New technology used for fair, safe elections in Kenya

By by Mary Wairimu  |  Dec. 17, 2012 at 5:28 PM
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NAIROBI, Kenya (GPI)-- Peris Wanjiku, a secondhand clothes trader at Kangemi market in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, receives a text alert on her phone. Her mouth twists into a grimace as she reads a text from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the new body conducting elections in Kenya, reminding her to register to vote. “Why wait until the last minute?” the message reads. “Avoid the long queues. Go register as a voter now. Your vote is your future.” But Wanjiku says she is not interested in participating in the March general elections and will not register as a voter after the violence following the last elections.
 “The first time I voted was in 2007, and I was thrown out of my home immediately after the presidential results were announced,” says the 50-year-old mother of four who was displaced from her home in the Rift Valley province during the violence. Wanjiku belongs to the Kikuyu tribe, which was a minority in the region dominated by the Kalenjin community. During the 2007 elections, the Kalenjin community was supporting Raila Odinga, now prime minister. When incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, of the Kikuyu tribe, was declared the winner of the 2007 contest, Wanjiku says her Kalenjin neighbors attacked her. She fled with her children, and the attackers burned her house down and took her animals. “Why should we vote if it just puts us in problems?” Wanjiku asks. “Five years ago, I was living peacefully in my legally acquired land, tending to my crops and rearing cows and sheep. But days after the election, when our village was raided, I was left with nothing.” Wanjiku says that after living for three months in a displacement camp in Limuru, a town 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Nairobi, she started taking laundry jobs and saved enough capital to start her clothing business.
 But Wanjiku says she never went back to her home. She fears her neighbors may strike again as there’s still a lot of tribal division and hostility there. Voter registration ends tomorrow in Kenya, which will hold its next general election during March 2013. The country’s new electoral commission is using a biometric voter registration system and monitoring hot spots to avoid fraud and violence. While some citizens remain skeptical that the presidential elections will be credible or peaceful, others are confident in the country’s ability to execute a fair and safe election. Approximately 1,300 people were killed in the ethnic violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections, and more than 350,000 were displaced from their homes, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society. 
 The electoral body that conducted the 2007 elections, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, was disbanded. The 2010 constitution created a new electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which is carrying out the 2013 elections. One of the measures the commission has taken to ensure the elections are credible is scrapping the old voter registration system, which was cited as one of causes of the disputed results in 2007. For the first time, citizens are registering through a Biometric Voter Registration system, which takes voters’ fingerprints and photographs. This will replace the old system of registering voters manually on paper in order to avoid duplicate voters or ghost voters, people who had died after registering but were alleged to have voted. The commission has also asked for increased security in areas that are at risk for violence. “We have zoned out all the violence hot spots in the country and increased security,” says Tabitha Mutemi, the commission’s communications and corporate affairs manager. “We have also deployed two civic educators in every ward to sensitize voters on the importance of voting peacefully.”

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