One of the major challenges related to money in politics is the lack of transparency surrounding political party and election finance. Open and transparent funding of political parties and candidates is desirable for democracy because it helps to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules to level the playing field, expose the risk of undue influence over politicians, and helps protect against the infiltration of illicit sources of money—thus contributing to the broader fight against corruption.
Even though Africa still grapples with poor ICT infrastructure in terms of access and usage, in recent years there has been considerable progress in the use of information technology (IT) to enhance transparency in financing political parties and election campaigns. The rapid digitalization of government agencies, political parties, and citizens alike has significantly expanded the potential to use digital tools to enhance transparency.
Political finance reporting is particularly important in the continent of Africa which is characterized by massive use of money and state resources during elections. Use of technology including digital tools such as websites, programs, and online resources is therefore important in providing solutions towards addressing undeclared, undisclosed and/or dirty money in politics.
Dr. Magnus Ohman, a senior Political Finance advisor with International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) believes that there are significant advantages of using ICT in monitoring campaign finance. In comparison to a decade ago, ICT has eased review of financial data submitted by political parties. He told SecretsKnown that Electoral Management Bodies can use data they receive from political parties and cross-check it with other data sources by comparing donation records with tax records to cite red flags of potential fake records through parallel oversight bodies like banks and media.
On top of ICT helping to enhance transparency in internal party financing, it also allows journalists and observers to follow the money used by political parties and candidates during elections.
Ms.Ellen Dingane, a programmes officer with Zimbabawe Election Support Network also believes that ICT can play an imperative role in providing efficiency in the political arena in Africa to ensure transparency, openness, accountability, and effectiveness in Africa’s political finance arena. According to her, technology helps us identify misuse of state resources during elections.
Ms. Dingane who is on a long-term observation mission in Kenya under the auspices of the African Union, revealed that candidates are using heavy resources and the citizens are wondering what the source of the money is. “…Kenya may have the most expensive elections in Africa…”, she commented.
ICT through social media has enabled Kenyan citizens and observers to see and highlight the misuse of state resources. She gave an example of a video that has been shared widely across social media of one of the front runners in the Kenyan presidential campaigns who arrived for a rally with 7 helicopters.
Many African countries do not have sound policies and legal frameworks around campaign finance with thresholds on how much political parties can use in terms of campaign finance. Without these laws, countries can’t enforce a leveled playing field in terms of resources hence the need for capacity to quantify resources used in campaign finance by using ICT to come up with sound policies.
Uganda just like many African countries grapples with the challenge of opaque political finance where nobody knows where the money that finances elections comes from. Mr. Emmanuel Oluka, an expert on ICT in elections shared with SecretsKnown that ICT plays an enabling role in sharing data to identify how much political parties are spending in terms of election campaign finance.
Most political parties however do not even have websites and if they do, they have limited information. Unfortunately, observers are left to quantify campaign finance expenditure from the output side other than the input just. And because Africa’s electoral scene has not yet fully embraced ICT, observers are left to asses campaign finance information manually.
Political parties, therefore, need to adopt ICT in terms of sharing data on how they receive funding separate from the public funding from government based on numerical strength. There is a lot of money used by political parties during elections that can’t be quantified, this raises issues surrounding the sources of this income especially when countries are trying to combat terrorism and money laundering.
Much as ICT is an enabler of transparency in political finance, many African countries have policies that push back the use of ICT for example access to social media. In Uganda’s 2021 general election, there was a shutdown of internet in the country for close to 1 week. Also, during the presidential campaign, Facebook, one of the world’s most popular social media platforms was shut down till now. 4 other African countries including Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Zambia have had election-related internet shutdowns. This digital authoritarianism goes to show that many governments across Africa are very uncomfortable with the role and potential technology can deliver.
These shutdowns greatly affect political parties who do not have access to traditional media and use social media instead to share live feeds from their campaigns with the wider masses. The role of ICT in enhancing transparency in Africa is therefore limited by the political will of the political leadership.
Africa being home to the youngest population in the world should harness the potential of young people in providing digital solutions for opaque financing of political parties and elections through specific tailor-made trainings based on a structured format to enable them generate data that can be used for research to inform policy and the legal framework and other aspects to enhance transparency in the electoral spectrum.
Also, with the emergence of cryptocurrency, and many more donors making donations to political parties through bitcoin which is difficult to trace, it is important for African countries to adopt ICT which is a growing tool across the world in building transparency because when countries build online reporting and disclosure systems, it becomes part of a wider societal effort to protect and enhance the integrity of politics.