BY PHOEBE NADUPOI

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) recently gazetted rules to control campaign spending. Of interest in the new regulations is the capping of spending for each elective position. For a presidential candidate, the limit is Sh5.25 billion whereas aspirants for gubernatorial, senate or women representative seats shall not exceed Sh33.4 million. Further, those seeking to be members of county assemblies can only spend up to Sh10.3 million.

Whereas controlling campaign spending is a good thing, setting high limits for campaign financing has the potential to lock out many potential political leaders. These upper limits seem to signal the unfortunate truism that politics is a game for the rich, for ordinary people can seldom marshal that kind of resources. The implication is that you can use money to get what you want, and that politics is about money. As we all know, a good leader is not necessarily a rich one – and this has been earnestly demonstrated in Kenya.

Do or die

The high limits of spending may, to some extent, undermine efforts made to bridge the gap between men and women. To begin with, since the regulations allow candidates to spend millions of shillings in campaigns, aspirants will naturally endeavour to pump in as much money as they can afford, provided they are within the confines allowable by law, to increase their chances of winning. This means the stakes will be high and the election may become a do or die for some. This scenario will enhance propensity for violence, a major factor that deters many women from engaging politics.

Other historical factors that have inhibited participation of women in competitive politics still stand. Key among these is limited economic power. Owing to the fact that Kenya is a patriarchal society, men have, for years, controlled family wealth (land, livestock, etc.) and were/are exposed to more opportunities, giving them comparative advantage. The fact that we have no single elected woman governor or senator is testimony to this fact.

But there is, perhaps, need to look at the impact of these rules beyond the men/women classification. Let me provide my basis for the need think beyond men-women ratio.

The Constitution has certainly provided instruments for promoting gender parity in politics in Kenya. It has provided for affirmative action through party nominations and more substantively by creating the 47 seats that provides for election of a woman to the National Assembly from each county. Another key provision is the two-thirds gender rule, which requires that no single gender should exceed 66.7 of elected leaders in Parliament or county assembly, even as debate rages as to how this ought to be realised.

That said, many women – even those who have capacity to compete with men – have opted to compete for the women representative position, with only a handful venturing into the male dominated arena of “gender competitive” seats. Some of the women already in these positions come from political or influential families. The question then begs, do they represent the “interests of the ordinary woman”?

If majority of women cannot afford the high campaign funding required to compete for more political seats beyond the 47 reserved for women, won’t the IEBC rules then be alienating them further? This conundrum provides an opportunity for political parties to demonstrate their support for their women candidates, and support emancipation of women in the political arena.

The need to control campaign spending cannot be gainsaid. There is, however, need to have realistic projections, and therefore lower caps. Other than tenderpreneurs, MCAs, as well as some governors who have quickly amassed wealth in the last four years, the majority of contestants cannot raise the suggested amounts, thus disadvantages them. At the same time, IEBC needs to ensure sponsors of political parties and candidates are made public. This will guard against conflict of interest and abuse of office once political candidates assume office.

Writer is an advocacy and communications practitioner; Email: pnadupoi@gmail.com

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