The United States are heading on to the midterms in less than a week. An exercise that has seen a revolution in not just getting people to register to vote but showing exactly why it is important for everyone to vote. Back in 2016 Obama handed over to Trump in a historic electoral college win and now the midterms determine whether the President and largely the Republicans will have control over congress.
To bring to you up to speed, the midterm elections in the United States are elections held in November every four years, near the mid point of the president’s four year term in office. They elect the United States Congress, United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Historically midterms don’t get as big a turn out as presidential elections especially from young people. In 2014 only about 1 out of 5 showed up to vote. This year however, history may just be re-written.
The difference between Kenya and the United States may be in the provision for midterms there and a one off general election here. The thing that bring us together are the low numbers of young voters who register. As you read this you may be thinking, ‘but we just voted last year, wouldn’t this article have been more appropriate then?’ Yes it would have, but even more so now when we are about to have a live example on why your vote counts every time you hear there is someone running for office. Then you’d think, ‘but politics affects me in no way, my vote doesn’t count. Whether I vote or not someone will just rig their way in. You know how Kenya works.’ Then this is what I would say:
I get why as a Kenyan you wouldn’t believe in voting. There was post election violence in 2007/2008, there were the tensions last year that preceded the hand shake, there was the death of baby Pendo that was caught in a political cross fire and there’s our leaders in office who we feel like they don’t deliver as they promise. You’ve been complaining about a road and they’ll only start fixing it 6 months to the polls. These are valid reasons.
I however believe that in as much as you run away from politics, it has a direct correlation with every single thing you do in your everyday life. You run an online business and never get involved with the city council, social media tax affects your business. You are simply a student working hard to get a degree, any lecturer’s strike directly affects you. You are a nature lover who loves running at Karura forest on Saturday’s; you are on land that was to be degazetted back in 1994 through to 1996 for housing projects. Or maybe you like hanging out at Uhuru park with your boyfriend on you Sunday off; you are still on land that would have been used for a 60 storey complex. The examples really are endless. Most recently the Kenya Film and Classification Board showed us exactly how close a state corporation could regulate content from YouTube vloggers.
I’m not saying you have no idea what happens in your country. You probably do, even if you don’t want to. Everyone is talking about what happens, your bike guy talks about the hand shake, mama pima talks about the rise in petroleum prices, Kenyans on Twitter talk about the demolitions in Nairobi. You may even be part of the loudest to call out the government when they don’t act right.
All this fortunately and unfortunately goes back to the ballot. Our economy plunged last year when elections were annulled and businesses suffered. If your not convinced everything is politics just revisit how much the Nairobi Stock Exchange lost during the repeat polls last year.
The midterms are a defining moment in the United States. Particularly because since Obama stepped down and his calm and composure left the office, there has been an increasing need to be on top of what happens in the presidency. Now we’ve seen headlines about bombs beings dispatched to anti-Trump supporters. We’ve seen African Americans step up and call out racism. We’ve seen hash tags like the me too movement coming up for assault survivors. Basically people are taking charge of their own democracy and not just the old guys but even young people are stepping up. Taylor Swift stepped up and asked people to register to vote, the least political person. This saw a surge in young voters registering.
What’s even more beautiful is how much truth has been uncovered in this period before the midterms about the people in office and exactly what they’ve done in gubernatorial debates for instance. In Kenya however, if we remember correctly some of these debates weren’t even taken seriously. People didn’t show up as some thought, ‘what difference would it make?’
Seeing candidates such as Stacey Abrams step up or even Andrew Gillum has the midterms on fire. The generation before us is extremely passionate about the electoral process. They know what it means to wake up at 5:00am and queue for that vote. For some of us millennials or generation Z, voting back in 2017 was an extra sleeping day. Or you simply voted because your parents asked you to voted or to show off to Instagram followers and caption ‘civic duty’ under the picture. I know I did. What we don’t realize is that we talk about change every single day of our lives but leave it to the older generation.
I hope that the unfolding of the midterms would inspire young people, who I believe are endowed with insurmountable amounts of information on what is happening in the world over by just the tap of a button. I hope that seeing the US, being one of the older democracies shows us what it means to vote and why to vote here in Kenya.
I hear people who don’t even have a voters card critic the government day in and day out. They have valid points that I would agree with, but the only question is, why didn’t you vote? Then the excuses start. ‘My vote doesn’t count,’ ‘it’s a waste of time,’ it doesn’t affect me.’ And goes on and on.
The truth is it does and if you want to see just how much it does, wait and see the effect the referendum is going to have on our constitution. Better yet, don’t just wait, be part of the conversation. The proposed referendum may be the first step in reducing the excess number of elected representatives and save money that may go into paying of our debt to China. In exchange, your children’s children don’t have to be born owing money to a state that may end up being the newest colonizer on the block.
Still think your vote doesn’t count?
Image credits: thearena.run