In Kenya it's business in politics and politics for business - report

Part of the voters line up to cast their ballot during the voting process at St Teresa Primary School in Mathare constituency, Nairobi.[File,Standard]

A new study has exposed the confusion money has wrought on politics, revealing the actual spending of candidates and warning that politics in Kenya risks being overrun by money.

Titled “The cost of politics in Kenya; implications for political participation and development,” the study concludes that candidates are outgunning each other at spending level and least on transformative ideas.

Because politics is assuming a largely transactional model, businessmen and women are now flocking the sphere with abandon. The study found that 40 per cent of those interviewed entered politics from the business sector.

A joint work of Prof Karuti Kanyinga and Tom Mboya, both acclaimed governance experts, the study says that even with the very best of intentions, under current conditions, it is unlikely that one can seriously compete for elections without a significant financial war-chest.

However, money is not the only consideration as running on the dominant party also tends to propel unlikely candidates to victory. Gender also comes to play as the study was able to demonstrate that despite women spending more than men, they were least likely to win elections.

“The high cost of politics is excluding capable candidates without access to sizeable resources. Politics is rapidly becoming the preserve of those able to pay the high costs associated with running an election campaign,” the study says.

In comparative terms, the study figured out, politicians tended to spend more money than the ones they legitimately earn once in offices, making it a bad draw between cost and returns. This consideration puts off many potential leaders leaving politics to a few. But it also shed light on the actual motivation of political candidates, salaries and allowances being the least of them. What looks to an outsider like a zero-sum game is laden with grand opportunities at rent-seeking with elected officials turning to executive and to the public sector institutions for contracts. This forms the basis for thriving corruption in the public sector. It also forms the basis for a constant political mode in the country, where politicians ignore attending to their core functions.

Because of this endless cycle of the hunt for money to replenish what is lost in contributions to development projects, donations to groups, and fund-raising and supporting individuals in need, “at no time did any sitting respondent point out that they convene meetings to discuss legislative matters that the constituents would like presented in Parliament or the County Assembly.”

The study, therefore, concludes this “transactional nature of politics” is reducing opportunities for debate and dialogue between elected officials and their constituents. “Instead, elected officials turn their office into a source of patronage for the purpose of maintaining supporters and improving chances of re-election.” The study reveals that of the seat studies, the Senate seat is the most expensive of all the posts to contest for.

It cost an average of Sh35.5 million followed by Woman Representative seats Sh22.8 million, MPs Sh18.2 million, and MCA’s Sh3.1 million.

The costs, however, vary with individuals, regions, and political parties. For instance, it costs more in Western Kenya and Nyanza to run for Senate than it costs in the former Coast Province and in Southern Rift.

Despite spending an average of Sh35 million to attain their seats, woman representatives spent a total of Sh32.5 million in personal contributions at Sh500,000 per month. Their total pay in allowances for the five-year period is around Sh50 million.

“MPs become a major source of funds for development projects, local social groups, and supporting needy individuals. It is important for elected leaders to remain visible all the time in the constituency. Therefore, the expenditure tends to revolve around visibility,” the study says.

The study blames voters for the situation. It says pressure emerges from their failure to appreciate that the 2010 Constitution recast the role of elected leaders. Whereas elected officials used to be the link between the government and the voters at the local level, the Constitution has now squarely placed them at oversight.

“Voters, however, still demand ‘development projects’ from MPs even though this is the responsibility of the national and county executives. But their understanding of the role of elected officials has not changed,” it says.

The study predicts that the next elections will be more competitive, picking up from where 2017 left off. It attributes this to the winner-takes-all electoral system, in which those who win tend to exclude the losers completely.

The study drew data from a survey of 300 aspirants, governance experts, and elected politicians. The study was funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy. 

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