2022 polls: Candidates in Mandera splash millions as they pay a heavy price to lead

 Mandera DEB Primary School

Locals queue to vote at Mandera DEB Primary School in Mandera East Constituency on August 8, 2017. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Running for office in Mandera County must be every politician’s nightmare. Not only does one have to contend with wooing the voters, it’s an extremely expensive affair.

With 207,106 registered voters, politicians often have to pay crowds to attend their rallies and foot the bill of ferrying supporters from outside counties to vote for them on election day.

This is because a huge chunk of the electorate does not actually reside in the county but emigrate elsewhere to earn a living.

Indeed, in the just-concluded poll, aspirants kicked off their campaigns by organising political rallies at Sir Ali grounds in Ngara, Nairobi, before holding similar gatherings in Nakuru, Kisumu, Busia, Namanga and Eldoret before returning to Mandera.

“When you see a rally organised by a politician from Mandera anywhere, that means money has been used because nobody will leave his business just to attend,” Mandera town resident Ali Mohamud asserts.

He says every attendee is paid an equivalent of what he earns from his business in a day.

A token to voters

Mr Hassan Hache, who lost the senatorial race to Mr Ali Roba, admits that money determines what one gets at the ballot.

“In 2013, a gubernatorial candidate used about Sh300 million and in 2017 it was about Sh500 million,” Mr Hache says. This year, they spent between Sh700 million and Sh1 billion, he adds.

And how much did he spend?

At least Sh2 million on posters alone, he says, besides other costs such as accommodation and what he called a token to voters.

“I lost because I lacked funds to run a proper campaign,” he says. An MP elected in one of the six constituencies in Mandera told the Nation, in confidence, that he had spent at least Sh50 million.

Mr Hache says a huge amount goes to voters in terms of bribes, transportation and accommodation for at least three days.

“About 30 per cent of voters are ferried to polling centres by politicians,” he says, costing candidates at least Sh15,000 per voter.

“I was paid Sh20,000 before leaving Kariobangi [in Nairobi]to come and vote here in Mandera East,” a voter, Ms Halima Shukri says, adding that politicians always cater for her expenses during elections.

In the week preceding the polls, Mandera Town was flooded with long-distance buses from Nairobi while airlines had raised their prices to Sh25,000 up from Sh13,000 due to the influx of voters. It would cost a politician anything between Sh70,000 and Sh100,000 to hire a bus from Nairobi and another Sh800,000 to charter a plane to fly at least sixty voters.

Mr Hache says it’s cheaper to run a political campaign in other counties because voters reside within them unlike in Mandera where locals have left for big towns and cities in other regions.

Mr Simba Hasheem, who unsuccessfully ran for Mandera East MP says campaign budgets depend on voter dynamics.

“In Mandera East, where voters are mostly residents, the budget could be as low as Sh200 million for MP and Sh10 million for MCA,” he tells the Nation.

“In Mandera West, Mandera North, Mandera South and Banissa constituencies where most of the voters must be transported either from Nairobi and other parts of the country or from across the border in Ethiopia and Somalia, it could cost as much as Sh350 million.”

Sold his property

Mandera South is considered the most expensive constituency to run a campaign in. A candidate who went for the MP seat as an independent admitted that he sold his property and spent Sh200 million but still lost.

“Voter bribery is higher there and most of the voters are transported from Nairobi, Moyale, Namanga, Eldoret, Bangal, and Somalia,” Mr Hasheem reveals. The number of contestants in an area also raises the cost of campaigns.

“Voter registration, transfers, mobilisation, and other logistics make campaigns very expensive in Mandera,” he says.

Mr Abdikadir Mohamed Kunaye, who ran for the Mandera Town ward rep seat cites voter bribery as the highest cost contributor to campaign budgets.

“I spent Sh2.5 million in my campaigns and finished fifth among 16 candidates,” he says, adding, another rival spent Sh8 million but also lost.

“Everyone you approach asks for money before you even introduce yourself. You pay clan elders as well as the people who attend your rallies or meetings.”

For clan elders, one has to hire a vehicle to take them round, as well as pay for their food and accommodation. This is besides their daily allowances of about Sh5,000. Three out of the four gubernatorial candidates had to hire helicopters, spending at least Sh250,000 per hour.

Clan-based politics

“You need to be properly prepared in terms of finances if you want to run for a political seat in Mandera,” Mr Kunaye says.

The county’s clan-based politics has been blamed for the flourishing political culture of bribery and handouts.

“Every meeting with a certain family or clan means between Sh200,000 and Sh500,000 will be dished out and every family and sub-clan will demand their share,” Mr Adan Abdullahi, a resident, says.

To endorse candidates, says Mr Hussein Abdimajid, a former civic leader, “clan elders are bribed and the highest bidder gets their blessings.”

Mr Hassan Maalim, however, says the influence of clan elders is gradually waning. He cites the Garre Council of Elders in Mandera and the Abduwaq Council of Elders in Garissa whose sway in elections has diminished.

Most candidates picked by the council of elders performed dismally in the elections, he added.

In Garissa, the elders picked Mr Ali Korane for governor, Mr Siyad Osman (Garissa Township MP), Mr Issa Kahin (Balambala MP), Mr Abdikarim Osman (Fafi) and Udgoon Siyad [woman representative]. Only Ms Udgoon won.

Former Northeastern regional commissioner Mohamud Saleh, who chairs the Maqabul Council of Elders, says negotiated democracy was meant to unite communities, but some elders have messed it up.

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