Kenya’s general election is only six months away, but many potential voters are questioning whether to vote at all.
“If you go out to vote for politicians, they just help their families,” said 25-year-old Mary Nyambura, a food stand vendor in Nairobi.
“They don’t help us,” she said, adding, “We’re just hustling.”
Nyambura isn’t registered to vote and doesn’t plan to. And she’s not alone.
“Generally, turnout for voter registration this time around has been low, if compared to the past.”
“Generally, turnout for voter registration this time around has been low if compared to the past,” said Rasi Masudi, director of voter registration and electoral operations at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which oversees Kenya’s elections.
The commission had only reached about a third of its target to register 6 million new voters by the time registration ended on Sunday.
“The major reason is basically a very high incidence of voter apathy. We have never seen a situation like this before,” said Masudi, who worries that it will translate to low turnout on Election Day.
“We have engaged with faith-based organizations. We have engaged with the political parties, we have engaged with the civil society youth forums,” in order to increase turnout, he added.
But distrust in Kenya’s political system runs high, said Daisy Amdany, executive director of the Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust.
“The law gives us legitimate means by which we can affect change. So, the first thing that we need to do is to actually have our voters’ cards ready,” she said.
But she also understands where the voter apathy comes from. Amdany argues that recent controversial bills passed by Parliament and proposed changes to Kenya’s electoral bill are making people more suspicious.
“They're actually shifting goalposts, they're changing the law. All these are things that happened in 2007,” she said, referring to the deadly election violence that year.
Still, 21-year-old Carrytone Iyagunda remained optimistic as he lined up at an IEBC booth to register to vote for the very first time.
“To register to vote is my freedom. If you register, you can choose a leader who will help with progress.”
“To register to vote is my freedom,” he said. “If you register, you can choose a leader who will help with progress.”
It was the same sentiment shared by 28-year-old Alvaro Thuo when he voted for the first time. But now, he said that he feels disillusioned.
“I feel like the current crop of leadership has let us down,” said Thuo, citing corruption.
Since Thuo has voted in the past, he remains registered. But he puts the odds of him voting this time at around 10%-15%.
“Why bother to line up if the next crop of leader does nothing to better your life?” he asked.