The recent nominations by the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance demonstrate the extent to which the aspirants can go to win the powerful positions up for grabs. While there is a sense of maturing democracy and competitive politics, the fight for elective office is a power game that involves massive spending, blended with violence. At stake is how much those positions can be used to influence public policy and business opportunities to keep the political machinery liquid.
There’s always a lively debate on what really drives those gunning for political office. Most politicians claim their interest is to lead their people, but experience has shown that most of them are motivated by the potential pay-off, mostly counted in how much they can make, or steal, and use their positions to benefit their families and cronies. Just before the nominations, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission reported that it would use its clearance system to lock out of the August 8 General Election governors and county officials implicated in corruption and abuse of office. That didn’t stop them from going ahead with the party nominations, which some won. Auditor-General Edward Ouko also produced a report that indicted county officials for demanding bribes from people seeking public services. The reports identified the counties, including Mombasa, Embu and Isiolo, where residents paid the highest bribes. Devolved corruption has a much more profound impact on Kenyans than before. The weird thing about Kenyans is that they least care about or are interested in the basic principles to consider in electing good leaders.
Chapter 6 of the Constitution on leadership and integrity doesn’t really matter to them, and in any case, it has proved difficult to enforce. The character and quality of the leader matters least so long as one has money to keep sycophants happy. Not even when aspirants intoxicate youth instead of buying them food.
Moreover, the Public Officer Ethics Act hasn’t been implemented rigorously to question the source of the lavish campaign spending. The funds could well be proceeds of crime and money laundering. The widespread use of money and organised violence to gain power, settle differences and influence public policy increases economic risks that affect the business environment. The cost of the 2007/8 post-election violence, which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced 350,000, is a reminder to Kenyans of how much they stand to lose if elections continue to drive violence. A good analysis on how money and violence influence politics can be found in Godfathers, Money Politics, and Electoral Violence in Nigeria: Focus on 2015 Elections by Victor A. O. Adetula, a professor of international relations and development studies at the University of Jos in Nigeria. The issues covered are strikingly familiar to Kenyans. The business community remains wary of an environment influenced by money and organised crime, rather than by sound economic judgment. Policy failure and distortions are already evident across the counties, in addition to corruption and abuse of office. Some governors and county officials have implemented decisions that stifle the growth of private enterprises. They include spending millions on governors’ residences rather than on development projects, and procuring heavy construction and drilling equipment for large infrastructure projects rather than engaging private sector operators to undertake such commercial activities.
The greatest burden of ensuring quality leadership falls on Nasa and Jubilee, which will have the highest representation in the next government. But Nasa is more preoccupied with shadowboxing with the IEBC while Jubilee is busy fighting pressure over the cost of food and showcasing its record. These are important issues but they should not overshadow the need for leaders committed to the quality and timely public service delivery necessary to underpin long-term economic growth and stability.
Peter Warutere is a director at Wananchi Communications.