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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Columnist: Abubakari Luqman

Patron-client relationships: The case of the Northern MP aspirant

This article presents a detailed picture of the patron-client relationship in the northern region of Ghana, drawing on in-depth interviews with aspiring MPs and party bosses, analyses of official government documents, and nongovernmental organization reports, as well as extensive research in local newspaper archives.

This article further addresses the relationships between aspirants in northern region of Ghana and their patrons. The article examines the major source of funding for aspirants, history of political parties funding in Ghana, demands of electorate from aspirants, procedures of which aspirant becomes MP, corruption (vote-buying) and options to restrain the influence of money in politics.


Neo-patrimonialism is an informal political system based on personalized rule and organized through clientelistic networks of patronage, personal loyalty and coercion. (Nugent Gyimah Boadi et al)

Making a cursory analysis about Ghana’s democracy and how elections are conducted in the early ’90s, Gyimah Boadu et al: said, at least ten civilian regimes have held multiparty elections so flawed that they do not meet the minimum requirements for electoral democracy (Diamond, Gyimah-Boadi et al).

Therefore, all these regimes are pseudo- democracies ‘neo-patrimonial culture is often doubtless but more deeply anchored in the political history and character of Ghana’s democracy, henceforth, not to state, better adapted to its poverty, limited class organization or formations, and peasant beginnings, than the conventional liberal democratic tendencies , however, in terms of democratic governance and the rule of law, the records is not particularly too good....most worrying is the structure and tradition of patronage has reared its ugly head more deeply into the political fiber and body politic of Ghana.

On the 7th of January 2001, was an epochal day for Ghana, a Democratic country in sub-Saharan Africa, for the first time, there was a smooth transfer of power from one political administration to the other on the terms of legitimate electoral outcome without confrontations. This day, however brought Ghana especially closer to completing the process of power transition to democratic rule which marks the real process towards democratic consolidation. Given the above observation, political actors in Ghana are now gradually accepting and learning how to behave and conduct themselves within a well-defined democratic dispensation, and thus far, making democracy the only game in town.

Practicing healthy democracy cannot function effectively without strong and healthy political parties but this political parties needs strong resources to perform the tasks we expect them to perform. These political parties in Ghana and northern region as a part are represented by individual (Aspirants) to execute the mandate of the party and the views of the people.

The financing of political activities is a key issue for ensuring good governance and combating corruption. The concept of political activities funding refers to the manner in which aspirants (MPs to be elected) who seek to get elected to political office gather funds for electoral campaigns and will seek to maintain themselves as people’s representatives (Fambom, 2003).

This paper begins by outlining history of political party funding in Ghana. The paper provides indepth information on history of political parties funding in Ghana, demands of electorates from aspirant. Lastly, the paper discusses sources of funding for aspirant (patrons).


The sources from which the parties get their funding have been duly acknowledged in most in early scholarly writings. Political Parties financing began as voluntary contributions (donations) by wealthy members of nationalist parties (Austin 1964). During this period the CPP was in power, the CPP ministers and Assembly Members offered to pay a percentage of their salaries into the CPP’s central accounts (Osei 1962).

A significant proportion of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) campaign funds were cash and material donations provided by leading figures of the Working Committee, particularly, George Paa Grant and Dr. J.B. Danquah (Austin 1964). According to Shillington (1992), the PNP’s electoral machinery moved into top gear because it was well-oiled by the money of such wealthy patrons as Nana Okutwer Bekoe III, party chairman, Kojo Botsio, Dr. Ayeh-Kumi, Kofi Batsa and others (Shillington 1992). Managing political parties is capital intensive and would require an extended programme of fund mobilization. The burden of party financing could not be shouldered by a few individuals. This realization encouraged the parties to design other modes of raising funds. Membership dues and levies gradually entered the lexicon of party financing.


Aspirants seeking elections in their constituencies have to undertake rigorous campaigns to mobilize the voters ( Delegates) in order to build their trust in democracy and the political system (Ohman et al., 2014). These aspirants ability to disseminate campaign messages to the electorate in order to persuade their support, educate them in the electoral process and whip their enthusiasm and participation in the election have largely depended on the availability of funds.

Indeed, the role of money in competitive politics and democracy generally cannot be overemphasized. Campaign funds have been widely regarded as the oil that greases the wheel of candidates’ electoral success, and the lifeblood that sustains the momentum towards intra-party and inter-party electoral competition (The Economist, 2000).


Funds for northern aspirants come through proceeds from fundraising including fan-fair activities such as dinner-dances, football matches and ‘harvests’. At campaign rallies, public meetings, special church services, ‘on-the-spot’ appeal for funds, the parties raised proportion of their income (Austin 1964).

Majority of aspirants’ campaign funds are from individual donations (patrons)-Jonah (1998: 102).In northern Ghana, aspirants get their funds from individuals called patrons who donates for most campaign activities and when they win the election the MP become royal to the patrons by securing most contracts and benefits meant for the constituency to their patrons. Kumado (1996: 13) however, views this source as an irregular source. In his opinion, this has only been productive for many political aspirants in election years.


