Ten­ta­cles of the god­fa­thers stran­gle Africa

Po­lit­i­cal party fi­nanc­ing must be reg­u­lated, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

AFEW MONTHS ago, a video in which a street boy blamed bad lead­er­ship for Nige­ria’s so­cio-eco­nomic prob­lems went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia in the coun­try.

He called for a mass burial of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal elite, which in his opin­ion, would help com­bat cor­rup­tion and un­lock the coun­try’s po­ten­tial.

His view echoes the in­ner and hid­den sen­ti­ments many peo­ple liv­ing in African coun­tries have about their lead­ers.

The rea­sons for this are not hard to find. Most African lead­ers have done little to im­prove the wel­fare of their peo­ple, who are very poor, while they, and their cronies, live in op­u­lence.

The rot goes all the way through the po­lit­i­cal chain to elected and ap­pointed pub­lic of­fi­cers – start­ing with po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Party fi­nanciers and god­fa­thers dic­tate who holds what pub­lic of­fice, with­out re­gard for com­pe­tence and in­ter­nal democ­racy. They ul­ti­mately dic­tate how state af­fairs and funds are man­aged with barely a dis­tinc­tion be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate funds.

So, elec­tions don’t seem to help, mainly as the politi­cians are the same. De­spite African po­lit­i­cal par­ties es­pous­ing dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies and launch­ing wel­fare man­i­festos, noth­ing re­ally changes when gov­ern­ments change.

Cor­rup­tion is preva­lent through­out the con­ti­nent. Tied to this is the fact that anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts fail be­cause of a lack of hon­est and ac­count­able lead­ers. Many have co-opted demo­cratic sys­tems, such as reg­u­lar elec­tions, or they sim­ply make up the rules as they go along to stay in power.

Be­hind it all lies an in­sa­tiable ap­petite for money, and the re­al­i­sa­tion that power can de­liver un­told wealth. In th­ese sce­nar­ios, played out across dozens of coun­tries on the con­ti­nent, the state (and the peo­ple) are sac­ri­ficed to greed.

And those brave enough to stand up and be counted are driven out – ei­ther lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tively.

Every year, about $50 bil­lion (R648.63bn) is lost through il­licit trans­fers. Not only does this hold back the con­ti­nent’s so­cio-eco­nomic progress, it also threat­ens peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.

A re­cent study found that in Sokoto State, Nige­ria, cor­rup­tion fa­cil­i­tates the spread of rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy and in­duces about 70% of the youth to join Boko Haram, a group which has killed 11 885 civil­ians be­tween 2011 and 2016.

Whereas the ubiq­uity and reper­cus­sions of cor­rup­tion in Africa have been widely ar­tic­u­lated, the fight against it seems to be a fleet­ing il­lu­sion.

Anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures mainly re­volve around leg­is­lat­ing to tighten loop­holes, strength­en­ing anti-cor­rup­tion in­sti­tu­tions and em­pow­er­ing the me­dia and cit­i­zens to re­port or stand up against malfea­sance.

But the suc­cess of th­ese mea­sures de­pends on the of­ten over­looked but cru­cial role of good lead­er­ship.

Will­ing, able and vi­sion­ary lead­ers are re­quired to push through sweep­ing re­forms to curb cor­rup­tion and aug­ment pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, such lead­er­ship is lack­ing in Africa.

Africa is home to despots and sit-in pres­i­dents who ei­ther abuse their power or al­low abuses to be per­pe­trated.

Coun­tries are run like fam­ily prop­erty and po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties are cre­ated by fathers pass­ing power to sons.

Checks and bal­ances are weak, dis­sent is crushed, and al­ter­na­tive views are dis­carded, cul­mi­nat­ing in low ac­count­abil­ity which fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rates lead­er­ship and re­in­forces cor­rup­tion.

One would ex­pect mul­ti­party democ­racy and its as­so­ci­ated prin­ci­ples to pro­duce vi­sion­ary and ef­fec­tive lead­ers, but this is rarely the case in Africa.

While elec­tions are held and lead­ers are changed at the bal­lot, things usu­ally re­main the same. Of­ten, poli­cies and cor­rupt prac­tices which were crit­i­cised by po­lit­i­cal lead­ers while in op­po­si­tion sud­denly be­come right and jus­ti­fi­able when they win power.

In essence, there may be new faces in govern­ment, but the sta­tus quo does not change. The big ques­tion is, why?

Politics in Africa is syn­ony­mous with wealth, whether ac­quired legally or oth­er­wise. Hence, the scram­ble for power can be in­tense and some­times dan­ger­ous. The ex­pec­ta­tion of quick riches in­creases in­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion for party can­di­da­ture, which of­ten re­quires deal mak­ing and vote buy­ing.

And fail­ure to align with the party es­tab­lish­ment can pre­vent mem­bers from as­cend­ing the party hi­er­ar­chy.

Party mem­bers are so­cialised in the same way, mainly to do what­ever is nec­es­sary to win power by fair or foul means and those who dare to think or be­have dif­fer­ently are side­lined, sab­o­taged or ex­pelled. At the core of Africa’s cor­rup­tion and lead­er­ship prob­lems is opaque party fi­nanc­ing.

In most coun­tries, par­ties rely on pri­vate fund­ing from in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions. But reg­u­la­tions on fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure are ei­ther non-ex­is­tent or in­ef­fec­tive, which al­low wealthy in­di­vid­u­als, known as god­fa­thers, to wield sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence, mainly for their ben­e­fit, but to the detri­ment of the state.

Even lead­ers per­ceived to be strong­willed can find it hard to with­stand the pres­sures.

In an in­ter­view in 2016, Nige­ria’s first lady, Aisha Buhari, stated that her hus­band does not know all of his ap­pointees, which shows how a pres­i­dent can be the face of might­ier but in­vis­i­ble forces.

In South Africa, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma stands ac­cused of be­ing a stooge of the wealthy Gupta fam­ily.

Th­ese ex­am­ples at­test to how African lead­ers can be con­trolled from be­hind the scenes by vested in­ter­ests and crooked god­fa­thers. There is a pop­u­lar idiom: “Do not bite the hand that feeds you.” In­deed, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that this is true for African lead­ers.

There is a high chance that lead­ers who act against the in­ter­ests of their party es­tab­lish­ment, fi­nanciers and god­fa­thers, even for the ben­e­fit of the state, will not last long. The same ap­plies to their poli­cies.

So what’s the way for­ward? Africa must reg­u­late po­lit­i­cal party fi­nanc­ing and strengthen state in­sti­tu­tions such as elec­toral com­mis­sions to en­force com­pli­ance.

Un­til then, most lead­ers on the con­ti­nent will con­tinue to be prone to cap­ture and con­trol by pow­er­ful and parochial god­fa­thers. And the loot­ing of pub­lic funds won’t stop. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

Par­ties rely on pri­vate fund­ing from in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions

Tahiru Aza­aviele Liedong is as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of Strat­egy at the Univer­sity of Bath

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