Millions of dollars at play as Kenyans go into their most expensive election yet
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Millions of dollars at play as Kenyans go into their most expensive election yet

Posted ERICK ODUOR

on  Monday, May 22   2017 at  20:07

International propagandists, bulging campaign kitties and investments in modern technology are the key factors driving the campaigns of Kenya’s main political groupings — the Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance — in the run-up to the August 8 polls.

Both Jubilee and Nasa have crafted classy campaign strategies, whose implementation, analysts said, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement beginning May 28, when the official campaign period kicks off.

According to Johnson Sakaja, a statistician and former chairman of The National Alliance, the party that catapulted President Uhuru Kenyatta to power in 2013, a successful presidential campaign requires about Ksh5 billion ($50 million).

“Sometimes this figure can go up. Media and publicity take the lion’s share of the budget,” said Mr Sakaja, who is flying the Jubilee flag in the Nairobi senatorial race.

Other major budget items are campaign merchandise, advertising, communications, transport, research, human resources, event organising and operations.

In addition, leading politicians have also bought helicopters and four wheel vehicles to ease their movements across the country during the campaign period. Hiring a helicopter costs about $2,500 per hour, inclusive of fuel and the pilot’s remuneration.

A campaign budget for a gubernatorial aspirant for the just concluded party primaries seen by The EastAfrican for a county in rural Kenya was rounded off at Ksh300 million ($3 million) but the figure will double when official campaigns begin. This means that to become a governor, a candidate should have at least Ksh600 million ($6 million) to mount a successful campaign.

Independent candidates

To become a Member of Parliament, three aspirants who participated in the just concluded party primaries said one needs at least Ksh15 million ($15,000) to mount a successful campaign.

However, this figure could change depending on size of the constituency and its population dynamics. The emergence of independent candidates is also said to have pushed up the cost of campaigns, because a candidate who has won party primaries will end up facing the same opponents in the August 8 polls.

The leading two political groupings have resource mobilisation teams, mainly comprising leading business moguls who help presidential candidates raise the millions needed for campaign.

Nasa’s team is led by businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, who midwifed the Jubilee Coalition but later fell out with President Kenyatta’s allies while President Kenyatta is being backed by billionaires from his Mount Kenya backyard under the aegis of Mount

Kenya Foundation in addition to his family’s vast business empire.

Mr Wanjigi avoided the limelight during former regime but attended the unveiling of the Nasa presidential candidate at Uhuru Park in Nairobi last month, leading to a propaganda blitz from Jubilee supporters, who printed banners that were displayed along major highways in Nairobi last Thursday to castigate his political leanings.

Sources of funding and budgets are closely guarded secrets, however, the recent admission by a US-based lobby Vanguard Africa, that it is working with the opposition raised speculation that Mr Odinga could have sought and received financial and technical support.

In March, Vanguard Africa invited Mr Odinga to the US for a visit during which roundtable talks were arranged with leaders of think tanks focusing on Africa in Washington.

Political parties maintain that their campaign finances are generated mainly from party activities like membership fees, monthly contributions by elected leaders, fund-raising and donations from well-wishers and supporters. For instance, in 2007, retired President Mwai Kibaki fundraised for his re-election at a Ksh1 million ($10,000) per plate dinner.

Political parties also receive funding from the exchequer to run their programmes, depending on their performance in the previous election.

According to the Political Parties Act, a party must have garnered at least three per cent of the total votes cast in a general election to qualify for funding by the exchequer. In the 2014/2015 financial year figures, the National Alliance received $866,679, the Orange Democratic Movement $848,239 and United Republican Party $273,688 on the basis of their strengths in parliament.

Fundraising, Mr Sakaja says, is critical in politics due to the high stakes and costly expenditure during the campaigns.

“People raise funds from friends and people both locally and abroad,” said Mr Sakaja.

Sources close to the leading political parties say a lacuna in the law will see campaign funds hit a record high, given the increased stakes, investment in international experts and modern technology to spearhead campaigns and monitor voting and transmission of results at the polling stations.

Law is changed

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had capped the budget for the presidential campaign but parliament and Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga opposed the regulations, saying they were not backed by law.

Amendments to the Elections Act in December last year sealed the fate of the IEBC in regulating campaign cash after MPs ganged up to repeal the Elections Campaign Financing Act.

“There is no way IEBC can monitor campaigns funds this year. Perhaps beginning with the 2022 polls, if the law is changed,” said Andrew Limo, IEBC communications manager.

According to earlier regulations, political parties could receive up to Ksh15.03 billion ($148.2 million) in contributions with a single source limited to Ksh3 billion ($29.5 million). Presidential candidates were limited to spending Ksh5.25 billion ($51.8 million) while those contesting for the governor/senator/women’s representative seats allowed to spend up to Ksh433 million ($4.3 million).

The Parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation and that of Legal Affairs and Administration of Justice then raised the red flag, saying the regulations were not backed by any law, setting the stage for amendments to the Elections Act that rendered them null and void.

To craft strategies, sources revealed, parties have already acquired services of reputable international information and communication technology and campaign experts to work with their local counterparts. To these teams goes the task of crafting and monitoring implementation of campaign strategy.

While Nasa on Wednesday, appointed Nairobi-based lawyer Willis Otieno to head its campaign secretariat, a team of experts is working from separate locations around Nairobi to deliver on various assignments.

Kibisu Kabatesi, spokesman of Musalia Mudavadi, one of the Nasa principals, said the opposition already has a team of international and local experts working on a campaign strategy, which will be handed to the co-principals at the end of the week to pave the way for gradual implementation.

“A team of local and international experts are working on our strategy, which we hope will be ready by the end of this week. We are going to match Jubilee’s tonnes of campaign cash because we have majority of Kenyans behind us,” said Mr Kabatesi.

President Kenyatta, on the other hand, is relying on services of a British consultancy firm SCL Elections to work with the Jubilee Party secretariat headed by Raphael Tuju to deliver victory.

According to information available on its website, SCL focuses on several electoral areas — research, analysis of data, campaign strategy, communications, party organisation, budgeting and fundraising.

In Kenya’s last general election, SCL Elections handled President Kenyatta’s communications, branding and policy formulation.

“We’ve worked with brands, political organisations and advocacy groups all over the world, and our methodology has been approved by the US State Department, Sandia National Laboratories and Nato,” SCL says on its website.

The government has been jittery about foreign funding of political activities including civic education, even going as far as freezing bank accounts of foundations run by key opposition leaders — Kalonzo Musyoka and Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero — over what it termed lack of accountability for millions of dollars they had received.