow” and “the youth are the future”. But it seems tomorrow never comes and future prospects remain bleak. That, perhaps, is what informs the current apathy towards voter registration efforts. Young people just aren’t interested in a process they feel disenfranchised from. To them the torch has not been handed down and remains the preserve of the aging elite.

But not voting in national elections, without good reason, is an abdication of one’s civic duty. In fact some countries take it so seriously that penalties are imposed on eligible citizens who fail to register and take part in elections.

In Kenya, one reason for not voting advanced by the youth is that it is a form of protest against the same old faces in leadership. Familiar faces and names on the ballot boxes can provide a measure of comfort to some.

But to the youth, they obscure the failures of those who have occupied political offices for decades on end. In their view, they represent those out of touch with their reality; who obsess over vanity projects that have no social benefits to them.

Unfortunately, abstentions count only where registration has taken place. Even then, they work where a system exists that takes note. In Kenya, this form of protest passes unnoticed. It is a zero-sum game pretty much like winking at a girl in the dark; the winker knows what they are doing but no one else does!

The second phase of voter registration has begun that runs until February 6. This presents a perfect chance for the youth to take matters in their hands. And they need to because left to their own devices, those in authority will, at best, make token attempts to reach young people.

For instance, hitherto, all messaging urging youth to register as voters has been through mainstream media. Yet it is widely acknowledged that any drive to recruit them must incorporate social media. The annual digital report says Kenya has 11 million active social media users. However, no election registration messages seem available on Tik ToK, Instagram or YouTube.

Young people need to be told that it is in their hands to shame those who have gamed the system for so long that they have become permanent fixtures on the political landscape. They should be aware of the awesome power of numbers that they possess if they all got voters’ cards in their hands. They need education in meaningful protest voting.

Wikipedia defines a protest vote as “a vote cast in an election to demonstrate disaffection with the choice of candidates or the current political system.” In the Kenyan context, the best way to register a protest vote is to vote for a fringe candidate or party.

Imagine the upset it would cause for mainstream parties to lose a presidential election to a political nonentity! The voice of the voter would never be taken for granted again.

This is a call to action to the youth. Now is your chance. As Mandela said, “it is in your hands” to effect the change you desire. Start by registering and voting in the elections.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst


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