177 UN Volunteers inform voters, support elections in Kenya
by Edward Mishaud
27 January 2003
Nairobi, Kenya: Geoffrey Njasi of Kwanza Constituency is proud of his contribution to Kenya's presidential and general elections held on 27 December 2002. Not only did he cast his ballot, the 32-year-old was one of 177 national United Nations Volunteers (UNV) who were instrumental in educating the voters and facilitating the East African country's election process.
Working as a UN Volunteer election observer and civic educator in his own constituency, he interacted with community members to ensure that they understood the significance of voting and their role in the democratic process. He spoke with women regarding their participation in the political arena, documented people's expectations for the next government, helped register political party candidates and monitored the counting of ballots. But most importantly, he said, he gained a greater understanding of the political process.
"I now know what really happens on the ground instead of depending on a newspaper. I have experience and [can] give advice in a few aspects of the election process."
Equally important for him was the knowledge that he participated in an election that promoted peace and understanding. He was pleased to hear that there were no reports of extreme violence. "Unlike past elections, there was peace all over," he said.
Even though the electoral process is nothing new to Kenyans, the importance placed on the process and the careful monitoring and observing was welcomed, he noted.
"I believe UNV and the UN created a very good impression with the people," he said. "I personally feel it increased the performance of the election process and people's confidence because the UN was there and monitored what was going on."
The UN's involvement in Kenya's election process started in 1997, when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided technical assistance to the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). At that time, UNDP assisted in computerizing Kenya's electoral registration system eliminating the former method of manually entering and recording the voters' list. UNDP also trained election officers in information technology and system management and started a voter education programme at the community level. The ECK, UNDP and the Institute of Education for Democracy (IED), a non-governmental organization charged with promoting and advancing Kenya's democratic process, worked together in the development of a voter education syllabus.
For the December election, the UNDP and UNV placed UN Volunteers in 177 constituencies throughout the eight provinces for a period of three months beginning in early November 2002. Serving under the supervision of the IED, the UN Volunteers collaborated with the ECK on a number of activities such as training polling clerks, monitoring the nomination of political party candidates and ensuring important election information reached the public.
ECK spokesman Mani Lemayian said UN intervention, such as the voter education programme, has been extremely successful, resulting in positive changes not only in the process but with voters as well.
"By teaching others in the field, at the grass-roots level, we've influenced positive election behaviour," he said. "People now make wise and educated political choices, not solely based on loyalty or ethnic divisions."
He added that the election was crucial for Kenyans, as it was the first time in the country's history that the head of state was stepping down. Former President Daniel arap Moi of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) had been president for more than two decades and his party had been in power since independence from Britain in 1963. According to the ECK spokesman, violence, missing ballot boxes and tampered ballots had a negative impact on voter confidence in previous elections. With the presence of tens of thousands of national and international observers, among them the UN Volunteers, he added, Kenyans were confident that the election results would reflect the wish of the people.
Of Kenya's 30 million people, more than 10.4 million registered in the recent election -- some 1.5 million more than the previous election in 1997. The National Rainbow Coalition received the parliamentary majority and its candidate, Mwai Kibaki, became the country's third president.
Now that the election is over, Geoffrey has been busy assessing the mood of the voters attempting to determine their level of satisfaction with the election results and the process in which it was carried out. So far, he has received much positive feedback.
"The people have welcomed the results and the mood is very positive," he said. "They [Kenyans] achieved what they wanted in the electoral process."
Elom Pedro-Ayaovi, the Togolese UN Volunteer Programme Officer for Kenya, said UNV's work was appreciated by all involved in the election, from the Government of Kenya to other organizations conducting similar work.
"Kenyans are now proud of their successful elections and the people are in hope for change and for economic and social improvement in the country," he said. "We can say that UNV, in partnership with UNDP and national institutions, has contributed to this success."
In addition, he said the information compiled in the field by the UN Volunteers will prove to be instrumental for future elections. "As part of their duties, they [UN Volunteers] had to write two reports. One for the IED and one for UN Volunteers. The report for us will provide information on what they did in the field and also act as something like a lessons learned."
Now that the work of the UN Volunteers in the field is completed, they are returning to the UNV Country Office in Nairobi to debrief, reflect on their assignment and submit their field reports. Most of the UN Volunteers will finish their assignments with UNV in the first week of February.
As for Geoffrey, he hopes UN Volunteers and the UN continues its interest in monitoring elections as he is already looking to the future. "If all goes well, the next election will be in five years, so I hope I'll be able to get involved again."
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