What you need to know:
- After election victory, legislators rarely convene meetings to discuss legislative matters, but use their seats to recoup the costs incurred.
- Their financiers, in turn, use them to connect to networks in government for lucrative tenders.
How much do candidates spend in contesting elections in Kenya? How much did candidates in the Kiambaa constituency and Muguga by-elections spend before, during and after the campaigns?
Answers to these questions are usually lost when we discuss which party wins. Yet these questions and answers have implications on the type of leaders we elect into office and what it means for national development.
We can say with certainty that money matters in politics in Kenya. A recent study on the Cost of Politics in Kenya shows that elective seats do not come cheap. The research includes interviews with candidates for Senate, Member of Parliament (MP) including County Woman Representative, and Members of County Assemblies (MCAs).
It examines what a sample of candidates from across the country spent in 2017 during party primaries, the election campaign itself, and while in office.
One can’t run for any elective post if one does not have millions. Not even for an MCA seat. The choice of party is equally important. A dominant party in a particular region is a good bet. But you are in trouble if there is a popular independent candidate, and it is even worse if the independent candidate was rigged out at the party primaries.
The demand for bribes by voters pushes the costs up. There are regions and communities where voters queue for Sh50. In other regions, voters will view this as an insult. In Northern Kenya, you won’t get away with Sh50. You don’t greet people with less than Sh1,000.
The Cost of Politics research reveals that the Senate seat is the most expensive of all the parliamentary seats in Kenya. It cost an average of Sh35.5 million to contest the Senate seat in 2017.
To win is a different matter. Some senators won by spending as much as Sh40 million, while others lost after spending close to Sh50 million. Indeed, the costs at party primaries and the General Election vary depending on the region.
The County Woman Representative seat is not cheap either. Woman Rep candidates spent an average of Sh22.8 million. There are those who spent more than this amount and still lost.
To be elected as an MP, candidates spent an average of Sh18.2 million. That said, there are candidates who spent considerably more. The post of MCA is the least expensive, costing an average of Sh3.1 million. Again, many candidates spent as much as Sh8 million and still lost.
Candidates raise resources from many sources. These include individual’s personal savings and the support of friends and family. Interestingly, support by friends can be substantial, especially when the friends are business associates. Less than 20 per cent of survey respondents received financial support directly from their political party.
What you spend to win
The study reveals that, overall, the more you spend, the greater the chances of winning. Victorious Senators spent an average of Sh49 million from party primaries all the way to the ballot and the poll day. The average expenditure for winning Woman Reps was Sh32.2 million. Candidates who won as MPs spent Sh21 millions while victorious MCAs spent an average of Sh4 million.
There are variations along party lines too. On average, in 2017 it cost more to contest election on a Jubilee ticket than a Nasa one. It cost an average of Sh40 million to run for the Senate seat, and Sh35.4 million to contest for the Woman Rep seat.
Nasa Woman Rep candidates spent, on average, less than half (Sh17 million) the amount their Jubilee counterparts spent. Those running for Senate on Nasa-aligned political parties spent about Sh7 million less than their competitors in Jubilee.
Nasa candidates for MP and MCA spent slightly more than their Jubilee counterparts. This was as a result of internal party primaries and how they were carried out. Jubilee cancelled results of some party primaries and ordered a repeat in some areas. This cost some candidates more in the primaries. Nasa was a coalition and this meant that constituent parties competed against each other, further driving up costs.
These figures underline several things. One, the more you spend, the more the chance of winning. Those who won spent about 50 per cent more than those who lost. Two, the choice of political party matters. The support of a dominant party enhances a candidate’s chances of success, provided there is no strong independent candidate. Three, expenditure within a coalition, and expenditure for an individual party, varies.
Women spend as much as men, and in many cases more, to get elected. However, their expenditure does not yield the same results as that of men. Thus, if you are a woman, you often spend more and do not win. Prevailing patriarchal attitudes account for this, and make women adopt radically different strategies to campaign. They use door to door campaigns or end up meeting smaller groups of people.
High costs of maintaining seats
The costs do not stop once elected to office. On average, elected MPs spend as much as Sh780,000 a month in constituency office related expenses. While in office, voters demand an MP spends on development projects or to make donations to local groups. This comes to more than the basic monthly salary of an MP. Spending more than the basic salary is a common feature for all elected seats in this survey.
Does this mean elective politics is a zero-sum game? Far from it. There are benefits that entice politicians to continually seek re-election. For instance, the average salaries and emoluments for these parliamentary seats over the five-year term is about Sh68.4 million, much more than the cost of getting elected. The total salary and emoluments therefore are not a bad return on investment.
But it can be problematic for those who take loans to finance campaigns.
There are several key drivers of these costs. First, there is poor enforcement of the law and regulations on campaign financing. Second, the benefits that come with being an elected official extend beyond the salaries and benefits. The position grants the individual the title of Mheshimiwa, a title that opens doors into Kenya’s wider patronage structures. Finally, voters also constantly demand handouts.
What does all this tell us?
These findings imply that not everyone can contest and win an election. These high costs prevent capable candidates from contesting for elective office if they do not have resources. High costs make politics a pursuit of the wealthy. Also, these costs make it difficult for women and youth to effectively engage in electoral politics, albeit for different reasons.
The costly nature of Kenyan politics exacerbates corruption and patronage. This is evidenced by the fact that legislators rarely convene meetings to discuss legislative matters that the constituents would like presented in Parliament or at the County Assembly, but go to great lengths to ensure re-election.
Elected officials use their seats to recoup the costs incurred. Financiers, in turn, use them to connect to networks in government for lucrative tenders. Thus, corruption and politics become intertwined so neatly that public service is lost. In short, politics has become increasingly transactional, rather than a calling to serve society.
Prof Karuti Kanyinga is based at the University of Nairobi; Tom Mboya is a Governance Consultant.