How the wealthy and elite influence governance in Africa

Oluwabusola Fadipe August 06, 2019
President Buhari hosts influential business men in Nigeria. Photo credit:

Early this year, a couple of African countries such as Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa held general elections in their respective countries. It is gradually springing up in mainstream political conversations the role the elites and influential people play in public administration but much more, how this class of people continue to affect political trends. As a matter of fact, in many African countries, politics and wealth go hand in hand.

First, it is a known fact the political race is an expensive one requiring a lot of financial resources. As a result, candidates usually have to raise money to purchase tickets, secure nominations and stage political campaigns. Politicians are known to solicit for funds through wealthy individuals where the majority of the campaign funding and general electoral cost come from.

These individuals are called ‘political sponsors’ because essentially, they use their money and influence to gain massive support for their preferred candidates and later become ‘shareholders’ in the incoming administration.

Just as in business, people invest in ventures to later earn profit or lay claim to stakes in the venture, these people also automatically become entitled to some ‘return on investment’ in the new government.

In line with the above, these ‘political financiers’, who are predominantly business moguls and industry giants leverage their relationship with political leaders to influence policies and political decisions for personal and business advantage. What is intriguing is that these individuals never run for elective positions and do not even need to – instead, they throw their weight behind a political leader that can always guarantee their interests.

For example, in the recently concluded Nigerian Presidential Elections, it was alleged certain business moguls played key roles in sponsoring the presidential campaigns of Muhammadu Buhari, the APC Presidential aspirant and eventual winner of the election.

Aliko Dangote was particularly said to be one of the top financiers although the presidency later came out to debunk these speculations. In another instance, there was a claim to the fact that the Ghanaian president between 2006 to 2008 brought a key business tycoon to fix public roads. Recently, there were allegations alluding to the fact that the businessman in question is related to the former president, President Mahama thus, helping him loot funds in the process.

The effects of these are enormous. One of the negative impacts is the propensity for corruption to take place in the political system. This does not necessarily imply that these influential figures will siphon public funds even though there have been allegations of how some African leaders divert public funds using businesses led by prominent industry giants. A subtle way of painting this exchange sometimes is under the guise of awarding contracts.

Another way is how laws are breached because the rich have a way of buying their way through. In addition, it makes public office holders more loyal to the higher class, who through economic power brought them into office neglecting the lower-class majority. This simply means at a certain stage, policies are not necessarily informed by what is needful but the interests of the upper-class who possess buying power, the detrimental effect of which the leaders become less accountable to the citizens they are mandated to serve.

Summarily, it is true the lower and middle classes by their popular majority have the power to elect candidates into political positions and should capitalize this to aggregate public opinion in order to catalyze change in governance; however, this is hardly true as the upper-class continue to use their social standing to sway governance.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: August 6, 2019


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