Candidates in Kenya’s August 9 presidential election are wrapping up their campaigns after parties spent heavily on often lavish displays of wealth.
Despite economic problems and a wide gap between rich and poor, Kenya’s election spending was among the highest in the world, raising concerns about its impact on the nation’s democratic development.
“Kenyan elections are among the most expensive in the world in terms of cost [incurred by] the electoral management body, but also in terms of funding on the ground,” said Tom Wolf, an American pollster and political researcher in Nairobi.
Derrick Makhandia, Program Officer at Transparency International Kenya, agreed.
“It will cost you a little over 4 billion Kenyan shillings [$33.5 million] just to become president,” he said.
According to Transparency International Kenya, a race for governor costs about $336,000, and a bid for parliament costs roughly $168,000.
Critics say the high cost of running for political office in Kenya has been a barrier for many women, youth and people with disabilities.
Beth Ngunyi is running for parliament in Kirinyaga County, her fourth attempt as an independent. He said it is too expensive to run as a candidate for a political party because of the high nomination fee required.
“The higher the seat, the higher the money they ask for,” he said. “And you have to give them because if you don’t give them, they won’t even let you address the talk shows.”
Political campaigns around the world are inherently expensive. But observers say campaigns in Kenya are largely unchecked and unregulated.
With many people living below the poverty line, observers say voters are more susceptible to bribery by wealthy politicians, fueling a cycle of government corruption.
“Because of this unregulated spending, those in power always see corruption as a reliable source of money for their campaigns because they can’t afford to use their money, that would be too risky. What if fail?” Makhandia said.
Kenya’s 2010 constitution requires the country’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, to develop campaign finance and expenditure regulations. All the commission’s proposals have been rejected by Parliament.
Unless balances are struck, observers say, politics in Kenya will remain almost exclusively for the rich.