The Next Phase of the Political Reform Process in Kenya
An article in the May 28, 2012 issue of the Daily Nation read: Donors Raise Funding for NGOs Ahead of Polls. The article went on to state that the National Council of NGOs told Parliament that foreign funding of NGOs in 2010 was Sh82 billion and rose to Sh90 billion in 2011. Furthermore, the Council said politicians had registered NGOs through which they accessed foreign funding under the guise of providing ‘civic education’. A Parliamentary Committee was told that “We urgently need to review the law to protect national security because money is coming in from abroad without the Treasury or Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) documenting it.”
That is sound advice. But the possible security risks of undocumented funds is only part of the huge problem facing Kenya, namely, the use of external funding to influence or distort election outcomes. This takes two forms.
First, development partners and some politicians use local NGOs to funnel money to voters. In many other countries, democratic and otherwise, it is simply against the law for candidates to receive foreign funding. Why is this not the case in Kenya? It is said that development partners bring funds into the country through international and local NGOs to foster democracy. If so, how is the determination made as to which of Kenya’s estimated 8,000 NGOs should receive the funds and what criteria are used to distribute the funds? In a democracy, should there not be transparency about which NGOs receive what amount and for what purpose? Why do development partners bring funds into the country to influence the process and outcome of elections whereas in their own countries such an intervention by foreign governments or international NGOs is simply against the law? What are we to make of development partners who use their quasi-governmental organizations which present themselves as international NGOs, to channel funds to particular candidates or to ‘educate’ entire Parliaments or Committees of Parliament to support a given issue or cause which just happens to be identical to the prevailing national policy in the country of the development partner? Why is funding candidates under cover of local NGOs not considered a distortion or a dilution of our democracy?
Over the next few months some Sh130 billion (to quote the same article) will be poured into the country by development partners in the run up to the elections, supposedly for ‘civic education’. Ultimately, some of the Sh.100, Sh. 500 and much more that allegedly change hands in vote buying can be traced back to our development partners, even as they smugly decry corruption in Kenya. To put it bluntly, and as most Kenyans know, not all interests of our development partners are about development or democracy.
If one or more development partners can buy a particular outcome in the upcoming elections by flooding the country with money, is that not corruption? Is that any different from a politician driving from village to village handing out Sh.100 to potential voters? It is a mockery of our democracy for candidates to declare the origins of their limited wealth, knowing full well that millions of shillings from friendly development partners are being distributed on their behalf by NGOs under cover of ‘civic education’.
The story is told of the candidate who borrowed so much money to finance a campaign that by the time he was elected he owed more money than he could earn for six years as a Member of Parliament. There is also the story of the candidate who owed vast sums of money to unscrupulous people and is still in hiding in a foreign country after an unsuccessful run for Parliament. These cautionary tales tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong with our process of selecting law makers because it is so expensive that candidates must mortgage their lives, sometimes to the wrong people, to finance their quests.
In the second form of the use of external funding to influence elections, candidates seek funds directly from foreign governments and individuals that are otherwise not involved in development activities in Kenya. There must be a quid pro quo; something must be given or promised in return for such funding. Does the candidate promise to: support the source of funding on a given issue in international fora, or to give preferential treatment of the nationals of a given country with interests in Kenya, or to favor specific investors in Kenya, or to pay back the funds, with interest, over a given period? But when all is said and done, at the end of each trip by candidates seeking foreign funding for their campaigns, a piece of our flag, our country, our heritage, our sovereignty is mortgaged or sold. And the average Kenyan does not even know it. This is a grave threat to the country.
The blame for this large ‘For Sale’ sign over Kenya should not be placed on aspirants for elected offices. Most candidates seek elective positions precisely because they love the country and wish to improve it; they are patriotic. However, we have created a process which is so prohibitively expensive that it forces aspiring Kenyans to mortgage themselves and the country to development partners who distort outcomes of elections in favor of their national interests by channeling funds through local NGOs under cover of ‘civic education’, or to go from country to country leaving behind promissory notes to surrender parts of our flag, our land, our heritage, our sovereignty in return for funds to finance election campaigns. If 50 or 100 candidates leave promissory notes containing unknown promises in countries and with individuals all around the world, it amounts to selling significant chunks of our beloved country, one small piece at a time. And it is for this very reason that many countries outlaw some of the practices that have become the hallmarks of elections in Kenya.
By Mwangi Wachira
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