Kenya, where the polls open Monday, has been mobilizing children in their voter education efforts in hopes of increasing turnout, and avoiding a repeat of violence-marred 2007 elections.
At the dining table in a corner of their living room in a suburb of Kenya’s capital, 13-year-old Veron Nanjero gathered his family for an important meeting last Thursday.
On Monday, his parents, Habil and Florence, will vote in the country’s first general election since a disputed poll in 2007 that prompted weeks of violence.
This time, efforts to ensure a peaceful vote have swept the country, on television, radio, social media and even graffiti sprayed on walls and shanty shacks.
The Electoral Commission, with funding from Kenya’s largest mobile phone network, Safaricom, is harnessing “pester power” in an attempt to boost turnout and keep the polls peaceful.
Pledge forms for parents to sign have been distributed with 9.5 million copies of one of the country’s most popular comics, Shujaaz. School children can win prizes when they return the forms, called Apisha Paro, Kenyan slang for “Parents’ Promise”.
Repeating after his son, Mr Nanjero solemnly proclaims: “I am a patriotic Kenyan. I have faith in the election process. I will go out to vote in peace and love. I will ensure peace... during elections.”
Beside him, his daughter and younger son cheered. His wife then made her pledge and signed the form.
“We see it as good advice from our children,” says Mrs. Nanjero, a coach for a women’s soccer team. “When we vote wisely and peacefully we determine their future. If we bring violence, we put their future on hold.”
Even Kenyans too young to vote are eagerly discussing the election and who might be the best candidate. Eight presidential contenders are on Monday’s ballot paper.
“I want you, Mom and Dad, to vote for Peter Kenneth,” says Veron, a primary school student. “He can bring change to Kenya. He can improve our education.”
Immediately his younger brother, Keith, 9, interjected. “No! I want them to vote for Raila Odinga, because he is patient, he is smart and always official.”
And then it was the turn of their sister, Naomi, 15. “Uhuru Kenyatta is the best,” she says. “I believe he can take Kenya to another level. He can take us to greater heights by improving our economy. That will save many lives.”
Nanjero says it “touches” him when his son asks him to vote wisely and peacefully. The violence of the last election displaced children and also interrupted their studies, he adds, promising to hold a family discussion about the polls given the children’s interest.
"I was going to vote anyway but I will sit with my children on Saturday to discuss who is the best,” he says. “I have a choice, but if they convince me otherwise, I will vote according to their wishes. They are showing concern and cannot ignore this.”
Joel Mabonga from the Electoral Commission says children have a particular influence on their parents, and that is why there has been such a significant effort to try to involve them in voter education.
“When the child presents the comics to their parents so that they can read for them, they ask them if they are going to vote,” he says. “They want to be assured their parents are not left out. They are seeing appeals on television, and the children keep probing their parents about voting."