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Political party funding in Africa

It is an undisputable fact that elections in Africa are a high stakes game which in many ways polarizes many African countries. Beside controversies about rigging of elections through intimidation, arrests, killings etc, there is also a very serious concern about the level of the political playing field during contestation for political office.

Politicians and political analysts have always lamented the unfair advantages incumbents have as far as resources (both private and state) are concerned. The argument is that without  being accorded resources ( especially financial) some political  parties in many African countries have been denied the chance to  perform to be best of their potential which becomes more of an impediment to the growth of democracy which have always been very deficient in our continent.

It is very important to understand that democracies in many parts of the world, including the African continent cannot function without political parties. I am saying this because political parties in a democracy are expected to reflect the concerns of citizens, aggregate and mediate diverse interests, project a vision of a society and develop policy options accordingly. Political parties in a continent thirsty of democracy like Africa are supposed to inspire and attract supporters to their cause, with their membership being the key importance in their claim to represent the citizens.  In Africa it does not need a rocket scientist to show anyone that political parties (mostly in the opposition) are really struggling to generate income to finance not just their day to day running activities but their electoral campaigns. I have to point out that research has shown that in both new and older democracies political parties are under pressure as they are faced with escalating costs of campaigning during elections. Their problems of fundraising are causing anxiety not just to politicians but to all ordinary Africans who passionately care about democracy.

The issue of political party funding has in the past being dealt with sharp contrasting ways across the world, but now there are now signs of convergence in the debate on the issue. Nowadays in public debates there is this question that is frequently asked: How far should public resources be used to support and develop political parties to build a robust democratic set up in the African continent. However let me quickly tell you that there is no simple answer about how political party funding should be organized, but there is much that upcoming democracies in Africa can set good example to the world and experiment with funding of political parties with the sole aim of jealously safeguarding the future of their democracies. Even though some critics say the role of money in politics is the biggest threat to democracy today, I however, strongly believe all political parties in Africa need public funding so that they can play a meaningful role in the democratic political process.

I am not the only one who shares this line of thinking.   The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and  Development  in their 2016, paper titled : Funding of Political  Parties and Election Campaign

and the risk of policy capture posits that  finance is a necessary component of any democratic process and that money enables  fair competition  in elections ( in this case a multi party democracy).  Free and fair elections in a democracy require a level political playing field for all political parties.  Karl Heinz Nassmarcher is very right when he says unequal access to political finance contributes to an uneven political playing field.

The achievement of a sustainable democracy in Africa demands that particular attention must be paid to the issue of political party financing. Public political funding can have a positive role to play in enriching the democratic spirit in Africa, as it can go a long way in helping to strengthen political parties candidates and provide opportunities to compete on more equal terms. Indeed, I strongly believe that sufficient access to public funding of political parties that is provided with no strings attached is crucial to the overall vibrancy of an electoral and democratic system which Magnus Ohman says can go a long way in helping the African citizenry believe and trust politics and politicians. An open and transparent public funding of parties is crucial in the fight against corruption and to gain and maintain African citizen’s trust in politics.

 Transparent and accountable public  funding of political parties beside leveling the  political playing field as I have already mentioned, can go a long way by exposing and punishing undue influence over politicians, can protect against infiltration of illicit money into our politics and encourage parties and candidates to adhere to rules.  Talking of illicit money here, I mean situations where interest groups may buy access to the corridors of power or use outright bribes to decision makers.  Foreign interests and criminal groups may use money to manipulate politics in their favour. So party funding will go a long way in limiting the powers of corporate donors who might want to influence policy leading to state capture by financially powerful campaign donors. It is a well known fact that the flow of private money through the political sphere can threaten key democratic values as politicians may become less responsive and unaccountable to voters if they are closely tied to private financiers. Public funding if well implemented in many African countries can go a long way in rectifying this anomaly.

As a parting shot, Political scientist Halderman in his paper titled: Political parties, Funding and Democracy has this to say “To entrench democracy in any country, it should be the citizens at large who pay for the cost of their democracy. They can do this in this in different capacities, as party members, voluntary donors or most importantly as taxpayers.

Catch me @72850881 for further debate.

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