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The debate following the disclosure of some property owned by Deputy President William Ruto this week has turned the spotlight on the intertwined relationship between power and wealth in Kenya’s politics.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i while appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on National Administration and Security, listed a number of properties which he associated with the DP.
The properties listed by Dr Matiang’i last Wednesday show the DP owns the 976-acres Murumbi Farm in Trans Mara, 15,000 acres at Mutara Farm in Laikipia and 2,536 acres at Mata Farm in Taita Taveta County.
The Interior CS also said that the DP owns the 102-bed Dolphin Hotel in Shanzu, Mombasa, and the 120-bed Weston Hotel on Lang’ata Road in Nairobi.
In addition, the CS said the DP owns Kitengela Gas, three homes – in Karen, Nairobi, and Elgon View and Kosachei in Eldoret – plus a poultry farm in Koitalel, Uasin Gishu County.
The DP also owns five choppers through Kwae Island Development Ltd, which operates as KIDL Helicopters, from its two hangars at Wilson Airport.
The revelations, which triggered attempts by Dr Ruto’s supporters on social media to list properties linked to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family and Dr Matiang’i, threw a curveball at the Deputy President’s Hustler Nation campaign narrative.
Throughout the week, Dr Ruto and his allies have been on damage control mode, including disowning some properties listed as his but also explaining why there was no contradiction in their messaging.
“They have tried so much to say that Ruto is not a poor person but he is a hustler. We have been trying to explain that this hustler narrative is not a war between the rich and the poor. Now, they have helped us that it is known that it is not a must for one to be a poor person to be a hustler. Hustler means that one can climb the ladder,” DP Ruto said on Thursday.
Nyeri Woman rep Rahab Mukami’s comments in defence of Ruto makes the debate on politics, power and wealth even more interesting.
According to Ms Mukami, the country cannot embrace a President who is viewed as poor, adding that wealth plays a key role in an election.
“Na sasa, sisi tukiwa Wakenya, tungetaka kuchagua president mwenye hana kitu? Si tunataka yule president ako na kitu? (As Kenyans, would you like to elect a pauper to be president? Don’t we want our president to be someone wealthy?)” she posed.
In this loaded statement, she inadvertently burst the ‘hustler’ nations’ pro-poor narrative versus the ‘dynasty’ that is painted as being keen on self-preservation.
The debate on politics, power and wealth stretches beyond Kenya, where from MP to President, spending huge amounts of money to successfully campaign and amassing wealth after getting into office appears to have been normalised.
Even in the US and many western democracies, money plays a key role in elections with well-funded candidates often faring better. The disparities in Kenya’s case make the debate even more interesting: Is it only the wealthy who can successfully enter elective politics and do people enter elective politics to amass wealth?
Millionaires and billionaires
Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University argues that the fact that politicians become millionaires and billionaires within a few years is a magnet to many aspirants.
“There are those with a lot of wealth – money – who join politics to protect and increase their wealth. Others join politics because it is easy money once one is inside. There are a few genuine people who join because a crisis forces them to offer needed guidance and leadership,” said Prof Munene.
Ahead of the 2022 elections, leading candidates have set up campaign secretariats manned by professionals who attract premium wages. Besides, they are also investing in helicopters for movement.
ODM leader Raila Odinga, whose family runs several businesses, has for years had helicopters at his disposal for crisscrossing the country. The league of helicopter owners also has Mwangi Kiunjuri who leads The Service Party (TSP).
In a report, ‘The cost of politics in Kenya: Implications for political participation and development’, Prof Karuti Kanyinga and Tom Mboya found that “running for office is becoming increasingly expensive and that rising costs in competitive elections are a challenge to participatory electoral democracy.”
For instance in the 2017 elections, the report states that the average of running for a Senate seat was Sh35.5 million, Woman rep Sh22.8 million and campaigning for a National Assembly seat cost an average of 18.2 million. A person vying for an MCA seat would have spent about Sh3.1 million.
The amounts differ widely in different constituencies and counties.
This goes to prove that only the well-resourced individuals ascend to the elective positions that control the country’s governance. In fact, in the campaign finance limits proposed by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), a presidential candidate is allowed to spend up to Sh4.4 billion, which only a handful of Kenyans can afford.
Political analyst cum governance expert Javas Bigambo argues that the manner in which politicians scramble to assemble their financiers to raise campaign funding is a clear indication that it is not about serving but minting wealth.
“The place of money in Kenyan politics is so much hoisted, to seal the deficit of ideas by most politicians. It is a fact that most are not persuasive with ideas, so they resort to use money as the conveyor belt into political office by treating voters,” said Mr Bigambo.
He went further: “As such, in Kenya, political office is not about service, but enrichment. Asset declaration has not cured this problem. The fact that one needs lots of money for campaigns, to show flamboyance and dazzle political spaces, devoid of ideas, leads to the sad reality that much money easily gets one into political office.”
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, an ardent defender of President Kenyatta, says that even though it requires intelligence, principle and guts to remain afloat in politics, money plays a key role in influencing voters.
“It is hard to do politics in Kenya without wealth; mainly because money has become a shortcut to influencing people. So it is hard to get into politics without some money. Once in, it takes more than money to stay in it; it also requires guts, and principles and intelligence,” Mr Wambugu elucidated.
Mr Wambugu’s assertion that one needs more money to stay in politics tallies with what Prof Kanyinga and Mr Mboya found in their study: that the costs do not stop when in office and that on average elected members of the National Assembly spend as much as Sh780,000 a month on development projects for constituents, donations to local interest groups and handouts.
University of Nairobi don XN Iraki is of the opinion that the wealthy join politics to safeguard their fortunes and make more of it.
“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,” said Prof Iraki.
Prof Iraki’s assertion raises an important point of the culture of corruption. If money attracts people to politics whether to safeguard it or make more, can corruption be defeated?
In ‘State Capture: Inside Kenya’s inability to fight corruption’, Mr Wachira Maina for Africa Centre for Open Governance (Africog) states that “the difficulties of fighting corruption in Kenya lie in the union of corruption and politics.”
With money at the centre of politics, most of the efforts to fight corruption are often meant to settle political scores for the survival of one party over another.
Political commentator, Prof Ken Oluoch, who heads the political science department at Moi University, argues that in emerging democracies like Kenya, electorates do not pay keen attention to manifestos of contenders but money given to them.
“In advanced democracies, it is the manifestos that matter more. However, in emerging democracies such as Kenya, politics is usually expensive in monetary terms, this is partly due to our political culture and the economic status of the populace. It is not necessarily true that those who join politics do so for monetary benefits but it is the cost of political campaigns that put many into that trend,” Prof Oluoch explained.
In the 2022 elections, the place of money and wealth in politics has come up again. MPs have often fought IEBC’s attempts to regulate spending and level the playing field. There is no promise that the campaign spending limits as gazette by IEBC will be allowed to check spending in the 2022 elections.