Jamhuri Day celebrations

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) greets Deputy President William Ruto at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, during the Jamhuri Day celebrations.


In battle for 2022, Kenya’s billionaires line up their shots

What you need to know:

  • Raila Odinga is the son of a former vice-president and runs a successful string of businesses. 
  • William Ruto is the Deputy President and has interests in hospitality, aviation, real estate and farming.

If politics is a dirty game, it is also a rich one, and nowhere is this more evident than in Kenya’s highly competitive brand of politics. In the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, the two frontrunners, themselves billionaires in their own rights, are backed by a super-rich network of entrepreneurs and wheeler-dealers who are willing to risk it all in the name of their preferred candidates.

Mr Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement and Dr William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance have emerged as the frontrunners in the race to State House next year, and when not spending their own fortunes to mobilise and rally support across the country, they are enjoying the backing of wealthy financers to support their bids.

On Dr Ruto’s side are affluent businessmen like the Mombasa-based founder of the DL Group David Lang’at, Joshua Chepkwony of Jamii Telecommunications, gemstones dealer and former Machakos Senator Jonhson Muthama, businessman and Mt Kenya TV founder Andrew Peter Ngirichi, and Simon Mburu, the businessman behind the clearing and forwarding company Landmark Freight Services.

The Deputy President also has on his side other relatively rich politicians, including the current Devolution Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a former provincial administrator who until recently was in the crosshairs with the government over allegations of tax evasion. Mr Gachagua has defended the integrity of his enormous wealth, which runs into billions of shillings.

Mr Odinga, on the other hand, has the support of tycoons like Mr SK Macharia of Royal Media Services, Mount Kenya University founder Simon Gicharu, as well as members of the immensely wealthy Mount Kenya Foundation, which includes the billionaire founder of Equity Bank Peter Munga, chairman of the LAPSETT board of directors Titus Ibui, Kenya Nut Company owner Pius Ngugi, President Kenyatta’s uncle George Muhoho, and former Kenya Revenue Authority commissioner-general Michael Waweru.

Also in Mr Odinga’s camp are wealthy politicians and leaders like Mombasa governor Hassan Joho, whose family has large interests in shipping and freight services, businessman Suleiman Shahbal, and trade unionist Francis Atwoli.

Both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga are themselves among Kenya’s wealthiest individuals through their vast networks of businesses and properties across the country. While Dr Ruto’s true net worth has been a closely guarded affair, Mr Odinga has admitted in the past to having a net worth of about Sh2 billion. The ODM leader last year said in an interview with NTV that the value was the sum of the cumulative wealth that the larger Odinga family owned in businesses and properties.

Dr Ruto, on the other hand, has been linked to a string of businesses, including prime parcels of land across the country, hotels in Nairobi and Mombasa, farms in Rift Valley, shares in companies, oil and gas, and aviation.

Rich business empire

Earlier this year Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i told a parliamentary committee that Dr Ruto owns some 18,520 acres of land in three counties, five helicopters, two hangars, two hotels with a total accommodation capacity of 219 beds, and three private residences, all estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of shillings.

But the wealth is not restricted to these two. Others in the contest are Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, all who form the OKA alliance, as well as businessman Jimi Wanjigi, who has declared an interest in the ODM ticket for the presidency. All these politicians are known to be relatively wealthy and of means.

Mr Mudavadi is the son of a former Cabinet Minister and was himself a Vice-President, Mr Musyoka is the son of a Kitui peasant but rose through government ranks to serve in Cabinet and as the country’s vice-president, Mr Moi is the son of Kenya’s longest serving president, while Jimi Wanjigi is the son of a former minister in both the Jomo Kenyatta and Moi governments, and has on his own built a rich business empire that bankrolled Odinga’s political affairs for years.

Of the four OKA principals, Mr Moi is known to be perhaps one of the richest, an advantage that many say have given a lot of sway and say in the direction and the affairs of the alliance.

According to official and non-official records, the Baringo Senator controls a long chain of businesses spanning real estate, transport, education, hotel industry, banking, aviation, manufacturing, media, agri-business, security and construction. These businesses and properties include majority stakes in the Standard Media Group, logistics company Siginon, Merica Holdings Ltd, Fidelity Insurance Ltd, Kabarak University and Kabarak High School, as well as in real estate and in agribusiness.

