The High Cost of Politics in Kenya

Posted by on 11th August 2020

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On August 5th, Westminster Foundation for Democracy in partnership with Mzalendo Trust and the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, launched a report on the ‘Cost of Parliamentary Politics in Kenya.’ The report sought to highlight the cost of seeking Parliamentary office in Kenya.

On average, it was revealed that, on average, a Parliamentary campaign cost between Ksh. 20M – Ksh. 35M. This includes campaign done for both the primaries and the campaign phase. The electoral process in Kenya was found to be quite expensive. It costs about Ksh. 2700 ($25) per voter.

Additionally, the report revealed that there are several factors that increase the cost of Parliamentary politics in Kenya. One of these is minimal party support where aspirants who vie for posts which are not of particular interest to the party do not receive adequate financial support. There is also the matter where political parties have not been receiving funds appropriately from the Registrar of Political Parties. For example, in 2019, only Jubilee and ODM were able to receive funds from the Ksh. 371M fund.

Respondents in the study stated that financial resources for the campaigns mostly came from personal resources and from family/friends contributions. This shows how discriminatory access to political office can be for those who are not from well-to-do backgrounds. In addition, there was the conclusion that party primaries were more expensive than general campaigns. This is because most of the funds went into paying nomination fees, purchasing campaign materials and the grassroots mobilization of campaign teams and voters.

Building on this, one of the main reasons for this exorbitant cost is due to the high expectations of voters on political aspirants. Due to the commercialization of politics & the knowledge that political aspirants are willing to spend significant sums to get elected the electorate expect politicians & political parties to compensate them for their support. The electorate seeks compensation for various purposes. These range from individual needs, such as sustenance & medical care, to community needs such as schools, health centres and roads. This first occurs on the campaign trail but the expectation continues to the office.

While this is largely caused due to issues of voter bribery, the large populace is not aware of the roles and functions of Members of Parliament and believe that wielding political power is the key to financial freedom. This causes a strain on Members of Parliament as they are unable to juggle the electorate’s financial expectations, their own personal goals and how to manage their public images.

Interestingly, just last week, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to impose a minimum pension of Ksh. 100, 000 for members of Parliament who served between 1983-2001. While arguing for an increase of their pension, Members in the House stated that they still received many requests for money from citizens even when they were retired.

It can be seen that the high cost of politics deters the active and meaningful participation of youth and women. Mzalendo Trust’s report released last year recommended that there is need for an adequate campaign financing legislation to put all parties, especially marginalized communities, at par. There is also need for increased civic awareness to ensure that citizens understand the roles and functions of their democratically elected leaders.