Keith Somerville’s Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent, published by Hurst, will be released on 21 January 2016.
Thirteen elections took place in Africa in 2015. The one in Burundi sparked violence as the incumbent sought an unpopular and arguably unconstitutional third term. Others saw the retention of power, often amid accusations of electoral fraud from defeated opponents, by sitting presidents and little or no change in policies, empowerment of citizens or any shred of accountability of governments dominated by powerful patron/client networks. Nigeria and Tanzania were exceptions. In the former, the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, in the first ever victory by a challenger in Nigeria’s history; in the latter, President Jakaya Kikwete stood down after two terms with John ‘Bulldozer’ Magufuli becoming the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate, who defeated a strong challenge from the opposition candidate, Edward Lowassa.
Nigeria and Tanzania have very different political systems whose post-independence developments have been a demonstration of the divergent histories of sub-Saharan African states. But despite the bloody, divisive and fractious nature of Nigeria’s experience since the end of British colonial rule in comparison with the relative peace, tolerance and unity of Tanzania, and despite the massive squandered oil wealth of Nigeria measured against the meagre natural resources of Tanzania, they have important similarities. Both are highly dependent on export earnings, foreign loans or aid to fund government budgets, both have seen the development of networks of patronage as means for politicians to develop and maintain support bases, and both have seen these networks rely on corruption, rent-seeking from export income and impunity in the face of weak state institutions to retain their clout, politically and economically.
Although their electoral experiences in 2015 were different, with Nigeria seeing the first ever electoral defeat of an incumbent president and Tanzania seeing yet another election in which the ruling CCM retained power, the elections brought about substantial changes in direction for the two countries. Former Nigerian military leader Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the issues of the Jonathan government’s failure to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, its glaring incompetence in economic management and its corruption and cronyism. In Tanzania, Magufuli had stressed his past record as a minister in fighting corruption, and being the Bulldozer that cleared away obstacles to good and honest management.
In Nigeria, one serious and long-running source of corruption, patronage and power has been what is known as the security vote — the huge budget assigned from oil revenues to run Nigeria’s bloated military machine. Conflicts from the Biafran War through the Niger Delta insurgencies to Boko Haram’s campaign in the north-east have enabled the armed forces and their political allies to devote huge sums to the military with little or no auditing of how the money has been spent or why, after decades of massive funding, the army remains poorly equipped and ineffective action against security threats. Dozens of soldiers have been charged with cowardice or mutiny for failing to stop Boko Haram’s occupation of large swathes of the north-east. Those accused defended themselves saying that they lacked modern equipment and even ammunition.
Now it is becoming evident why such a well-funded army may not have been able to arm its soldiers properly. Buhari pledged to root out corruption and within months of being sworn in found huge levels of graft involving defence funds. Charges of corruption and misuse of billions of naira allocated to paying for arms imports have been levelled against some of the top officials of the last government. They include President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki; a former director of finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; an aide to former President Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa; a former general manager at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Aminu BabaKusa; a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, and his son, Sagir Bafarawa. Some of the funds, withdrawn in foreign currency, were said to have been used to fund the electoral campaign by Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, while other tranches of money were used to buy expensive houses in Abuja for relatives of the accused. Nigerians await the trial with keen interest to see if the wall of impunity for senior politicians and officials is being broken down.
In Tanzania, the Bulldozer got to work fast after his October election victory. Instead of celebrating in State House, the day after his inauguration he paid an unscheduled visit to a major state-run hospital. Finding it in a dreadful state, with totally inadequate care for the patients, he fired the board and acting director there and then. Soon after, he sent his new prime minister, Kassim Majaliwa, to the notoriously mismanaged and corrupt port in Dar es Salaam. The premier found that taxes amounting totalling US$40million hadn’t been paid and the port authority and customs authorities were mired in corruption. Magufuli immediately suspended and arrested the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s commissioner-general and five top officials. He also sacked the head of the port authority and several senior officials in the transport ministry. In recent years, Dar es Salaam has become one of the major transit points for ivory, precious metals, gems and other illicit goods leaving East Africa for China and other Asian destinations, and the entry point for drugs. Magufuli also suspended expensive independence day celebrations and instituted a day of work to clean up the streets, in which he took an active and highly publicised part.
These two developments in two very different states demonstrate both the vast differences in African states’ political and economic structures, but also areas of similarity in dependence on exports and the way that this can lead to the development of patronage networks, corruption and the exercise of power beyond the control of weak state institutions and legal systems. Impunity may not be over for these informal patron/client systems, but in two countries a promising new start has been made.
Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; and teaches at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent. His book, Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent is published by Hurst and Co on 21 January 2016; and he has just finished writing his next book on the history of the ivory trade in Africa. His widely followed blog offering comment and analysis on African affairs is http://africajournalismtheworld.com/
On Twitter: @KSAfricaHack