Is our politics economically viable?

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By Kenyatta Otieno

Kenya is ever in a state of perpetual elections mood. General Election results are always the beginning of another five years of political what not and what ifs. We live on election fever. A visitor to Kenya will wonder if being Kenyan other than being an athlete comes with an engrained talent in political analysis. He may also be forgiven for thinking post-election violence is waiting for Moses Kuria and his ilk to open their mouth. We eat, drink and sleep politics, a big burden for a fledgling democracy in a Third World country.

In every engagement one invests his time and resources in, it is prudent that one evaluates if the returns are worth his effort and time. Mathematics did not make sense in school until much later when I realised everything in life obeys the complex laws of mathematics, and can be described in mathematical terms. We cannot just spend a good amount of our time and resources politicking without looking at the product of our efforts.

The Kenyan norm is every meeting and discussion at some point will go political. I was talking to a friend of mine from Kakamega County about local politics in the county and the prospects of winning a political seat.  Initially, he had planned to go for a parliamentary seat but he switched to Member of County Assembly. The day I learned of this development, I picked the phone and called him. His reason was financial. He was part of the campaign teams of former members of parliament in the area so he knows the dynamics. He put it clearly that as an aspirant, the moment you announce your bid, you will be spending up to Sh250,000 every weekend.

You also have to travel to the constituency every weekend. If you don’t go, you have to send at least 50% of that amount to your agents on the ground. He did not have such amounts of money so he opted for the MCA seat, which has a lower expectation from the electorate; the area covered is also smaller. If one puts into consideration that you have to announce your candidature early enough to stand a better chance, then one has to have a good amount of money. Put it at eight months with three months going for Sh150,000 per weekend. It comes to about Sh6.8 million for the party nominations.

That is the hard cash spent by aspirants. On the electorate side, when two or three people are gathered, politics is being discussed. A look at our social media will reveal just how much of our energy and time politics consumes. Every political outfit has hired a gang of keyboard warriors to cover the online terrain. The creativity put into crafting hard-hitting punches that go into these engagements elicits many questions. Where do these sharp minds get the time to be on social media as one survey put it on average, for six and a half hours a day? This is equivalent to a workday, minus the lunch break. It then begs the assumption that politics should give us perks equal to what our day jobs give us.

It was reported that Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta spent a whooping Sh7 billion each in 2013 presidential elections. By then, governors had estimated their campaigns to have gobbled up at least Sh60 million – now it is in the tune of Sh100 million. Senate seat should have taken more but a dip in interest for the Senate seat has lowered its financial value. All the governors, assuming every county has two serious contestants will gobble up Sh9.4 billion. If we put Senate and Parliament at Sh10 million per aspirant, you can imagine the amount of money that we send into the bottomless pit of Kenyan politics.

Article 88 (i) of the Constitution specifies that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) shall regulate the amount of money spent by political parties and candidates. As is the case with many good policies in this country, this clause is not worth the paper it is printed on. IEBC does not have the capacity to monitor the amount of money that gets into our political play field. The Constitution also stipulates that Treasury will fund political parties so as to minimise the amount of money from unknown sources that drives our politics. All these are good pieces of laws that no one is ready to execute.

We are in the middle of a major maize crisis. This is not new as it happened prior to the 2013 elections as well. The mystery around our depleted strategic grain reserve at NCPB that is administered at Cabinet Secretaries level by several ministries cannot be the work of drought and global warming. The Mexican maize saga and supplementary budget approval by parliament for the same leaves a trail of big dots that anyone can join to make the picture. We pay for our expensive politics through our noses and empty stomachs. We will never eradiate corruption until we lower the financial value of our politics.

The end product of politics in general and general elections in particular is leaders. The money and time we spend on politics can only make sense if the resultant leadership is worth the hustle. Good leaders will then go into office and run the government in such a way that we get a good return to our investment as a country. This is never the case as the current high cost of basic commodities in Kenya is a case of poor fiscal leadership. Our debt has hit the roof; at this rate, we are eating our grandchildren’s lunch yet we elected leaders through sweat and pain. To say the least, our politics is not economically viable.

The cartels behind corruption in this country have raised the price of politics. The value is out of reach for good leaders who can turn things around. This goes on to perpetuate a case of bad leaders bribing and riding on tribal parties coming out of a political process we are always happy to invest our emotions in. The math in our politics does not add up.

As we go to the polls, I know your judgment, like that of the next Kenyan, is shrouded around a tribal chief and his party. Count the cost, and vote for leaders who will make the pain, and effort we go through in this country in the name of politics end up worthwhile.

Like that famous Yanga SC of Tanzania supporter said in tears, it is fans that feel the pain when their team loses. When the politicians go into the political field with their choreographed propaganda and hot air promises, and the dust settles, it is Kenyans who will be left to deal with the pain.

Writer is a practising hydrologist

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