Voter registration

Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Boss Shollei (centre) and her supporters rally residents to register as voters in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County on October 26, 2021. 

| Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Money buys power: Where it’s most expensive to contest in 

What you need to know:

  • Winning candidates in the last elections spent as much as three times the losers, suggesting electoral seats go to the highest spenders.
  • Western and Nyanza the most expensive regions to run campaigns in, as one senator admits to spending Sh100million.

As politicians hit the campaign trail ahead of next year’s elections, focus is shifting to the cost of campaigns, given the grueling schedules, particularly by the top presidential contenders. 

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have combed the country on back-to-back tours, which require elaborate logistical planning and resources. 

The electoral commission’s Sh4.4 billion spending limit for presidential elections is a pointer to the enormous resources the presidential hopefuls are burning, but a study on expenditure by politicians in the last General Election offers even better insights. 

Winning candidates in the last elections spent as much as three times the losers, suggesting electoral seats go to the highest spenders, with Western and Nyanza the most expensive regions to run campaigns in. 

The study revealed candidates for the senate seat -- the most expensive position to campaign for -- in Western used an average of Sh45.8 million. One senator admitted to spending Sh100 million). 

These figures are even higher than the initial spending caps the electoral commission had set for counties in Western and Nyanza before MPs forced the withdrawal of the campaign financing regulations. 

The highest ceiling for campaigning for governor, senator and woman representative posts in Western and Nyanza regions had been assigned Kakamega (Sh59 million) by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). 

However, according to a report titled ‘The cost of politics in Kenya: Implications for political participation and development’ published by Karuti Kanyinga and Tom Mboya in July, this year, politics costs more in some regions of Kenya than in others. 

For example, it costs more in Western Kenya and Nyanza to run for senate than it costs at the Coast and in the South Rift. 

Candidates in Western spent an average of Sh45.8 million (US$ 458,000) for the senate seat election, while in Nyanza, it cost Sh43.3 million (US$ 433,000). 

Spending limits

These figures are double the amount spent at the Coast, where candidates for the Senate used an average of Sh20 million (US$ 200,000) while those in the South Rift spent Sh27.8 million (US$ 278,000) on average.   

However, the IEBC had imposed spending limits for county posts ranging between Sh21 million and Sh68 million for the six coastal counties. 

In Rift Valley, the IEBC had earmarked the highest ceiling (Sh123 million) for those running for county seats in Turkana. 

According to the study that interviewed politicians between November 30, 2020 and March 11, 2021, respondents were asked to provide an estimate of their expenditure in both party primaries and the 2017 election campaign period. 

And it also cost more on average to run for woman rep in Nairobi than elsewhere in the country. The average cost in Nairobi was Sh45 million. This was four times higher than the average cost for candidates seeking the same seat in Coast, who spent Sh10.5 million and those in Central Eastern who spent an average of Sh17 million.

Running for member of county assembly (MCA) cost, on average, Sh3.1 million.

MCAs in Central Rift, Central Kenya, and Southern Rift spent the least on seeking election. It cost between Sh1.6 million (US$ 16,000) and Sh1.8 million (US$ 18,000) on average to contest for an MCA seat.

The study, however, found it is most expensive to run for MCA in Western and Nyanza, where the average cost is more than Sh4 million (US$ 40,000).  

The IEBC had proposed a ceiling of between Sh2 million and Sh10 million for ward reps, the highest being Kibish. 

“Regardless of the seat in question, the more you spend, the greater the chances of winning. Candidates who won a senate seat, for example, spent an average of Sh49 million (US$490,000). Those who lost in the contest of senate seat spent an average of Sh20.3 million (US$203,000). Whilst money was important, the choice of political party also matters,” the report states.

Hand-outs from MPs

Running for the constituency MP seat, on the other hand, cost Sh18.2 million (US$182,000); Sh4.6 million less than what it costs to contest the woman rep seat, with the same benefits, in the same House. 

IEBC had set a ceiling of between Sh11 million and Sh94 million for the 290 constituencies. 

The study on 2017 election spending said the competitive nature of the senate post that also attracts some of the most experienced politicians, contributed to the high costs in campaigning for the seat.

A total of 300 aspirants and several political activists were sampled in the research funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).

The study uncovered the costs for aspirants at different stages of this process, from the party primary, through the General Election and, for those who were successful, while in office.

“Our survey found that, on the whole, the more a candidate spends, the greater their chance of electoral victory. Woman representative candidates who won their race spent almost three times as much as those who were unsuccessful,” read the report.

Victorious senators spent more than double those who lost. In the race for National Assembly seats, successful candidates spent 50 percent more than those who did not win. 

“Some of those interviewed for this study were of the view that people do not run for office to serve the community; they run for office because when you win, you have many benefits and networks for easy self-enrichment. 

“But voters also drive the cost of politics by demanding hand-outs from MPs. This stems from a limited understanding of the role elected officials should play; one of oversight and policy formulation, not of direct service provision.”

Expensive political ticket

There were marked differences between costs associated with party primaries and the General Election. Candidates spent more on party primaries or nominations to win tickets for the senator and woman rep races than they did on the General Election. 

This is because securing the ticket of a dominant party enables a candidate to ride on the popularity of the party or party leader during the campaigns.   

Jubilee, the ruling party, was the most expensive political ticket to seek elections on, for both the senate and woman rep seats in 2017.

Overall, women outspent men in all elective posts except for the Senate.

They spent an average of Sh23.6 million (US$ 236,000) running for National Assembly seats, while their male counterparts spent Sh17 million (US$ 170,000). 

Women candidates spent more than double the amount male candidates put up for MCA seats, spending an average of Sh6.4 million (US$ 64,000) compared to Sh2.9 million (US$ 29,000) for men. 

Despite this, from a total of roughly 1,800 aspirants, for the National Assembly single member constituency seats, for example, only 131 women candidates made it to the ballot.  

The report further indicated that apart from money spent, the support of a dominant party enhances a candidate’s chance significantly.

“Party dominance was also key in winning an elective post. Majority of those who campaigned with little known political parties did not sail through,” read the report.

In September, barely a month after rejecting an attempt by the electoral commission to impose spending caps on campaigns for various elective seats, the National Assembly plotted to amend the Election Campaign Financing Act to ensure poll money handled by candidates and parties is confidential.



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