NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 23 -“We really would like to register as voters but the challenge is that we left our Identity Cards at home,” – this was the explanation given by most of the women we could access when we visited Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi.
Whereas the prison has about 600 prisoners and others in remand, only about 65 of them had registered as voters by Thursday afternoon.
Being a prison, it was not possible to interrogate many more to ascertain if all those eligible for voting failed to register due to lack of Identity Cards or if issues of voter apathy also contributed to the extremely low turnout.
Dr Concelia Ondiek former acting Director at the Department of Secondary and Tertiary Education who is serving a two year-jail term was among the few who exercised her constitutional duty of registering as a voter behind bars.
She is serving the fifth month of her sentence after she was convicted of forgery and false accounting last year.
“I must say that I am very grateful that the prisoners have been given the opportunity because in the past we were not allowed to participate in registering as voters,” she stated.
Prisoners in Kenya were for the first time allowed to vote after a significant court ruling upheld that they had a right to vote as enshrined in the 2010 Constitution.
Despite the milestone gained shortly after the new Constitution was promulgated, registration of prisoners as voters was still disallowed.
In 2012, a court directed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to ensure prisoners participate in voter registration and following that order, for the first time in history, prisoners were allowed to register as voters in 2017.
The exercise kicked off on Wednesday in all the 118 prisons across the country.
However, out of the 49,867 prisoners and persons in remand, only 8,268 of them have national Identity Cards according to the IEBC.
According to Dr Ondiek, being in prison does not mean that one does not have a right to elect the leaders of their choice.
Though they are only allowed to vote for the presidency, she deemed it as an important gesture in fostering democratic rights of every Kenyan citizen.
Janet Wanja, a convict serving a life sentence also said she will be happy to vote for the presidential seat during the August General Election.
“We were very happy when we heard that we will be allowed to register as voters. As prisoners, we appreciate because we are Kenyans like others. For many years we felt alienated but today we feel we are also Kenyans with rights.”
The voter registration exercise in prisons will close on Sunday.
IEBC earlier this week announced that it had listed 3.7 million voters during the concluded Mass Voter Registration exercise.
READ: 3.7mn new voters registered against 6mn IEBC target