The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has placed the cost of the upcoming general election on 8th August 2017 at KES 49,981,666,599 (quoted as KES 49.9 billion in the rest of the essay). We have 19,611,423 registered voters, bringing the average cost per voter to KES 2,396 (USD 23.05). Considering that not all registered voters turn up to vote, this figure may even be USD 30 or more after the election. This makes the 2017 general election Kenya’s most expensive election. It also makes Kenya’s election one of the most expensive in the world when the cost-per-eligible-voter metric is used. Perhaps the only election more expensive than ours is that of Papua New Guinea, whose cost per voter is USD 63.
For comparative purposes, the budget for the 2014 general election in India, the world’s largest democracy, was Rs 3,500 Crore (around USD 594 million at the time). India had 814.5 million eligible voters, bringing the average cost per voter to Rs 43 (USD 0.73). The total budget for Ghana’s 2016 general election was GHS 826 million. Ghana had 15,712,552 registered voters, bringing the average cost per voter to GHS 52.57 (USD 12.30). Our election is significantly more expensive than both, and this may be one of the reasons we experience so much political strife.
Low cost per voter figures (USD 1 – 3) are usually recorded for countries with a lot of previous experience with multi-party elections. The reason our election is so expensive is because of the high cost of registration, administrative inefficiencies, and usually, actual theft of funds. KES 33.3 billion will go to direct election expenditure, while KES 16.6 billion is allocated for indirect expenses. Of the KES 49.9 billion allocated to this election, KES 27.3 billion (54.7%) was allocated in the fiscal year 2016/17, while KES 22.6 billion (45.3%) was allocated in the fiscal year 2017/18. It’s important to note that the 2017/18 allocation excludes the ballot paper printing allocation of KES 2.5 billion, provided for in 2016/17.
KES 42.9 billion (84.3%) is allocated to the IEBC, while KES 3.8 billion is allocated to the State Department for Interior. The state department will be providing security in the whole country and at polling stations during the election. They have also provided security during the nominations process and campaigns, and part of their budget will be used to gazette special security officers to increase their numbers during the election period. The Department for Registration of Persons under this state department was also allocated KES 537 million to fasten the ease and process of Kenyans getting ID cards/other related documents, while the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was allocated KES 410 million to ensure “peaceful coexistence” before, during and after the election.
The Judiciary has earmarked KES 227 million for the Judicial Committee on Election, which will help resolve disputes that are raised by candidates after the election, while the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties has been allocated KES 229 million to regulate, monitor, investigate and supervise political parties to ensure legal compliance, administer the Political Parties Fund, among other duties. KES 1.5 billion has also been allocated to the Department for Defense to enhance security operations along the border, and KES 550 million has been allocated to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to support security operations. The reason quoted for the security expenditure (which comes to a combined total of KES 5.85 billion, or 11.7% of the total budget) is insecurity, following incidents in Lamu, Mandera and Wajir.
The Kriegler Commission Report (2009) said that “the costs in Kenya are comparable only to very special cases of post-conflict elections like Angola, Afghanistan or Cambodia. They are even higher than those observed in cases like Bosnia-Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords (US$ 8).” This should worry us. Some may say that the reason our elections are so expensive is because we are now voting for six representatives (the president, governor, senator, member of national assembly, woman representative, and member of county assembly), while before we only voted for the president and members of parliament. There is truth to that.
However, given that much of the spending by the IEBC goes into voter registration and administration, where a lot is wasted due to inefficiency, there is much room for improvement. When we consider the high cost of elections, the high cost of getting elected (which for a presidential candidate can be up to USD 50 million), and then the cost of running elections, it is no wonder that Kenya’s mood can be summarized as “permanently in between elections.” This spending incentivizes, or even guarantees, corruption once our representatives are in office. We may have made the first step in the right direction by restricting campaign financing for candidates, but more must be done on the state spending side. This is the only way to ensure that honest and competent candidates are able to compete and have a chance at representing their people.
We need to restrict the amount the state spends per voter, which will make the IEBC find ways to be efficient, and which will snap us out of our permanent election fever. If, for example, we said that we are going to spend USD 13 per registered voter (which is the Africa-wide average), the money saved can then be used to pay teachers, nurses, doctors and other public servants on whom we rely on a day to day basis, as opposed to supporting the spectacle we are treated to by politicians because of the vast amounts of money at stake.
After all, we get what we pay for. When we spend so much money on a once-in-five-years process, we are guaranteed to get spectacle and corruption. However, if we spend on our well-being, we will get a healthier, happier, more just Kenya.