Expensive Politics could lock out Minority Groups from Leadership Opportunities

Posted by on 4th August 2021

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In the 2017 general election, it cost a Senatorial candidate an average of Ksh 35.5 million to contest for the seat. This is according to what respondents said in a report dubbed ‘The Cost of Politics in Kenya: Implications of Political Participation’ jointly commissioned by Mzalendo Trust, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD). The report also states that it cost an average of Sh 22.8 million, Sh 18.2 million and Sh 3.1 million to run for the Women Rep seat, Constituency MP seat and MCA seat respectively. Political seats in Kenya do not come cheap or easy.

These figures combined what candidates spent from the party primaries to the general election. The report, however, found that candidates spent more on party primaries to win party tickets than they did on the general election. Reason being that by securing the ticket of a dominant party, one was almost guaranteed of a win owing to the popularity of said party or party leader during the general election campaign.

The more one spends, the more they’re likely to spend. Though this does not apply to women the same way, the report goes on to say. Findings in the study reveal that in most cases, women are spending more than men, but they are not enjoying much success as a result. The data demonstrates the prevalence and extent of a gender gap in the continuum of election spending, performance and results.

In summary, the findings of this report prove that political leadership has become elitist and a preserve of a few who can afford to splash millions to secure a seat. What does it mean for the minority groups who do not have access to such finances? What does it mean for a 30-year-old woman living with disabilities who seeks to effect change through leadership but won’t be able to gain audience from the public that she seeks to serve? How can this group of people be able to sell their agenda and compete fairly against individuals who wield more financial muscle?

During one of our training sessions with youth leaders in 2020, one common obstacle that emerged was the lack of resources compared to the more seasoned and senior competitors. Financial muscle has come to be such an important thing in the political space as witnessed with the voter bribery, intimidation of political opponents, bribery of electoral officials and securing of more media airtime to sell political agendas. In addition to this, money takes centerstage in buying of party delegate votes in a bid to win party nomination tickets. A fair playing ground, therefore, seems unimaginable and impossible for the minorities.

Politics has become less about service leadership and more about business and making returns on campaign investments. Youth like Enock Onkoba, a participant of the Youth Parliament Initiative by Mzalendo Trust and KYPA, have endured intimidation, party primaries rigging, prolonged resolution process by the IEBC and even death threats in his bid to secure an MCA seat. He says that despite his popularity among the voters, his political opponents who were senior and had more money used any means possible to ensure his name was not on the ballot. They succeeded. If young people like Onkoba, with his constituents’ interests at heart, are not granted an opportunity to serve then change and development through leadership will remain a dream.

Implementation of campaign finance laws gives all political candidates a fair chance at competing for elective positions. They also give new entrants a chance to beat incumbents who can access several privileges by virtue of the position they hold. It will be remembered that in the 2017 campaigning period, former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar accused his competitor, Governor Ali Hassan Joho for hogging billboards. A level playing field is not limited to matters of finance but equal opportunity to sell a personal political agenda.

As we head into the 2022 campaigning period, laws and regulations should be implemented to the letter to ensure that money does not take center-stage in the politics but issue-based conversations do. That way Kenyans can vote in people based on merit and in turn hold them accountable during their tenure.