By Ooko Victor
15 Billion: the legally sanctioned upper limit for campaign funds for a single political party in Kenya which translates to about 0.24% of our GDP (as at 2015). Never mind that there are 2 leading rival political factions with the mathematical capacity to land the top seat, campaign funds notwithstanding. This is proof of just how expensive the price of ‘democracy’ in Kenya could be. The IEBC early this year alluded to a budgetary estimate of 40 billion, necessary to effectively conduct the 2017 General Elections(Business Daily 14/01/16). Against 12 million registered voters, this would translate to Ksh. 3, 300 ($33) required to enable a single registered voter to cast their vote, a record high for the country.
The entire nation has been treated to the political show of might this past weekend during the grand launch of the Jubilee Party at the Capital which coincided with their arch rival ODM’s 10th anniversary at the Coast. The message was clear. The battle lines have been drawn; the war chests filled and aching to be opened. Mwananchi must be dazzled and impressed with grand convoys branded in party colors and multi-billion worth of premises bought or leased to serve as the respective headquarters. All this is to convince the fence-sitting citizens to stand in line with the winning team.
Where does all this money come from?
To say ordinary citizens experience hard times in between elections would be an understatement. In contrast, the run-up to general elections are accompanied by attempts to ‘repair roads’, ‘organize tournaments’ and ‘visit the constituents’ all in a bid to remind them that the elected representatives are working for them and with them. 6 months into office and the default political modus operandi is activated. Kenyans keep falling for the same trick over and over again. We keep selling our stake for community development not to the highest bidder, rather to the bearer of the cash in hand.
Political power brokers accumulate campaign funds for a preferred candidate at whatever cost. Whoever said charity begins at home did not envisage the political arm-twisting that comes with political contributions. Yet, who will vote for a broke but visionary leader?
The laws are ineffective
It still remains to be seen whether the limits to Campaign financing will be observed. From personal experience, money recorded can be tracked. The same however cannot be said of unrecorded finances. In a country where corruption is a preserve of political geniuses, it would be interesting to see how this law would be implemented. I would however mention here that despite the high rate of election offenses, few politicians have been charged with the crime. Voter bribery is a demanded right by the electorate. The arresting officers are not any better. What use is the law if a few people cannot line their pockets with advance salary?
Too much money in circulation during elections is synonymous to auctioning our democracy to the highest bidder. It is a disadvantage to the women, youth and persons with disability whom despite great leadership potential may not have enough finances to match their loaded counterparts. The alternative for which of course is power brokerage.
The IEBC needs to do much more than just communicating the laws. Actual strategies should be laid on the ground and candidates’ accounts keenly scrutinized to ensure compliance. Election hotlines could also be instituted where cases of voter bribery could be reported. A media team if not currently functional, could be formed to monitor the IEBC website, Facebook Page and Twitter handles and a round the clock customer care center for instant information on the happenings in the constituency in real time so as to dispatch police officers where necessary for swift action. Whereas this may not curb electoral malpractices 100%, it would make the violation of electoral laws a cumbersome affair.
It should also be mandatory for all aspirants to declare their wealth before seeking elective office. Electoral laws formulated to that effect would go a long way in protecting public finances from thieving hands.
The buck stops with the voters
Despite the legal frameworks crafted to protect the electoral space, the buck stops with the Kenyan voters. Whereas we compare ourselves to Botswana and Republic of Korea and wonder where the rain started beating us; we need to realize that we are the product of our choices. We are the leaders we elect into office. And the only way of ensuring radical change that mirrors our expectations is to vote in sound leadership.
Whereas finances are necessary in fronting a good campaign, it should not override the candidates’ policies and character. The goal is not to eat today without considering tomorrow.
Mr. Ooko is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants