Traders Make Millions from Kenya's Big Money Campaigns
Kenyan entrepreneurs were last week counting the millions of shillings they made supplying politicians with materials and services in what is believed to have been the most expensive election campaigns in the country’s history.
Traders interviewed by the Business Daily said their revenues more than doubled in the first two months of the year, mainly driven by campaign merchandise sales and services.
Topping the list of beneficiaries were makers of the millions of posters that dotted nearly every wall throughout the country. Makers of branded T-shirts, caps, and souvenirs such as branded pens and key-holders also tapped into the campaign millions, growing their earnings by large margins.
People with buildings to let, owners of public address systems, road show trucks and off-road vehicles for hire were not left behind in the two-month gravy train that is estimated to have given Kenya its latest crop of young millionaires.
Last week, as the electoral dust settled with declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as President-elect, some of the entrepreneurs held on to the hope that the case filed by the Cord coalition challenging the outcome of the presidential election would open a second round poll extending the windfall.
Millions of shillings changed hands in downtown Nairobi where printing firms ran their machines overtime to meet bulk orders of caps, T-shirts, posters and fliers.
Samuel Mwangi, who operates one such business on Nairobi’s Kilome Road, said he had in the last week of the campaigns printed 20,000 caps for the then candidate for Mombasa governor, Hassan Joho.
“Each cap was priced at approximately Sh100 plus an extra Sh40 branding charge,” he said.
That means Mr Mwangi made Sh2.8 million from this single order — money he ordinarily makes in two months. The entrepreneur said small businesses had also made millions of shillings printing branded key-holders and badges.
A seven-centimetre badge — the most preferred size — retailed at Sh50 a piece, Sh10 more than the smaller version, while key-holders cost Sh45.
In the last week of the campaign, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, the Cord senate candidate for Nairobi, placed an order for 5,000 key-holders in the same shop where Kiraitu Murungi, running for Meru senator, asked for 6,000 pieces.
The two orders to a single supplier were worth Sh500,000, suggesting that millions more were made in the heat of the campaigns when it was not uncommon to received five such orders in a day.
T-shirts printing has been big business in every election with the number and size of orders determining how much the entrepreneurs earn from a supply deal.
The T-shirts are priced around their main features, including whether they are polo or round-neck. The price ranges between Sh150 and Sh280 apiece.
Printer owners on Nairobi’s Kirinyaga Road were not left out of the 2013 money minting season, producing the bulk of the posters used in the campaigns. Fortune Printers and Stationers, Ideas and Places Limited and Downtown Printing Works kept their presses running non-stop in the last three weeks of the campaigns making millions of shillings out of it.
A printer operator, who introduced himself as Moses, said an A2 size poster was priced at Sh18 while the small-size A4 cost half the amount.
“We have made our fair share of money,” he said, adding that the firm had fallen slightly short of its revenue target. “Poster orders varied in terms of volumes with some candidates ordering tens of thousands, forcing us to sub-contract the work to our competitors.”
Some traders, however, said that the campaign business was fraught with risk. Many said they had burnt their fingers taking orders from politicians who neither showed up to collect the material nor pay for it.
“One had to be very careful especially towards the end of the campaigns when the risk of politicians failing to honour contracts is at its highest,” said Mr Mwangi.
Car hire and helicopter leasing firms were also looking back at the two months campaign with nostalgia. Politicians paid up to Sh150,000 a day to hire a campaign truck for use within Nairobi, including the services of a dee-jay and a driver. Campaigns going out of Nairobi paid an additional Sh50,000.
Every hour spent with a hired helicopter cost between Sh144,000 and Sh170,000. Politicians stayed with them for more than eight hours a day. Media houses also got their slice of the cake, carrying newspaper, radio and television campaign adverts worth millions of shillings.
Consumer market research firm Ipsos Synovate said political parties spent Sh90 million on advertising in the 13 months to January — long before the campaigns began in earnest.
The Jubilee Alliance led the pack with Sh45.1 million followed by rival Cord at Sh26.8 million. The other campaigns spent Sh11.5 million.
“Most politicians preferred outdoor advertising, radio talk shows in the morning and road shows,” said Emmah Wanyoike, a key account manager at Ipsos Synovate.
“This helped them cut back on media advertising though some of the top contenders still popularised their bids and policies through this medium.”
Ms Wanyoike said that a key difference in this year’s election compared to the last one in 2007 is the fact that politicians did not use as much bulk SMSs — responding to the trap that authorities had laid out on hate speech.
The research firm is yet to release data on media spend during the last two months of the campaign.
The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) last October launched guidelines on bulk political text messages prepared in conjunction with the National Police Service, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and telecom firms.
“The guidelines are meant to prevent the transmission of undesirable and inflammatory bulk political messages in the wider interest of protecting ICT consumers,” said Francis Wangusi, the CCK director-general.
Last July, Safaricom terminated its contract with licensed Content Service Provider Datalex following complaints by The National Alliance (TNA) party that people were using the firm’s short code to defraud innocent citizens of their money.
- Business Daily Africa