Is Voting a Crime After All ?

Published on 18th March 2008

Running for safety
It was the most hotly contested election in Kenya's history. Aspiring candidates criscrossed every part of the choppers, 4-wheel drives, from door to door, endearing themselves to the electorate.


Hope, anticipation, a vision for the future, desperate hearts of many Kenyans were with their leaders wherever they went. There was a hope for democracy to prevail. For the first time in Kenya's  history, women, men and youth turned up in large numbers to exercise their democratic right.


I was not left behind. I woke up at 4am, hoping to be among the first on the queue to cast my vote. To my surprise, a multitude of voters had arrived earlier than me at the polling station!


Everything seemed to go well under the watchful eye of the local and international observers. Then, it happened.Parliamentary results started  streaming in unaccompanied by presidential results. Everyone read mischief. Mr. Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) could not get hold of the withheld results. He said that his returning officers had switched off their phones.


"They must be cooking something...but I don't know what it is. It were better if such people were not born," Kivuitu said.


Anxiety increased. Tension mounted. Under heavy guard, Kivuitu appeared at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre to announce the results. In spite of the Orange Democratic Movement's submission about flaws in the results he was reading, the chairperson remained adamant. Pandemonium broke loose and he was whisked to an undisclosed destination where he declared Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity winner, and witnessed a hurried sunset swearing in.


Suddenly, hell broke loose. Sporadic violence erupted in various parts of the country. Live broadcasts were proscribed. Houses were torched. Tribal evictions ensued. Roads were barricaded. Shops and schools were closed.  Food prices soared. Hospitals were filled with the dying and wounded. Morgues could not accomodate the surge of lifeless bodies...whose only crime, it seems,  was voting.


Kenya, once an 'island of peace,' lost its peace. A country that had participated effectively in peace missions could not contain its peace! In less than 48 hours, over 150 lives had been lost.People became refugees in their own country.Nakuru show ground, once a place for recreation and entertainment, turned into a home for thousands of displaced  kikuyu communities from various parts of the Rift valley and Nyanza Provinces.Afraha stadium, on the other hand, housed the Luo communities from around Nakuru. It was a common occurance to find thirty people hurdled together in a one bedroomed house. Women and childeren would sleep as men kept vigil.


In my home town Nakuru, tension was high. No one dared talk of the election results in public. It was like we had gone back to the years before independence. Freedom of expression was no more. One felt like a prisoner in their own home.


I was baffled by the fact that highly educated people, for weeks on end, could not agree. They would shout that there was no need for international mediation while they themselves were not willing to negotiate! Well did Lord Acton commend that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!


The country was plunging headlong into genocide were it not for the mediation of the Kofi Annan led peace talks, courtesy of the African Union and the international community.


What is it in African politics that makes things to come to a standstill during the elections? How can a few people hold over thirty million Kenyans at ransom?


It is time the lucrative incentives attracting a majority of people towards  politics were reduced and much emphasis placed on business and productivity. It is time that Kenyan taxpayers took the driver's seat and withheld tax when the legislature drives them into the abyss. Policies should be put in place to enable the citizen to keep more of what he earns. In this way, they shall not be swayed by the whims of politicians.


Just imagine, in less than 40 days, over 1,000 lives were lost and about half a million people displaced. The country is Kshs 31.5 billion poorer. People are more sensitive on tribe and ethnicity.Why? The 'crime' of voting! Shall we allow this to happen again?

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