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Merchants miss out on campaign money

Merchants eyeing a piece of the campaign “gravy train” got a rude shock as it emerged some politicians and political parties’ had printed branded merchandise abroad.

The decision which was made before political parties’ nominations left locals lose out on billions of shillings meant for branding as candidates wooed voters amid an alarming appetite for elective positions in the country.

Unknown to local dealers, millions of tee T-shirts, polo shirts, caps, lesos and flags had already been manufactured and branded abroad prior to party nominations, on account of cheaper offers that come with bulk printing. Most local entrepreneurs who bank on branding political merchandise missed the opportunity as contestants took advantage of the offers shipping out billions of shillings in the process.

“While we import Chinese T-shirts at Sh160, the difference between the imported lot and what is available locally is in the quality. Locally manufactured T-shirts are of higher quality and can be purchased starting from Sh200,” says Joseph Njoroge, a local printer.

This raises a fundamental concern about local manufacturers and their ability to handle large scale orders, quality and the cost of doing business locally.

Dealers close to one of the main political parties estimates that they could spend between Sh600 million and Sh700 million to purchase and distribute merchandise over and above what individual candidates have set aside for their own campaigns.

Local merchants are angry for losing out on the mega bucks, saying even brokering the deals was difficult as most of these orders were made directly by top echelons of political parties, leaving local merchants to lick their fingers.

They could not even broker the deals between the parties and the manufacturers mostly, from China. Dealers privy to the business of political merchandising say while most political parties are very conservative due to spending ceilings put in place by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), billions of shillings have been spent in branded merchandise.

“The parties sourced branded merchandise directly from China, and according to what we understand, even local dealers were not involved but the parties themselves made the orders directly,” said Joel Kuto, a garment manufacturer in Nairobi. Surprisingly, neighbouring Tanzania is among the countries where lesos were particularly sourced from.

“It is cheaper for them because they make the items in bulk and print them before they send them to Kenya. But the truth is that this money could have been spent locally,” says Sammy Mwangi, a retailer in River Road Nairobi Printers conservatively estimate that one of the main political parties have already distributed in excess of 15 million caps and T-shirts since nominations started. That is an estimated Sh1.5 billion going by the lowest online quotations of Sh100 per piece.

“The parties aspire to get every voter at least a cap, T-shirt or leso before the election, but since some take more than one, they have to print more,” said our source. Kenya Association of Manufacturers is now concerned about the fact that millions of merchandise had to be imported.

During the launch of their ten-point agenda on industrialisation, Thirdway Alliance Presidential aspirant Ekuro Aukot also raised concerns about those still obsessed with printing things out of the country.

“If we are able to print money locally despite it having more security features, why do we outsource some work?” he asked. As time is running out, local operators are starting to tip the scales as the politicians are now forced to order from them towards as it takes close to a month to deliver merchandise from abroad by ship.

Air transport, which could be faster is very expensive leaving them with no alternative but to buy locally. But those printing posters have been lucky because most of them were done locally and liberally plastered on all available spaces throughout the country. However, ‘small printers’ are still smarting over parties going directly to the bigger local printers.

By August 8, millions of posters would have graced most available spaces countrywide and should there be a run-off, millions more will be printed creating another buzz.

In the IEBC election campaigns guidelines, the body capped expenditure by any political party in the 2017 poll at Sh15 billion and allowed presidential candidates to spend Sh 5.2 billion in the race to State House.

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