Kenyans Living Abroad to Sue Electoral Body over Restricted Voter Listing

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Kenyans living abroad say they will sue the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for restricting diaspora voters’ registration to the East African Community and South Africa.

On Wednesday, the Kenya Diaspora Alliance, the umbrella body of 34 lobby groups of Kenyans living abroad, said the electoral agency was failing to implement a Supreme Court directive issued in 2015, to ensure diaspora Kenyans participate in elections.

“We have to go back to court because we don’t agree with this decision,” said Shem Ochuodho, the global chairman of the alliance said.

“The Supreme Court in May 2015 said IEBC should put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure the diaspora registers and votes. From our meeting, it is clear that this infrastructure has not been put in place.”

Officials from the group met with IEBC chairman Wanyonyi Chebukati and Commissioner Rosyline Kwamboka Akombe, who handles diaspora issues.

It followed a decision by the IEBC not to register voters living outside Africa but focusing on the diaspora in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Africa.

Kenyans living these countries will only be allowed to vote for the President, as was the case in 2013.

The Alliance is also taking issue with top politicians in the country in what they say are insincere promises to have them vote.

Dr Ochuodho challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta, Cord leader Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, the three leader who have recently either pledged to have the diaspora vote or sought financial support from them, to come clear on whether they actually want Kenyans abroad to vote.

Mr Chebukati told journalists on Tuesday that the Commission had faced logistical challenges to spread the service beyond these countries.

“Considering logistics and constraints of time, the commission saw it prudent and tenable to start with these five countries.

“The law allows for progressive registration and voting by Kenyans in the diaspora and more countries will be included in future,” he said.

But Dr Ochuodho, himself a former Rangwe MP, said the Alliance disagreed with the Commission’s understanding of the word “progressive,” something they would want the Court to interpret.

“At this rate, it will take more than 100 years for all the diaspora to vote.

“We cannot agree with their definition of what progressive means. Our understanding is that maybe the first time, we were voting for the President, then we include Governors and MPs, and later maybe Senators and so on.”

The KDA and IEBC have had a litigious relationship since 2012 when they compelled the Commission to include them in the voting.

In July 2012, the group went to the High Court seeking a declaration that Kenyans abroad have inviolable rights to vote in Kenyan elections. They asked to be allowed to vote and that the IEBC registers and organises for those elections in a way that they will be able to take part without travelling back home.

The High Court dismissed the petition but the groups contested the verdict in the Court of Appeal. The appellate court agreed with the groups. However, the Commission appealed that decision in the Supreme Court which in turn said the Commission should ensure comprehensive registration of voters abroad.

However, the commission was told it could expand such registration progressively according to available resources. In fact the apex Court in the country directed that the Commission should also file annual reports to Parliament stating that progress on how they plan to include the diaspora.

The Alliance says the Commission has not been following these orders.

By Aggrey Mutambo