Kathy Ossmann, AGLI Extended Service Volunteer
just weeks before Kenyans cast votes in the first election since adopting
a new constitution in 2010, I co-facilitated a voter education session
in southern Nandi County, site of significant post-election violence
after the last national election in 2007. We met in a church near the
cluster of Quaker schools in Kaimosi just a few miles north of the equator.
Quaker pastors from the Tuloi Friends Yearly Meeting were invited in
keeping with the AGLI/FCPT strategy of training people in positions
to share the information with others.
was designed to prepare Kenyans to cast ballots for newly created positions
within devolved governmental structures. It’s the kind of material
that needs to be fresh in voters’ minds on election day and, at
the same time, shared with many people who need the information. Shortly
after Joe and I arrived, we were part of 30 AGLI/FCPT lead trainers
who spent a week at the Peace House in Lugari Yearly Meeting, learning
and practicing the essentials of a voter education program. We and the
others then used this train-the-trainers approach to conduct voter education
sessions throughout western Kenya.
As a result
of devolution, this election put a national Senate and county governments
into operation. Existing national structures, such as the Executive
Branch and National Assembly (Parliament) were also modified. For voters,
this meant voting for six positions (the most in any previous election
was three), four of which never existed before. Our voter education
curriculum included descriptions of the structures and roles for the
new national and county units, responsibilities for each elective office
and how these changes impacted the voting process.
constitution also addresses many of the problems that led to conflict
and violence during and after the 2007 election. One trigger for violence
was the not unfounded belief that the winner of the presidential race
“stole the election” with fraudulent voting. The Independent
Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was created to ensure free,
fair and transparent elections. Last November the IEBC re-registered
all Kenyan voters capturing fingerprints and photos to use for biometric
verification on election day. Our sessions included materials about
what to expect at the polling station with this and other changes to
prevent fraud. The training also covered the importance of voting, making
wise choices, the new Code of Conduct signed by all candidates and political
parties, and the leadership and integrity portion of the constitution.
conclusion, we asked the pastors to share this information with their
churches on the three Sundays remaining before the election. All commented
that they had learned something new in the session and agreed to pass
along the information. About halfway through our session a young man
on crutches joined us. He raised some excellent questions about policies
for assisting disabled voters during the voting process. I’m quite
certain that he, too, intended to share the information with other disabled
people in his community.
were only one of many organizations providing voter education, the whole
effort seems to have borne fruit. There were less than 1% of ballots
rejected in an election with 86% of registered voters casting ballots.
While there were some problems with the systems planned by the IEBC,
everyone who wanted to vote was able to and most of the over 30,000
polling stations ran smoothly. So far there has been no – election-related
violence in the post-election period that was so horrific five years
ago. I think that my efforts and those of other AGLI/FCPT facilitators
were part of this positive change.