Kenya

Voting is the cornerstone of democracy

Kenyans have been counting down to the second Tuesday of August since the new year.

The volume of campaign vehicles and motorcycles with announcers shouting manifesto bullet points into microphones is ever-increasing.

More videos – authentic and altered – are littering both open online spaces like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, and closed ones like Whatsapp groups and direct messages.

Candidates at all levels are most definitely running the last lap.

In the next two days, Kenyans will vote for and against different candidates for any number of reasons, and it is important to understand the reasons they cast these votes.

In a collectivist society like ours, people form opinions as groups of friends, families, churches or other religious gatherings, neighbourhood associations, ethnic clusters and more. 

In such a society, it is simplistic to imagine that people only vote for one candidate because they support their agenda when votes can be cast for other reasons.

One important reason people vote is actually to ensure that a candidate they dislike loses, or rather that the opponent of a strongly polarising race wins. 

People would do this because they may deeply dislike a candidate and want to exercise power over them.

They may not want a member of a certain tribe in that seat, and so they vote to ensure the candidate they do not want is cut out.

This can also be done as revenge against a candidate who has shown contempt for the public in the course of their campaign.

Micro-influencers 

A second reason that people vote is to retain belonging and membership in their own groups.

As mentioned earlier, smaller groups may feel beholden to leading societal stakeholders like husbands, other heads of families, especially patriarchal ones, and varied influential professionals like teachers, healthcare workers, lawyers, economists, media personnel and more.

As such, people may vote to reflect the opinions of these micro-influencers to retain their affiliations to these smaller groups.

Wives and youth may vote in the direction of a husband, members of a Sacco or a small group may vote in the direction of their chairperson, and so forth.

A third reason people may vote is to ensure that a candidate they like actually remains on the outside of state power structures.

Several vocal and impactful activists who have run for office have spent hundreds of thousands on campaigns with seemingly supportive publics and still lost because the people tell them that they prefer to know their activist is still close to them and not co-opted into the often unresponsive and distant maze of power that the government can be.

This has been a very bitter pill to swallow for many.

The Kenyan adult is very nuanced as far as reasons for voting or not voting are concerned.

As such, democracy can only be realised if all these reasons are understood deeply and taken into consideration at all voting levels, on August 9 and beyond.

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