Key Takeaways: Cost of Politics


Key Takeaways: Cost of Politics

Population: 52.57 million
Head of Government: President William Ruto
Ruling party/coalition: United Democratic Alliance
Last election: August 2022
Next election: 2027
Registered voters: 22.1 million (2022)
Annual salary of member of National Assembly: KSH 7.45 million (US$75,400)
Years of study: 2020 and 2021

Average cost to get elected to National Assembly (open-seat)
US$ 182,000
Cost to get elected to National Assembly as % of annual MP salary
Main source of funding
Personal resources
Annual expenditure to office to meet constituents needs
US$ 93,600
Average cost to get elected to the Senate
US$ 350,000
Average cost to get elected as a member of the County Assembly
US$ 31,000
Percentages of candidates who say they will spend more if they contest another election

Population: 52.57 million
Head of Government: President William Ruto
Ruling party/coalition: United Democratic Alliance
Last election: August 2022
Next election: 2027
Registered voters: 22.1 million (2022)
Annual salary of member of National Assembly: KSH 7.45 million (US$75,400)
Years of study: 2020 and 2021

Key Findings

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  • Kenyan legislators are amongst the highest paid in the world, relative to the size of the economy.
  • Kenya is an extremely diverse country and ethnicity plays a significant role in politics and political organisation. Since independence, ethnic mobilisation has been one of the most prevalent tools used to galvanise political support. This political culture creates a situation whereby issues of national or local interest often take a back seat to the ethnic arithmetic of the day.
  • Since the passage of a new constitution in 2010, which created six elective positions available in each county - if you include the votes for the President and members of the National Assembly - larger political parties have sought to secure their dominance by piggy-backing on the popularity of the presidential candidate to seek all six elective seats in a particular county: a six-piece suit in Kenyan parlance.
  • This study covers the costs of running for four seats in Kenya’s democratic make-up: Senate, the Woman Representative, the National Assembly MP and the member of the County Assembly.

Election campaigns

  • Particularly in areas where a political party is dominant party primaries can be more important, more competitive, and thus more expensive than the election campaign itself. On average Senate and Woman Representative aspirants spent more at this stage than during the general election campaign.
  • Regardless of the seat in question, the more you spend, the greater the chances of winning unless you are a woman. Overall, women outspent men in all elective posts except the Senate. Despite this, from a total of roughly 1,800 aspirants, for the National Assembly single member constituency seats, for example, only 131 women candidates made it to the ballot. Only 18% of the those women were elected.
  • Logistics and transport costs, the expansive nature of some constituencies and counties, and population density in a unit also combine to impact on the cost of running for elective office.
  • Gifts to voters varied considerably across the country. There are some regions of the country where voters will not accept a Kshs. 50 handout (US$ 0.5) and instead demand not less than Kshs. 500 (US$ 5) to attend a meeting.
  • Party leaders rarely support any candidate during the primaries because of the need to maintain unity within the party. However, during the election campaigns, party leaders openly support the selected candidate.
  • Personal savings topped the list of responses to the question “What were your sources of funding for the election?”. Only 25% of respondents said that they received support from their party.

In office

  • Salaries of elected officials in Kenya are considerable, and it is no longer unusual for individuals from the private sector to leave their lucrative, senior level positions in favour of the salaries, emoluments, and prestige that come with public or elective office. In fact, over 40% of respondents entered politics from the business sector.
  • Expenditure as a sitting MP takes on a social welfare dimension. MPs become a major source of funds for development projects, local social groups and supporting needy individuals.
  • Individuals in all four positions spend almost as much, or more, than their basic salary each month (before benefits).


  • The heavy investment at the primary stage heightens the stakes during the campaign, with candidates willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their investment at the primary stage will not be in vain.
  • Given the prevailing political culture, there is the expectation that elected officials or those vying for the position, will be able to resolve a myriad of problems facing their constituents. These range from individual needs, such as sustenance and medical care, to community needs such as schools, health centres and roads.
  • Elected office is viewed as prestigious. Upon winning an election, the person acquires a new status complete with the title of Mheshimiwa - Kiswahili for honourable. This title opens doors to many offices.
  • Voters also drive the cost of politics by demanding hand-outs. Respondents said that voters demand ‘hand-outs’ because they know those elected go to office only enrich themselves. Election time is the only chance they have to get a ‘bit from them’.
  • Running for office in Kenya takes place in the absence of the enforcement of the law and regulations on campaign financing. The regulations that could have helped enforce the law have been shelved.


  • The high cost of politics is excluding capable candidates without access to sizeable resources.
  • The transactional nature of politics is reducing opportunities for debate and dialogue between elected officials and their constituents.
  • The use of an electoral seat as a source of patronage in the constituency is linked to national level patronage networks, which in turn is the basis for corruption in the public sector. These networks help to entrench abuse of office, especially because political actors must continue acquire resources to maintain their support bases.
  • Elected officials do not always provide effective oversight of the use of resources by the Executive at the national and county level. This would be an exercise in futility, given that some intend to target access to those resources for personal or political gain rather than oversee the usage by the executive.

Conclusions and recommendations

  • A continuous civic education programme not only on the rights and responsibilities of citizens, but also on the roles of various political officials, which are not well understood by the public is needed.
  • Kenya needs a holistic, open, transparent, and enforceable campaign finance infrastructure to address the transactional and commercial nature of its politics. The creation and enforcement of regulations to accompany the 2014 Election Campaign Financing Act is where to start.
  • The election management body should train political parties to improve the conduct of party primaries.
  • Efforts are needed to challenge the widely held perception that women should only compete for affirmative action seats in order to better level the playing field.

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