If political posters were ugali, Kenya would be the best fed African country

Even before the Kenyan parties have done their nominations for the March 4 elections, candidates’ campaign posters have been mushrooming on trees, electricity poles, and walls in Nairobi.

I don’t know about the rest of Kenya. I was in Kitale and Pokot some days ago and I saw only a sprinkling of posters.

On two recent evenings, I noticed pick-ups parked on the roadside with armies of young men out putting up campaign posters. That is when it occurred to me there is a whole political industry of campaign posters out there.

In this campaign season, thousands of young people will earn small money putting up politicians’ posters. However, the premium, I am told, is in sabotage – defacing and pulling down those of rival candidates.

Where a candidate might pay Sh25 for putting up a single poster, his rival could pony up to Sh75 for pulling it down. Understandable because defacing a poster is a crime and therefore riskier. Crime does pay more than honest work.

I asked colleagues and friends in the printing industry how much campaign stuff costs. An A3-size glossy poster goes for between Sh100-Sh150, they told me.

This year, though, there is a small wrinkle. Managers of presidential candidates, we gather, are quietly sending word to parliamentary, gubernatorial, and senatorial candidates that if they want to be “looked upon favourably by the flag-bearer”, they should include him in their posters.

This practice actually started with the 2007 election, but it has gone bigger this time. So we are seeing councillors, governors and other hopefuls’ posters with Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru and CORD’s Raila popping up.

Now, if you are a wise man or woman, you don’t squeeze the “president” in a small corner somewhere. You give him respectful treatment.

The result is that the A3 poster is no longer practical. And with the additional image of your coalition leader in the poster, costs have actually gone up. The cost of posters for most candidates, therefore, will be more than Sh150.

Now, there are about 4,200 big, medium, and small offices Kenyans will elect leaders to in March. If we assume that each office will have on average of five contenders, then we are talking about 21,000 candidates on the ballot.

The print industry folks tell me that an MP needs 2,000-5,000 posters, depending on the constituency size and how hotly contested it is. A governor will be looking at 10,000-15,000 posters. A presidential candidate needs 20,000 to 40,000 posters. The councillors need fewer.

If you collected all the posters and distributed them to the 21,000, conservatively that would be about 5,000 posters for each. At the price of Sh150 for a poster, it means about Sh16 billion will be spent on posters alone.

Clearly, the business to be in this year is printing. Pity the election bonanza comes along just once in five years. In all, there will be about 105 million posters printed. At that number, in Africa, probably only Nigeria has printed more posters than Kenya will this year.

The population of Kenya at the end of 2012 was 43 million, so by the end of the voting there could be about 2.5 posters for every Kenyan.

Another way to look at this is to flip this way: The plain average loaf of bread in Kenya costs Sh40. The posters’ expenditure would buy 400 million loaves of bread, enough for every Kenyan to get nine.

Better still, a basic 74x36 inch mattress in most towns sells for about Sh1,375. For Sh16 billion, we could buy 11,637,000 mattresses. If we leave out the rich, middle and working class households, that would allow us to give two new foam mattress to each poor Kenyan home, and set off a national outbreak of warm fuzzy sleep.

You look at this stuff and you realise that like many other “poor” African countries, Kenya is actually not poor. The lolly is there. The only problem is how it’s passed around.

Yes, democracies need elections to appoint leaders and choose policies by which to be governed. However, in these countries of ours, they are also reminders of the dreams that go unrealised, and the wonderful things we could do with our resources that we don’t.

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