Why General Elections in Kenya Might be World’s Most Expensive

By George Gĩthĩnji Last updated on
Why the General Elections in Kenya are the World's most Expensive

In early 2016, IEBC said it needed sh30 billion to properly conduct the August 2017 general elections in Kenya. In addition, it requested sh2 billion from the government to conduct a comprehensive voter registration exercise. The government gave IEBC sh500 million for the latter, but IEBC said it was not enough. IEBC claimed that the lack of funds would hamper its efforts to conduct the registration exercise properly.

The first voter registration exercise kicked off in February 2016 and ended in March 2016. IEBC planned to use the sh30 billion to cover its budget in the next two years. The amount would also cover the general elections and any expected runoff.

Costs for the general elections in Kenya in 2013

Prior to the March 2013 General Elections, IEBC requested sh35 billion from the Treasury to conduct the general elections. The money would also cover the anticipated runoff, which never occurred. Treasury issued IEBC sh17.5 billion in the 2012/2013 budget but IEBC claimed the money would only facilitate a runoff.  In the end, Kenya spent about $293 million (Ksh26 billion) to conduct the 2013 elections with $100 million (Ksh9 billion) coming from donors.

For the 2013 general elections in Kenya, IEBC spent about $10 (sh650) per person and $21 (sh1800) per registered voter. Nevertheless, what accounts for such excessive spending on the general elections in Kenya?

The New Constitution promulgated in August 2010 transformed the politics and governance landscape in Kenya. We saw a transition from a centralized to a decentralized system of government. Devolved governance created new public offices in addition to those that existed already. The new offices belong to the Governors, Senators, Women Representatives, and Ward Representatives (MCAs).

From 2013, Kenyans vote for six elective positions on the same day. They elect 1 President and his deputy and 47 Governors and their deputies. They also elect 47 Women Representatives, 290 Members of Parliament (National Assembly­), 47 Senators, and 1450 Ward Representatives. This makes the general elections in Kenya a huge affair, hence the demand for many resources to fulfil them.

IEBC spends much of its budget on recurrent expenditure

IEBC spends much of its budget for elections on recurrent expenditure. In the 2013 General Elections, IEBC involved about 45,000 polling stations, 350,000 election officials, 100,000 security officers. There were also about 338 tallying centers at the Sub-County (Constituency), County and National levels. In addition, IEBC had 47 voting points for diaspora voters within the East African Community (EAC).

IEBC also spent immensely on capital (development) spending. This includes the purchase of biometric voter registration (BVR) equipment and electronic poll books. IEBC holds that the vast nature of the general elections in Kenya and added material considerations inflates the budget.

Nevertheless, we cannot forget how the biometric kit and electronic tallying system failed in the 2013 general elections. The biometric kit itself cost the taxpayers sh10 billion only to result in failure at that critical moment. This begs the question whether Kenyans get maximum value for money that IEBC spends on elections.

Comparison of the costs of general elections in Kenya with other countries

DRC and Ghana spent $360 million and $124 million for their elections in 2011 and 2012 respectively. DRC spent $58 million and Ghana spent $76 million on biometrics from the general costs. Kenya spent $114 million Kenya to procure procuring the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits. Yet, IEBC inflated the costs from an initial $46 million.

Ghana spent only $1 per registered voter while DRC spent $12 per registered voter. Kenya spent $21 per registered voter and $10 per person in 2013.

In India, the 2014 general election cost around $5 billion. This translates to roughly $5 per person and $6 per registered voter. In developed democracies, the per capita spending on elections falls at $1 and $3 according to the Kriegler Report. However, that is not always the case.

The 39th General Election in Canada in 2006 cost $191 million. This translates to $8 per registered voter and $6 per person. The USA spent around $7 billion for the 2012 elections translating to $48 per voter and $22 per person. Yet, the amount the USA spent is one of its highest in recent times.

Other countries with lower election spending per person include Chile ($1.2), Costa Rica ($ 1.8), and Brazil ($2.3).

Per capita spending on the general elections in Kenya is high

When compared to other countries, Kenya’s per capita spending on the general elections is substantially high. In fact, the Kenyan elections since 2013 are among the most expensive (per person) in the world.

Therefore, Kenya needs to establish effective and efficient measures to address the inflated costs. IEBC should identify the gaps that lead to the inflated costs and address them. Only 35% of the population registered to vote in 2013. That number does not justify the huge costs. India had 67% of its population as registered voters in 2014, yet it spent less per capita than IEBC.

George Gĩthĩnji is a political and social commentator. Twitter @EpikKenyan
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