Time for African parliaments to legislate on election campaign financing

Time for African parliaments to legislate on election campaign financing

Some of the African Parliaments during their sessions.

The African continent continues to suffer from a crisis of insufficient resources for development yet every year more money leaves the continent through backdoor than what comes in. Currently, Africa is estimated to be losing more than $50 billion annually through illicit financial flows (IFFs).

This amount excludes the proceeds of bribery and trafficking of drugs, people, and firearms which often come back to finance the survival of incumbent regimes. Thus, Africa cannot afford to remain a bystander about the problem posed by IFFs.

A Report of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, Commissioned by the AU/ECA Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, led by H.E Thabo Mbeki, reveals that over the last 50 years, Africa is estimated to have lost in excess of $1 trillion in illicit financial flows. This sum is roughly equivalent to all of the official development assistance received by Africa during the same timeframe.

Whereas electoral democracy has been gaining popularity in many African countries in the past, the democratisation process is stagnating partly because of the challenges caused by monetization and commercialisation of politics. Too much money flows in African elections giving rise to a situation where citizens choose or vote for leaders on the basis of monetary inducement.

Because of the prevalence of undisclosed, undetected, and opaque money in elections, the capacity of the prevailing political order to deliver accountability and development in countries where citizens are sorely in need of both, is limited.

Regulating money in electoral processes is necessary for credible and genuine elections, however, African Parliaments have for the longest period been reluctant to enact legislation in accordance with international good practices for mandatory public disclosure of campaign income and expenditure.

In their quest for funding, political parties and candidates in Africa often resort to complex and illicit ways of self-financing, including syndicated corruption, the trade of illegal animal products, human organs, illicit drugs, illegal mining of natural resources, and other forms of financial crimes. And the proceeds from these financial crimes which we often refer to as “dirty money” often find their way into financing politics, particularly election campaigns.

The lack of legal and institutional frameworks for transparent political financing allows financial secrecy to thrive and creates a cloud that allows dirty money to undermine electoral integrity.

The African Union Convention for Preventing and Curbing Corruption (AUCPCC) and the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance (ACDEG) pay insufficient attention to political finance.  The provision in the AUCPCC that calls on countries to prohibit the illicit funding of political parties and to increase transparency in political financing, is too broad, too prescriptive, and lacks sufficient enforcement mechanisms.

Hence, the politically motivated distribution of financial and material inducements, benefits, advantages, and spoils, continues unabated and this gives politicians more reason to engage in political corruption.

As if this is not enough, in many African countries, relevant bodies such as Inspectorate of Government, Directorates of Public Prosecutions, Financial intelligence, Asset forfeiture and Revenue authorities have neglected the role of policing on illicit and dirty money that flows in massive volumes during election campaigns.

To say the least, there is lack of institutions that track politicians on campaign trails and their financial backers across the country to ensure they do not spend laundered money or proceeds of corruption to get elective seats.

Whereas in July 2022, the High Court in Kenya froze Ksh5.6 billion suspected to belong to two Nigerians who enjoy the backing of a powerful politician at the center of an international money laundering syndicate, this effort was just a drop in the ocean.

In view of the fact that majority of African economies are cash based, and increasingly largely use unregulated mobile money, with minimal or no political finance oversight, plus the arrival of the digital/cryptocurrencies, African Parliaments must wake up and prioritise the enactment of laws that can regulate campaign financing and promote transparency in other forms of political finance.

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