The new swing votes that can’t be ignored

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More ‘smaller’ communities with swelling populations are the new swing votes politicians will be courting.

The Maasai, Ameru, Mijikenda, Kisii and Somalis votes are emerging as the next battle zones if the status quo remains stable ahead of the 2022 General Elections.

It will be hard to ignore these groups, especially with the clamour for expansion of the Executive as spelt out in the Building Bridges Initiative report.

The surprising numbers were among the results released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics last Friday.

It showed the Maasai population stands at 1.2 million, Meru at 2 million, Mijikenda at 2.5 million, Kisii at 2.7 million and Somalis at 2.8 million.

The communities have significantly narrowed their distance from the big five communities.

The Kikuyu remain the most numerous at  8.2 million people, followed by Luhyas at 6.8 million, Kalenjin at 6.4 million, Luos at 5.1 million and Kambas at 4.6 million.

Traditionally, there is a link between population count and the number of registered voters — since people above 18 years form the majority.

For instance, Somalis have the bargaining power of about 1.5 million eligible voters.

Garissa leads the region with 380,000 residents above 18 years, followed by Wajir’s 321,349 and Mandera’s 319, 641. Isiolo and Marsabit have sizeable votes as well.

The same is true for counties dominated by the Maasai who as in Narok are nearing 500,000 eligible voters. Kajiado has about 400,000 eligible voters to offer a suitor.

For Kisii, a candidate who mops more than 605,000 possible votes — and about 300,000 in Nyamira —would have an advantage in the presidential race.

The Mijikenda will also put forth a strong case at the negotiating table; Mombasa alone has more than  750,000 residents above 18s. Kwale and Kilifi have more than half a million.

In Upper Eastern, Meru can produce more than 890,000 votes — an increase of almost 200,000 —if all residents of voting age register and cast their votes.

IEBC statistics show that the regions’ number of eligible voters has risen by a huge margin if you compare with the number of registered voters.

For instance, a county like Isiolo that had only 75,338 registered voters now has more than 125,000 voters, if they mobilise 100 per cent listing.

Marsabit, which had 141,000 eligible voters in the last election could pool 205,658 if all residents over 18 register to vote.

ODM chairman John Mbadi (Suba South MP), Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Dr Charles Nyambuga of Maseno University agree that the ‘smaller’ communities cannot be wished away.

Nyambuga said the 2019 Census is ‘a real surprise for those who have been making political calculations using the traditional numbers and old assumptions.

“They now have to reengineer themselves to hunt for votes in places they have been ignoring like Northeastern. You can’t ignore them anymore,” the political commentator said.

He added, “The numbers tell tales” and communities will now have to get more resources.

“This puts them on a decent pedestal to bargain for more. They used to have numbers that people could easily ignore but now they have the people and potential votes,” the don said.

Nyambuga warns, however, that if leaders from those regions successfully encourage people to have more children.”

A total of 47,564,296 persons were enumerated during the census, including 23,548,056 men, 24,014,716 women and 1,524 intersex.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics director-general Zachary Mwangi said this represents an intercensal growth rate of 2.2 per cent compared the 2.9 per cent in the 2009 census.

At least 32,732,596 people were enumerated in rural areas and 14,831,700 in urban areas, meaning rural votes still matter.

Suba South MP Mbadi says the communities’ influence on the country’s political direction depends on how they manage their growth rate.

He said a population of more than two million people “is a serious one” but it leaves a lot to be desired in influencing the political direction.

“Unless their growth continues and others grow at a slower rate, the big five ethnic groups will still dictate politics in this country,” Mbadi said.

But following the usual contention among dominant communities, the ODM chair says the other ethnic groups should not be dismissed.

“The contribution of the Somalis, Kisiis, Meru, and Maasai are not going to be ignored going forward.,” Mbadi said. 

“Because the five big communities are the same ones producing presidential candidates and running mates, there will be almost a near split and they will fall back on these others to provide the swing vote.”

Mbadi said these communities would of great importance to those angling for the top seat should the country continue with the presidential system and the ethnic antagonism that goes with it.

“If we manage BBI, ethnic numbers will not yield much as it would require a paradigm shift and goodwill from the political leaders,” the lawmaker said.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who led the 2009 census which Northeastern disputed, observed that indeed the region’s population is explosive. He is also chairman of the Council of Governors.

He said the numbers — like for the others that have shown significant growth — now position them to claim a piece of the national cake, especially now with the BBI clamour and regions and communities making demands.

“Numbers are important for political realignments. This can propel them to get plum positions in the future governments,” he said, though noting they are not a threat to big ethnic blocs.

Northeastern MPs are accusing the Kenya National Bureau of Statistic of doctoring their numbers ‘as they would have been in the top four’.

MPs Ahmed Kolosh (Wajir West) and Abdi Shurie (Balambala) told the Star that it is not statistically possible the community’s population has only increased by 400,000.

“The fact that they were able to doctor and still not get us below the others that have been in that rank sends a message,” Shurie said.

In the disputed 2009 results, there were 2.3 million Somalis — figures several quarters have dismissed as undependable — having been questioned.

“We are not agreeing with what has happened with the latest numbers. In 2009, Balambala had 97,000 people and now we are 30,000. It doesn’t make sense,” Shurie said.

He says the figure stated is even fewer than the number of schoolgoing children as recorded by the Ministry of Education and registered voters.

The official figure of schoolgoing children from MOE is 16,000 while registered voters are about 22,000.

“Weirder is that out of the figure stated, we are told there are 10,000 women and the rest are men. It is impossible yet they are saying the birthrate is 6.5 per cent,” Shurie added.

Kolosh said he accompanied the enumerators and recorded over 265,000 people — only for the report to show they are 121,000.

Source: The Star