Monday, November 19, 2012

Come What May, I Must Vote

For the first time in Kenya’s history, Kenyans living in the Diaspora, will have an opportunity to cast their votes at select voting stations wherever they live. This is one of the perks that Kenya’s new constitution allows for and which Kenyans are and should be very proud of. Today marks the start of the voter registration process in Kenya. I will be exercising my right to vote for the first time in my life in the next elections and judging by trends on social media, it is becoming imperative that Kenyans, and especially us the youth, must exercise that right in masses.

The official statistics as of December 2011 show that 40% of Kenya’s population is unemployed. Unofficial sources have indicated that this figure may be as high as 62% with the majority of the unemployed being the youth. This is a ticking time bomb, and one which the current leadership have shied away from tackling. Most of the popular presidential aspirants (most from the upper population age groups) have not offered a concrete plan of action on how they intend reducing this rate of unemployment, and the use of emotional tactics to reach to this vulnerable section of the electorate have mostly been employed. I must vote so that I can give a chance to a President willing to work to change this state.

A few weeks ago, public servants and specifically health and education professionals were on a prolonged strike with both groups demanding both higher wages and better conditions of employment. It is very embarrassing and utterly unacceptable that some public hospitals (the only source of health care services for a majority of Kenyans) do not have basic equipment and supplies like cotton wool, swabs and test tubes. Again, it has not been priority for government to ensure key professionals are adequately remunerated and that their conditions of service are improved. Instead, Kenyans watched in horror as senior government officials struggled to take responsibility and deal with the issues. I must vote so that scenes like those stop being the norm in Kenya.

Many Kenyans still do not have access to water and electricity, especially those that live in rural Kenya. Every election season, these Kenyans are bombarded with visits and messages of change from aspiring leaders. They are given money and other short term benefits yet the next they see those they elect is the next election season. It is not right that in the 21st Century and with the kind of technological advances the world has witnessed, we should have children studying using paraffin lamps or in the dark. It is not right that there are still communities where children have to wake up early in the morning before school to walk long distance in search of firewood and water for the day. I must vote to ensure that each child is given an equal opportunity to play time, quality education and access to basic services.

Very often whenever we have Kenyan gatherings in South Africa, an odd person walks up to me and questions my tribal affiliation in Kenya. It is common practice that people do not view themselves as Kenyans/ Africans first but rather Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin or whatever other tribe first. Leaders in the past and present have used tribalism and ethnicity as campaign tactics; they have used unacceptable language and rhetoric that has had very costly consequences. Thank goodness for a new constitution where leaders are now being taken to task for using inflammatory language. I am an African and I will remain as such till the day I die. It is because of tribalism and ethnicity that the world watched as Kenyans were killed during the post election violence in 2008. Tribalism and ethnicity have resurfaced in recent ethnic clashes, which have left hundreds dead in parts of Kenya. I am going to vote because I want to send a clear message to leaders that I will not partake in politics that perpetuate tribalism.  I must vote because we have to start appreciating and exploiting all the wonderful diversity and strengths that each Kenyan regardless of tribal affiliation brings in a bid to advance Kenya and the continent.

The ills of corruption, bribery and patronage have plagued Kenya for decades. I have witnessed cases where public transport operators have publicly bribed traffic police. I have heard of instances where Kenyans have been denied the right to access key and basic services like education, health care, and even the right to have a birth certificate, identity document or passport because they have had no money or have refused to bribe government officials. Kenyans have watched as scandal after scandal has been unearthed; taxpayers’ monies have been diverted into projects that benefited only the mighty, wealthy and politically connected; money meant to support free primary education has been used to enrich education officials and countless other cases. I must vote because I want a future where meritocracy is the key to accessing gainful employment. I must vote because vulnerable groups in society must have the same rights to access basic services. I must vote because children that are not born out of wealth must have access to the best schools. I must vote because the consequences of corruption, bribery and patronage are human rights issues.

The Kenya I have always dreamt of, the Kenya that I know is possible to attain, the Kenya I wish for, will only start to take shape if I and other young people in Kenya exercise their rights to vote come March 2013. I must vote, come what may because I want to be part of change. I must vote, come what may because I want to be part of the generation that changed the course of history for Kenya and the continent.