Mr Mudavadi, on the other hand, has been a long-serving minister who even at one point served as a vice-president in the late President Moi’s cabinet, positions that some of his critics argued have given him an advantage in building a financial muscle.

The ANC leader is also the son of the late Cabinet minister Moses Mudavadi an influential politician from Sabatia, in the early post-independence years under former president Moi, a background that some have argued came with its own privileges of wealth.

“We rely on membership subscriptions and donations and as party leader I am also forced to try my best to find money so that we can continue with our campaigns,” Mr Mudavadi said in September when asked how he would run his presidential campaign.

Mr Musyoka has also had a long stint in government, despite previously enjoying the backing of wealthy individuals like businessman Peter Muthoka and Mr Muthama.

Very expensive affair

The Wiper party leader has served in the former President Moi’s government, where he was a Cabinet minister, besides being a Member of Parliament for a long time. He later also served as a vice-president in the grand coalition government of former President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

What does all this money mean for Kenya’s democratic ambitions? Is money a good or bad thing when it comes to determining who has the right credentials for public office? In a country where campaigns and elections are an expensive affair, the stakes could not have been any higher.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga of the University of Nairobi says that it is because of these trends that few of the political elite, if any, would leave anything to chance — sometimes even billions of shillings to run their campaigns in the hope of a win. To him, this trend is not surprising as a study on the cost of the 2017 election showed that those with the means were perceived to be the best contenders.

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

Victorious senators spent more than double than those who lost, and in the race for National Assembly seats successful candidates spent 50 per cent more than those who did not win, adds Prof Kanyinga of the study, which he co-authored with Tom Mboya. It is titled The Cost of Politics in Kenya: Implications for Political Participation and Development.

For Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, an ally of Dr Ruto, the question of wealth in politics is something that one cannot ignore, especially when they are gunning for top seats like the presidency.

Mr Rono says the control of the country’s politics relies on how wealthy or financially endowed one is, a trait that has become so addictive in politics that most do not serve, but instead embark on a journey to accumulate more.

“It is true that our politics is a very expensive affair and those with deep pockets always have an advantage over the others. There are also people who are wealthy and join politics for power. Others, like myself, join to serve. However, many join politics for wealth and get disappointed,” Mr Rono says.

Others, like Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat, are of the view that politics and wealth go hand in hand and cannot be separated because money is the only language that the electorate understands.

Millionaires and billionaires

“Campaigns have to be oiled with money and that is why you see people raising funds to campaign while others use their wealth to ascend to power,” Mr Salat says.

It is these attributes, combined with the high stakes that politics in the country has been, that some analysts now argue could make the contest next year the most expensive one yet.

Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi notes that owing to the past trends where money has played a key role in politics, the race this year may not be any different. Most of the wealthy individuals, he argues, join politics to safeguard their fortunes and make more of them.

“In fact, politics is our ‘oil’ where you can make easy money, but it is becoming more common to join politics because you are wealthy than to make money. Money more than leadership attracts us to politics irrespective of whether you want to make money or safeguard it,” he says.

Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University agrees, and argues that the fact that politicians become millionaires and billionaires within a few years is a magnet to many aspiring people of wealth.

“Those with a lot of wealth join politics to protect and increase their wealth. Others join politics because there is easy money once one is inside. But there are a few genuine people who join because a crisis forces them to offer needed guidance and leadership,” said Prof Munene.

In his study, Prof Kanyinga found out that politics in the country and across the region is not just an expensive affair, but one where how much an individual is worth determines whether one wins or not. In the 2017 elections, only individuals who managed to raise enough funds to support their candidacy won. A majority of those who were unable failed, according to the study.

In that election, seats like those of the senate costed individuals at least Sh35 million, that of Woman Representative Sh22.8 million, MP forked out Sh18.2 million while MCAs spent Sh3.1 million in campaigns.

“These costs are predominantly raised from individual’s personal savings or with the support of friends or family. Less than 20 per cent of survey respondents received financial support directly from their political party,” says Prof Kanyinga.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the original version of this story it was erroneously indicated that Musalia Mudavadi's father was a former Vice President. The late Moses Mudamba Mudavadi was a former Cabinet Minister. We have since rectified that error.