Aspiring northern MPs are called almost daily to respond to financial demands from constituents to mitigate some pressing social need (s). Aspirants in northern region wake up every morning to face a queue of constituents that expect them to take time to address concerns and provide various sums of money” (Lindberg, 2003, p. 129). Financial demands constituents make on their MPs include money to pay school fees, utility and hospital bills, transportation fares, clothing and assistance for funeral celebrations, others makes such direct comments as “my roof has been leaking ever since we conducted the last elections in the last four years, I may need four packets of zinc to roof it”, etc.

It is becoming customary for aspiring MPs to look for money to make bulk purchases of food and other items such as GTP-wax print, rice, canned fish, beverages, soap and cooking utensils as well as secondhand clothing for distribution to the constituents during celebration of festivals. Depending on one’s closeness with an aspiring MP, the financial request could be as high as money to cover living expenses and payment of rent for accommodation or just pocket money to survive the weather, so to speak.

In northern Ghana, when aspirants visit their constituencies and by extension their constituents (often 10-15 persons) that expect them to address their economic needs and personal demands by way of instant cash handouts .Apparently, constituents or electorates tend to be poor and they only look into the eyes of wealthy aspirant (s), so call!.... When aspirants get busy with their daily routines of campaigning , which often involves walking around various neighborhoods talking to people and finding out about what they do and what exactly their lives are about, whilst this is going on, one of ‘the boys ‘(errand runners and the body guards) continue to feed the aspirants with small notes for handouts from a white / brown envelope.


Distribution of financial benefits to voters and supporters remains one of the critical areas in which aspiring MPs incur expenditure. A previous empirical study by Lindberg (2003) documented cases of aspiring MPs in Ghana distributing a greater proportion of their resources to influence voters. Aspiring MPs make a distinction between spending on parliamentary elections and intra-party primaries. For the former, the vote-buying phase involves payment of various sums of money to influence voters (delegates) in parliamentary elections.

MPs seeking re-election would offer valuable items and money to induce the electorate to vote for them. All aspiring MPs believe that the giving of money to voters has become an institutionalized feature of the political and electoral processes. Cash given to core party supporters/activists are often concealed in white sealed envelopes while money to ordinary voters may be publicly and randomly distributed to a targeted group. Payment of cash to persuade delegates to vote for an aspiring MP or MP is no longer a secret act.


Based on evidence of distortions in campaign funding for aspiring MPs, it is extremely critical first, to consider legislation designed to control the abuses relating to political finance. The Electoral Commission rather than the government could be empowered to establish frameworks in the form of constitutional instruments to regulate political activities in ways that limit campaign expenditures such as setting ceilings on permitted election spending by candidates and their parties.

Second, controlling corruption requires establishing procedures and measures to make it compulsory to declare political contributions. This is likely to deter politicians from entering into illegitimate covenants with businesses in exchange for contributions. This would help promote fairness in elections because it could reduce the disparities of resources between rich and poor politicians and political parties.


It is universally accepted that money is the lifeblood that sustains the momentum towards democratic development. Therefore politicians, particularly parliamentary candidates/aspirants, cannot undertake their political activities in their constituencies without cash. Yet, money in politics has encouraged petty corruption and other forms of undemocratic behavior in the body politic of Ghana.

In situations of dwindling private funding, democracy suffers with a possible trigger for authoritarian re-emergence, sole private funding implies that politics is available only for the highest financial bidder, personal financing poses a great risk for candidates’ debt profile, private financing often leads to political corruption and excessive exploitation of incumbency by the ruling party pushes small parties out of the competition.

Luqman Abubakari is a Master of Public Policy Student (focusing on energy policy) at the Willy Brandt School of public policy -Germany.

His research areas are:

Nonprofit management

International global political economy &

International affairs


Jonah, K. 1998. “Political Parties and the Transition to Multiparty Democracy in Ghana”, in K. A. Ninsin (ed.) Ghana’s Transition to Democracy. Dakar, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESIRA)

Kumado, K. 1996. “The Financing of Political Parties in Ghana: The Case for Public Funding, in K. Kumado (ed.) Funding Political Parties in West Africa. Accra: Gold Type Press, pp. 8-23.

Fambom, S. 2003. “Public Funding of Political Parties in Africa: A Paper Submitted at the Africa Conference on Election, Democracy and Governance 7-10 April 2003, Pretoria, South Africa.

Austin, D (1964) Politics in Ghana, 1946-1960 London: Oxford University Press.

Shillington, K (1992) Ghana and the Rawlings Factor, London: Macmillan Press. UNC (1979), Constitution of the UNC, (unpublished).

The Economist. 2000. “Campaign finance: The money machine”, The Economist,, (Accessed: 3 March 2016).

Lindberg, Staffan I. (2003). “It’s our time to ‘chop’: do elections in Africa feed neopatrimonialism rather than counteract it?” Democratization, 10(2), pp. 121-140.

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