Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Election financing and sovereignty of African states

Article from AFRIC Editorial
Election financing in contemporary Africa has sparked a debate on the sovereignty or autonomy of African countries. Africa has over the decades been hailed for the enormous strides in attaining a laudable level of political democracy as far as conducting elections is concerned. However, there are always factors both natural and man-made that derail a sitting president from perfectly organizing an election. These prevailing unavoidable obstacles leave the president with no other choice than to seek help from external partners. ‘There is no free gift though.’’ This simple phenomenon has caused the sovereignty of majority of African countries, as much aid often comes with conditions, which most at times benefits the donor than those at the receiving end.

This topic of election financing and the need sovereignty of African states was the subject of a long reflection at the Berlin forum and an analytical summary of which appears in the Africa 2040 vision of the future report.  This goes an extra mile to ascertain the veracity of the view point of some political pundits,  civil society among others, that political democracy has been neutralized on the continent, from the moment African governments decided to inculcate the third party into the continent’s political spheres through financing of election campaigns in Africa.

What is election/campaign financing?

Literally, campaign funding or election financing refers to the money incurred or raised by politicians and political parties or the country to fund campaigns. This particular pre-election aspect always defines how intense or competitive elections are. It entails resources both human and monetary needed to organize and conduct elections which will be coined as being peaceful, free and transparent.  On the other hand, sovereignty refers to the right of being in control or at the helm of your internal affairs. It’s a phenomenon where government ‘A’ has the capacity to take concrete decisions, which have direct and positive impacts still on government ‘A’ without unwarranted inference from country ‘B’. This is what we call sovereignty or autonomy. This aspect can actually be likened to independence. A nation that controls its own affairs sees feasible and sustainable development. Example are nations like Ghana, Rwanda, and Nigeria among others, which have attained a commendable level of development due to their financial independence. Though these countries are not completely autonomous, they have made strides that are worth mentioning.

Understanding the concept of election funding in Africa

In contemporary Africa, many nations have seen elections as a way of exercising political democracy. However, the independence of these elections is still a bone of contention on the continent due to aspects like external funding that intend undermine the sovereignty of states. Numerous elections in Africa are constantly under suspicion regarding their financing. As asserted by Tony Michael, a journalist and political analyst, “several African and even foreign observers believe that elections in most foreign countries benefit from the very often mafia-like outstretched hand of the West,” indicating that very few polls are self-funded. “But the truth is, it is a proven fact”, he added.

Many regimes in Africa have always solicited the help of certain western countries to organize elections in their respective countries. It was the case in Burkina Faso under the reign of then President Blaise Compaoré. Reports have also indicated that the actual president of the West African nation Roch Marc Christian KABORE received enormous financial aid from France under then president Francois Hollande to organize elections.

Madagascar despite monetary emancipation

The Island nation of Madagascar represents one of the countries in Africa that have received external supports for the conduct of elections. In 2018, Madagascar received no less than 12 million dollars in aid for the organization of the last presidential election. This was however practical as the country was recovering from a tumultuous transition period.  Thus, the international community largely funded the past election that saw Andry Rajoelina emerge as head of state. Another nation with a similar situation like Madagascar is the Republic of Chad. The leadership of Chad H.E Idris Deby Itno in recent times have solicited aid from eternal countries including France as the country gears towards its legislative elections. President Deby Itno had publicly asked for financial assistance from his western partners to raise the sum of 70 billion FCFA needed for elections. In response, France’s Emmanuel Macron promised financial support to Chad for the organization of legislative and municipal elections. A country like Mali also sought external help to organize its 2018 election.  According to Mr. Shu Gerald, a political analysts, we can say no less for Cote d’Ivoire by Allassane Ouattara, or Guinea Conakry by Alpha Condé who is also strongly suspected of having consumed bribes from the French industrialist BOLLORE for his electoral campaign during the last ballot. However, it is necessary to specify that this practice which is fought in France and very criticized in Africa for its negative effects on the sovereignty of the countries, is not about to stop.

According to Abderhamane Niang, a Malian expert on electoral matters, elections are an “act of sovereignty”, which is why he firmly believes that “funding elections must come from the countries concerned”. Thus, the very moment a nation accepts external funding of its internal affairs, its autonomy or sovereignty is automatically compromised.

Burundi/DR Congo stand out

Though it has become a common place in recent times for African countries to solicit external financing in organizing elections, countries like the DRC and Burundi stood out among other African states that went to the polls the past years by fully funding its own elections. This is a rare phenomenon in Africa, particularly in French-speaking Africa. In 2015 Burundian President Pierre Nkuzunziza solicited financial help from Burundian patriots to organize the 2015 elections, after the European Union and other external donors including Belgium, withheld their financial supports for the elections. The EU suspended a whooping sum of over two million US dollars ($2M) equivalent to 1. 3 million pound (£1.3m). France equally prohibited its security engagement with the east African nation. They however argued that they wanted the government of President Nkurunziza to create a conducive and serene atmosphere for free and credible elections. Another worrisome situation is the fact that some countries are often caught up in their own web, that is to say certain countries often accept external funding out of their own willpower, even if they are capable of organizing. This is because of the engagement some countries take with other external partners (names withheld for obvious reasons), that leaves them with no other option than to accept the conditional or ‘’ill-intentioned’’ aid. Being under the dictates of an external and more influential power can sometimes be detrimental to those at the receiving end.

Sharing her opinion on this pertinent topic, Mbie Bengone Marylene Humanitarian/Peace and Security specialist under the AU said that many elections in Africa are financed by foreign donors (multinational corporations, foreign presidents, etc.). A very popular opinion on this topic tends to claim that elections financing undermines state sovereignty of the countries that benefit from this financing. Such a view implies both a recipient state’s policy autonomy is curtailed as well as the more fundamental claim that the politico-legal independence of the state is being challenged, Bengone underlines. Noting that Sovereignty is seen as “right” and “authority”, she therefore opines that it is ‘’the authority of a state to govern itself…’’; this is a clear indication that election is an act of sovereignty and its financing must come from the countries concerned. However, this theory is still far-fetched in Africa, as most nations have often sought external financing of their elections. Indeed, if a country X finances elections in a country Z, it will impose its terms of financing (conditional election financing).

According to the humanitarian, African states should reduce the costs of their elections or find a strategy to have a fund dedicated to the self-financing of their elections, so that they could be independent. It remains an undenying fact that elections financing in African states has deeply challenged the sovereignty of these states, which has remained a bone of contention in the contemporary Africa, because it has challenged the quest for political democracy.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

The Full Version of the document is available here AFRICA 2040 Full version ENG

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