Image from BBC, 2013 – Voting process in Kenya

Isn’t it interesting that many people spend more time, put more energy and effort gathering information when they want to buy something new and fancy in their life such as a car or TV than they do when supporting a person into an elective position? Let us bring it closer home; we usually demand the best for the people we employ to take care of our kids when we go to work. Half of the time, the people we employ to take care of these kids are not from our tribes. Moreover, we want experienced pilots, plumbers, electricians, and trustworthy gatekeepers to guard our homes and the best schools for our children. Nevertheless, we do not demand the same standards to those we aspire to elect into the office to govern us. We thoroughly interrogate house helps more than we interrogate a political candidate. Most often, we walk straight into the ballot, vote for the person who speaks our mother tongue and, in the process, end up screwing up the future of the same people we work so tirelessly for and fight so hard to protect.

Does political ignorance imply stupidity or apathy?

Interestingly, political ignorance does not imply stupidity or apathy on the side of the voter. Indeed, it is true that a person may be considered smart but very ignorant about many other issues in life. According to Allan (2017), political ignorance is most of the time regarded as rational behaviour for a majority of voters that can tremendously lead to a terrible collective outcome. Some people argue that if a voter chooses out of ignorance, then it is perfectly okay since they are exercising their individual freedom. Miller (2003) refutes this line of thought and argues that voting is not an individual’s choice but the “exercise of powers over others”. Furthermore, Miller (2003) elucidates that people who are voted into elective positions do not rule only over those who voted for them but rule over the entire society in question. Therefore, exercising power over people in that manner means we must have the responsibility of being reasonably informed in the manner we do so. The critical question is what happens when a large section of voters do not know or understand their candidate’s proposed policy interest. Yes, it does not matter if a single voter is ignorant, but it becomes a significant issue if the entire electorate body is politically ignorant. For example, a single emitting car relatively makes a little difference. However, when it involves thousands or millions of such cars emitting pollutants, that could potentially pose significant harm to the environment. In the same way, we can depict this as a kind of pollution to the political environment if a voter remains politically ignorant.

Voting is not an individual’s choice but the “exercise of powers over others”

(Miller, 2003)

An Analysis of Kenya’s Voting Process

Indeed, it is paramount to understand if Kenyan’s voting behaviours are based on ethnic identities or policy interests. According to Bratton and Kimenyi (2008) research, the majority of Kenyans vote based on ethnic blocks but not entirely exclusive. An analysis of the 2017 elections shows that President Uhuru Kenyatta, originates from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu tribe (accounting for 20% of the Kenyan population), won election in 12 counties Kikuyu and Kalenjin are the predominant tribes. His running mate, William Ruto, was from the Kalenjin tribe. Notably, Uhuru Kenyatta received 96% of the cast votes in this region. On the other hand, the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who originates from the Luo tribe, came second – winning elections in 8 counties where the Luo and the Luhya tribes are predominate. Interestingly, Odinga won 95% of the casted votes in these regions. Since Kenya’s independence, the presidents have originated from the Kikuyu tribe (founding president – Jomo Kenyatta, 3rd Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki and 4th Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta) and the Kalenjin tribe (2nd Kenyan president, Daniel Arap Moi). Kenya plunged into deep political turmoil during the 2007/2008 general election (Mohamed, 2017). The post-election violence led to the killing of over 1,200 people and leftover more than 350,000 people internally displaced (Solomon, 2017). As Archer (2009) puts it, the violence was undoubtedly ethnic in character. From the research, the issue that castigates the electorate to vote along ethnic tribes is marginalization owing to colonial injustices regarding issues such as unfair land distribution. Although voting is primarily on ethnic blocks, Bratton and Kimenyi (2008) research also indicate that people a few voter takes into account policy issues such as corruption, economic growth and increased cost of living standards among others.

Factors contributing immensely to voter ignorance in Kenya?

Inadequate civic education

Undoubtedly, for voters to hold their leaders accountable, they must have a certain level of knowledge in the political process. It is very difficult for voters to hold the government accountable if they do not know and understand what the government is doing. Yes, they cannot thoroughly interrogate a candidates manifestos/policy interest if they lack some level of understanding of the policies proposed by a candidate and their likely outcome. The situation becomes even more complicated if the voter lacks adequate knowledge of which officials are responsible for which issues. In Kenya, civic education only becomes active when the elections are near the corner; thus, voters do not get adequate time to interrogate candidates’ manifestos.

Image from Global sister report 2017 during a voter education session

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

Abraham Lincon

Corruption through voter buying

Voter buying involves the exchange of a voter’s voice with a form of compensation in an electoral process. A report by Kramon (2009), indicates that a quarter of Kenya’s voter population engages in voter buying malpractices. Voter buying is a behaviour that can tremendously subvert a crucial part of a functioning democracy. When the electorate engages in voter buying, they prevent the best candidates from taking office, compromising development.

What must be done?

There is a strong urge that every voter must be politically informed. This can be done through active civic education. The truth, if voters are poorly informed about candidates’ policy interests, governments interest, then they have no choice but to make poor decisions. Without an iota of doubt, it is not practical and impossible to have a perfectly educated electoral population. However, we must channel rational ignorance into better outcomes for the benefit of the whole population. The electorate must be aware that they need to pay special attention to their candidates’ policies and interests and be informed about their policies and achievements to make better informed decisions that will positively impact their lives. The attention and information gathering we do when planning to buy those valuable items or people in our small households is the same effort and energy we should adopt when assessing political candidates to office. Let us make wise choices at the ballot, will you?


Allan, J. (2017). Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter. Constitutional Commentary, 32(2), 479-493.

Archer, S. (2009). Why do Kenyans vote along ethnic lines?: A study of underlying rationales For Kenyan electoral behaviour.

Bratton, M., & Kimenyi, M. S. (2008). Voting in Kenya: Putting ethnicity in perspective. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2(2), 272-289.

Kramon, E. (2009). Vote-buying and political behavior: Estimating and explaining vote-buying’s effect on turnout in Kenya: Institute for Democracy in South Africa.

Miller, J. J. (2003). JS Mill on plural voting, competence and participation. History of political thought, 24(4), 647-667.

Mohamed, H. (2017, August 6). Kenyan elections: The ethnicity factor. Al

Jazeera. Solomon, S. (2017, August 16). Kenyans Voted Along Ethnic, Geographic Lines to Re-elect Kenyatta. VOA.