In August 2010, Kenyans overwhelming approved a new constitution. While there were many changes including enhanced rights for women, the biggest change was that the nine provinces were divided into 47 counties, each having control over local issues. This “devolved government” will be led by an elected governor and a county-wide legislature.
In order for citizens to understand these changes by December 31, 2012, the Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT) and the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) conducted 72 one-day seminars for 4,500 participants plus 13 unplanned seminars in churches and government meetings for about 1,500 people. The objective of these seminars is based on the philosophy that if people know and understand the political process and are willing to participate in it, they are less likely to resort to violence to redress their grievances.
The seminars covered four main topics: the electoral process, the leadership and integrity requirements according to the new constitution, the Bill of Rights and the newly devolved governmental system. When the new constitution divided the country into 47 counties, the boundaries of these new counties were drawn along ethnic and clan lines, leaving some minority groups with no possibility of winning electoral office due to tribal voting patterns. The government itself has determined that 27 of the 47 counties have potential for ethnic violence.
We have found that citizens know very little about the new constitution, but they are eager to learn. Most of the seminars had between 40 and 80 participants. People did not want to end seminars when it was time for the facilitators to return home. This was in spite of the fact that the only “lunch” they were served for the day-long seminar was a bottle of soda and half a small loaf of bread.
Voter registration for the upcoming election was disappointing and well under the goal set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Eighteen million voters were expecting to enroll, but only 14.3 million voters or 79% of the expected number did so. Mt Elgon was one of those locations where we did civic education seminars. The result was a 8.67% higher registration of voters than in those places where we did not conduct civic education seminars.
In February when the candidates for all positions will be known and the ballots are in the process of printing, FCPT/AGLI plans at least 80 more seminars to inform people about how they can cast their vote and who is on the ballot. Not only have there been new young voters in the last five years, but, when voting only occurs once every five years, people forget how the process works. The goal is to encourage those who have registered to actually vote on election day.
In a presidential election, the winner must secure 50% plus one of the votes on the first ballot in order to win. If this does not happen, there will be a run-off election on April 11. If a run-off occurs, there is the likelihood of significant fraud and violence. We will again conduct seminars to educate the voters. Part of the content of the seminars will be to promote a peaceful, non-violent election with no post-election violence, meaning that the losers must accept their loss. This will occur only if people feel that the election was conducted accurately and fairly.
If violence occurs after either of the elections, FCPT/AGLI will be ready to lead listening sessions for those involved, including all sides in any conflict. If possible, we will even bring the various sides together so that they can talk, rather than react with revenge violence.
Information was gathered from the FUM African Ministries Board report given by Getry Agizah and from the African Great Lakes Initiative Newsletter.