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Opinions of Friday, 27 May 2022

Columnist: Benjamin Madugu Avornyotse

Why campaign financing in Africa and the West are different

Socioeconomic differences influence campaign financing strategies; Why do African politicians spend differently from nations in the West on political campaigns?

Everywhere in the world, elections are capital intensive, whether, in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, (Africa), the US, the UK, or Canada, politicians are spending extravagantly on elections.

For instance, according to the Center for responsive politics, by the end of the 2020 elections, the total spending of candidates in the US stood at 14 billion dollars, the highest in the history of American politics.

In politics, people reach out, they move from one end to another within their respective geographical campaign area, and they invest heavily in material capital during these campaign circles.

So when people raise concerns about politicians spending money in African elections, what they must know is that, everywhere in the world, people in politics spend heavily on their campaigns.

The question then should not be about the quantum of spending necessarily, but rather how this spending is carried out.

In very advanced political environments, there’re stricter campaign financing laws, where in the US for example, one is not allowed to donate more than 2,500 dollars to one candidate’s campaign. Equally, corporations, labor organizations, and membership groups are not allowed to donate directly to federal campaigns but are allowed to form political action committees, better known as PACs where they solicit support from members to support policy advertisements and other efforts.

Politicians are also allowed to create political action committees called leadership PACs separate from their campaigns to raise funding.

In places like the UK, campaign financing laws allow parties to spend only £30,000 per seat contested, the same cap is applied in France where political parties and their candidates are not allowed to spend beyond 30 million Euros.

One will ask, where exactly did the 14 billion go to in the case of the US?, Largely on campaign advertisements. Forbes reported that between 2019-2020, the combined spending on, TV, radio and digital advertisement cost 8.5 billion dollars. This figure is absolutely nothing close to campaign spending in places like Ghana and other African countries, even though we don’t have systems in place to track these figures in our context.

My observation is that, due to the socioeconomic differences in global south countries compared to these advanced economies, the demand of voters totally diver. For instance, in most African countries, voters look at elections from a different prism they see it as a direct pay system due to poverty, unemployment, and basic economic conditions.

This difference in socioeconomic ecosystem certainly accounts for what informs the campaign spending approach. While in the US, advertisements will swallow large parts of the campaign spending to target voters' policy interests on same-sex issues, immigration policy, pro-choice and pro-life, war, and other issues, African politicians see voters are consumers of cash, and food items and other material things and not ideas.

So when a politician in Nigeria gives out 100,000 naira, cars, and cloth to delegates to influence their voting decisions, it’s the socioeconomic environment that’s determining the campaign financing strategy.

Until we improve our socioeconomic wellbeing, direct vote-buying in global countries will continue and even get worse in the future, but in Africa, that’s our campaign funding strategy, however unfortunate.