File photo: CGTN
NAIROBI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- Sub-Saharan African countries on Thursday vowed to enact legislation and policies that promote the involvement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the electoral process.
Senior policymakers and experts said at a forum in Nairobi that strengthening voting rights of persons displaced by conflicts and natural disasters is key to realize growth, stability and cohesion in Africa.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta in his opening remarks acknowledged the growing burden of refugees in Africa and emphasized the need to include them in the electoral processes.
"Far too many Africans today live their lives either as IDPs or refugees in other countries. Our task is to formulate and implement ways in which they can exercise their right to participate in elections," Kenyatta said in a speech read on his behalf by Attorney General, Paul Kihara.
Kenya is hosting the sixth annual continental forum of election management bodies whose theme is "enhancing participation of IDPs and refugees in elections in Africa".
The two-day forum that is organized by the African Union and Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), aims to explore interventions that can be rolled out to ensure the voting process is sensitive to the needs of displaced persons.
Kenyatta said that enactment of progressive legislation and policies coupled with political goodwill should inform efforts to promote the voting rights of African refugees.
"The participation of IDPs and refugees in elections is an area that must be approached with boldness, sensitivity and pragmatism in order to continually improve the socio-political climate in our nations," said Kenyatta.
He said that Kenya has ratified global treaties to promote the welfare of refugees including their right to vote or vie for elective posts.
Minata Samate' Cessouma, commissioner for political affairs at the African Union Commission (AUC) said that the engagement of displaced persons in the electoral process is key to avert disillusionment that breeds social strife.
"An electoral process that strengthens voting rights of refugees and IDPs will lead to peace, stability and prosperity in Africa," said Cessouma, adding that AU has adopted conventions to enhance participation of refugees in the electoral process.
Statistics from the UN indicate that Africa is home to 17. 8 million IDPs, 7.4 million refugees and 712,000 stateless persons.
Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of Kenya's electoral body said that legislative reforms coupled with investments in mobile polling stations have strengthened the voting rights of refugees from neighboring countries.