Opinions & Features July 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

This is why African governments cannot give up on nepotism

Nii Ntreh July 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

July 22, 2021 at 11:00 am | Opinions & Features

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (left) and president of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera. Photos: Guardian Nigeria/The Heritage Times

The word “nepotism” comes from the Italian word “nipote,” which means “nephew,” and has been used by the papal practice of bestowing special favors on grandchildren or their relatives. So, rather than simply favoring relatives based on family ties, nepotism refers to the employment of relatives or close friends regardless of their merits and abilities.

It is a particularly concerning occurrence in the public sector because it goes against the public interest: voters usually expect public employees to earn their employment by being hired on merit. The connection between employment and meritocracy is broken by nepotism, which can lead to governmental abuse. In other words, nepotism imposes costs on society that might vary from unfair competition for job chances to public money theft. The public are aware of this, as are the politicians. As a result, it’s no wonder that politicians on the campaign trail pledge to eliminate “family and friends” governance. When they take power, their perception of nepotism changes.

No country is immune and Africa is no stranger to nepotism. This pattern is followed even by the continent’s most transparent governments. Nepotism and patronage networks are rampant in the public sector in Botswana, which is widely regarded as Africa’s least corrupt country and a “glimmer of hope” for anti-corruption efforts. 

Former President Ian Khama, for example, appointed his brother Tshekedi as minister of wildlife, environment, and tourism and his cousin Ramadeluka Seretse as minister of defense and justice, while a number of other relatives and childhood acquaintances received government jobs or contracts. This practice resulted in several high-profile disputes inside Botswana’s bureaucracy, such as the 2018 battle over the suspension of chief operations officer Duncan Morotsi at the Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority.

Another former president, this time of Ghana, John Kufour, appointed his younger brother the Minister of Defence throughout two terms.

A survey in Nigeria in 2019 concluded that about half of those who earned employments in the public sector the year before either paid bribes or were beneficiaries of nepotism.

The Nigerian president himself, Muhammadu Buhari, continues to be accused of nepotism.

This is an archetypal story in which a head of state from a developing nation might be chosen at random and fit into the plot like a puzzle piece. 

Let us bring Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera into this plot. The president of the East African country has come under fire for naming his daughter, Violet Chakwera Mwasinga, as Third Secretary at Malawi’s embassy in Brussels.

During his election campaign in 2020, Chakwera made eliminating nepotism a prominent priority, claiming that it was a characteristic of his predecessor Peter Mutharika’s regime. Now, images of speeches and newspaper clippings of the president criticizing his predecessor for nepotism are circulating on social media.

Despite widespread outrage over nepotism, Malawi President Chakwera has defended his daughter Violet’s nomination as third secretary at the Malawi embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Brian Banda, the State House Press Officer, has told reporters that no one should dispute the decision because the appointment was properly completed and that she (Violet) is qualified. 

‘’Chakwera has made over 2,000 appointments and it is unfair for people to make such a conclusion based on a single appointment. The appointed person is qualified and capable to do the job. Are people questioning this because it involves the president’s daughter? That is unfair and worrisome,” said Banda.

Among the 40 recently nominated Deputy High Commissioners, Ambassadors, and other diplomats, Chakwera has also named three renowned human rights advocates. The appointments follow a diplomatic controversy in South Africa in which employees from the Malawian Embassy are accused of being part of a cartel that bought and sold alcohol using diplomatic privilege.

Nepotism on the continent stems from various reasons but chief among them has to be the strong urge to reward kinship as a way of affirming one’s allegiance to ethnic and regional groups. At this point, the optimism of a national character, gives way to the loyalty to subgroup categories such as ethnicity and regionalism.

In many African countries where there are dozens of ethnic groups that are struggling to unify into a nation, nepotism is incentivized. Not to talk of how the lack of access to public welfare encourages those with means to look out for their families and friends first than the critical mass.

Improving governance is critical for citizens’ economic progress and the improvement of poor people’s lives. However, nepotism puts both of these major goals in jeopardy. Nepotism is a barrier to a country’s economic development and has a negative influence on its progress. As a result of institutional dysfunction and the spread of corrupt politicians, several nations have had low economic development. it is time to fully address nepotism in the public sector.

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