In our election: ‘Money talks. Integrity and ideas walk’

Volume 14, Issue 2  | 
Published 30/10/2017

By Caroline Lukalo who was an Aspirant for the Dagoretti North Seat in the 2017 Elections. 

I have always felt that as Kenyans we are really good at being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing the right thing. So, we are reviewing the education syllabus and kicking out students with great grades and yet our education system is actually in shambles with the quality education accessible only to those whose parents can afford it. We boast world class medical facilities and doctors capable of successfully separating Siamese twins but our medical system has collapsed and the world class medical care is available only to those who can afford it. (Nurses are still on strike, cholera is on the loose.)

And so it is seems with our electoral system. We have just held general elections and on the surface it appears that it was impeccable. All equipment worked, except where it didn’t. All processes and procedures were followed as per protocol, except where they weren’t. And the country is all set to return to normal, except it isn’t. There is a deep sense of dissatisfaction amongst a large part of the electorate that something is off, that the elections were not free and fair.

So where have we gone wrong? Have we even gone wrong?  

I ran for office of MP Dagoretti in 2007 – it had not been divided into Dagoretti North and South at the time. Formidable competition was present from the incumbent Beth Mugo and John ‘KJ’ Kiarie.  Beth Mugo was elected in a race that was a battle between Beth Mugo and KJ. Essentially towards the end of the campaign, voting as a block knocked the rest of us out of contention. I sat 2013 out as I thought if Kenyans could actually consider voting in (and they did) people who the world believed had committed the most heinous of crimes, there was nothing I could do to help them.   I chose to stand again this year as I believed Kenyans had moved forward and were interested in hearing candidates’ agendas and were less concerned with party affiliation or handouts – boy was I wrong!

Whose party is that?

I am affiliated to the Federal Party of Kenya. Whenever I introduced myself I was asked ‘Whose party is that?’ We are working to build a party that stands on its own and is not behoven to an individual but rather is built on principles and values. Since we do not have a ‘somebody’ heading us, the follow-up question was ‘Are you with Uhuru or Baba?’ or a variation of the same. It became clear from the onset I would need to stress the NASA affiliation. 

It seems the awareness that the life circumstances of many Kenyans are affected by those we elect; however there seems to be an almost unhealthy fixation with the person running for Office of The President as the determining factor as to who we vote for. So immediately you pick a side.  The closer you are affiliated to the individual running for the Presidency, the better your chances of success. And even if you believe the candidate on that party ticket is not the best, you accept it as party loyalty is key.

Caroline campaigning in the community

Money talks. Integrity and ideas walk.

Goodness the money spent! Out of 16 candidates the battle at the end of the day was between the 3 candidates who spent the most. One just gave out cash, another 200/- plus rice and the third was giving out iron sheets. Whilst I tried door-to-door campaigns without hand-outs, I found that a very cordial meeting would turn hostile and chilly immediately it was known there was no money. It was not unusual to have groups of people on the road shouting that if I was not giving out money I was wasting my time. There are those in the bottom 13 who also spent millions of shillings in hand-outs, however, they did not do well – possibly as they lost in nominations and stood as independent candidates.

Many people took money from multiple candidates across the political spectrum. It seems loyalty to the individual who leads the party won out.  The incumbent is a member of ODM and loyalty was to Raila, the lady who was placed second is in Jubilee (there are Uhuru loyalists in Dagoretti North); and the person who was placed third was in ANC and those loyal to Musalia followed his request that they vote for his candidate.

Can you see me now?

There are those of us who were raised to follow the rules. So when the IEBC says do not interfere with opponents campaign materials, we follow the rules. Others do not.

It was almost impossible to obtain any visibility. I would have my posters put up, and within a day, they were covered or removed. For those who had deep pockets, this was a strategy that ensured I had low visibility. They know that many candidates from smaller parties or independents are working on a stringent budget and are unable to produce additional materials with ease.  Put this together with the media’s seeming unwillingness to profile these other candidates, and the challenge of getting my message out became daunting.  It was so severe that the day before voting, one of the candidates had removed or covered every single one of my posters at the polling centres.

Loyalty for sale

About one month to the election, I had made excellent inroads.  People had heard of me and I was gaining ground. And then two opponents approached some of my key campaigners and engaged them – essentially they out-bid me.  My campaigners switched loyalty and moved swiftly to mobilize people to switch allegiance.

IEBC effectiveness at local level

On the surface, the IEBC seems to be in control. I did get reports from some of my agents of impropriety at various centres. At Kabiro Primary School, they did not start counting votes until about 3am as they were being pressured to sign forms without counting. I did not have agents in every station so wouldn’t know how prevalent the problem was.

As I visited the polling stations on election-day, I was constantly denied admission and had to cause a scene to gain admission. In some areas they said they did not know who I was (my face on the ballot paper doesn’t give an indication I guess) and in others, they were just plain hostile.

Money matters

Campaigning is expensive and you actually do need cash even without handouts. For petrol, airtime, refreshments, the occasional security and as allowances for those campaigning with you. Campaigners often tried to pressure me into giving out handouts; mainly I believe because it ensured that they themselves got something.

Personal challenges

About two months before election day, my mother fell ill enduring two hospital stays and eventually passing away on 4th August – the second last day of campaigning. This wreaked havoc on my finances and was a distraction from the campaigns. It also presented a dilemma at the end of the campaigns: Should I hold a roadshow as planned and would it be appropriate for me to be seen campaigning on the back of a pickup having just received news of my mother’s death? I did not hold the roadshow.

What next?

So have we gone wrong? I believe so. Our institutions and processes are in place but the ease with which individuals are compromised, both at institutional level and as the general population, is mind boggling!

The whole point of elections appears to be winning for personal gain. The top four spenders in Dagoretti North probably spent about 20 million shillings a piece on average, ostensibly from personal resources. Would you spend that sort of money unless you are expecting some sort of hefty return on your ‘investment’?

And somehow the general population has been roped into the idea that this is just how things go.  That all politicians are bad - so vote in the one who gives you the most, or supports ‘your guy’ at the top.

How does one get a message through to change perception and culture around elective leadership, particularly when the media is seemingly not interested in providing platforms for alternative leadership and the cost of outreach is so high?

In my case, I intend to stay connected to the community and explore as many one-on-one discussions with the community to exchange ideas and empower them. I have no idea whether this will work, but I reckon it’s worth a try.

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