Shadow states are the biggest threat to democracy in Africa: new reports detail how
The capture of democratic political systems by private power networks is arguably the greatest threat to civil liberties and inclusive development in Africa. This is the conclusion of two new reports that address the issue of threats to democracy on the continent.
The first report is published by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development. It focuses on the capture and subversion of democratic institutions in Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria.
These case studies reveal that even in more democratic states like Benin and Ghana, ruling parties can “hijack” democracy and appropriate its benefits. They do this by capturing the institutions of democracy itself. This includes electoral commissions, judicial systems, legislative assemblies and even the media and civil society.
The net effect is to undermine transparency and accountability. This in turn facilitates the abuse of power, especially in more authoritarian contexts.
The second report was organized by Democracy in Africa and takes a slightly different approach. It examines how unelected networks can infiltrate and subvert state structures.
In particular, he maps the emergence of shadow states in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These case studies show that networks of unelected businessmen, civil servants, political agents and family members of presidents hold more power than lawmakers.
By mapping how these networks are organized in different groups and countries, the report reveals how influential and resilient some groups have become. It also shows how many shadow states have been integrated into transnational and – in some cases – criminal financial networks.
It is not an “African” question. Similar processes have been identified in a number of different countries and regions. These include Bangladesh, Brazil and the United States. But that does not mean that the need to recognize and address these problems is less pressing.
States with higher levels of democracy capture are prone to becoming more authoritarian, corrupt, and abusive.
The capture of democracy and the phantom state
According to politics professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, the capture of democracy occurs when
a few individuals or sections of a supposedly democratic regime are able to systematically appropriate the institutions and processes as well as the dividends of democratic governance.
In other words, the capture of democracy expands the idea of “capture of the state” to include all political institutions and democratic activities, including civil society and the media.
The term is widely used in South Africa to refer to the undue influence of interest groups on state institutions.
Indeed, what is striking about this process are the well-structured networks that encompass a wide range of individuals ranging from government to security forces, traditional leaders, private companies, public companies and members of the government. their family. According to a separate study by South African academics Ivor Chipkin and Mark Swilling,
what distinguishes these actors is their “privileged access to the inner sanctuary of power to make decisions”.
A useful way of conceptualizing these networks is the idea of Phantom States developed by influential political scientist William Reno.
For Reno, a shadow state is actually a system of governance in which a form of parallel government is established by a coalition of the president, militias, security agencies, local intermediaries, and foreign companies. In extreme versions such as Sierra Leone, real power no longer resides in formal institutions of government such as the legislature.
This type of shadow state is characterized by the existence of private armies and a very limited, almost imaginary, formal state.
More recently, researchers have identified manifestations of the shadow state in countries that are not in the midst of civil war and that have stronger formal political systems. Good examples include Kenya and Zambia.
In these cases, the shadow state is geared more towards obstructing the activities of opposition parties and the impunity of its members.
Africa is not a country
The nine case studies presented in the two reports show that the extent of ownership of democracy varies considerably. It is weaker in states like Ghana, where strong electoral contestation between rival parties has resulted in multiple transfers of power. It’s much higher in states like Zimbabwe, where the government has never changed hands.
The shape and resilience of unelected power grids also vary significantly. In Uganda, the shadow state is ruled by an axis of the family of President Yoweri Museveni, a “military aristocracy” and interlocutors from the business world.
In Benin, President Patrice Talon exploited the weakness of the judicial, judicial and legislative system to extend his power. Through this process, he transformed one of the continent’s most dynamic democracies into a political virtual monopoly.
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The picture is still different in the DRC. International military alliances have played a crucial role in how former presidents Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila came to and held power. This led to a shadow state that was more deeply shaped by transnational smuggling networks and the activities of the security forces.
The situation in Zambia is also special. Under former President Edgar Lungu, the security forces were less relevant than the link between politicians, government officials and businessmen. This has led to widespread corruption and mismanagement. But that did not prevent a handover in 2021.
By contrast, in Zimbabwe the government has gradually become militarized, penetrating other areas of the state and the economy. This raises serious questions as to whether President Emmerson Mnangagwa – or the army chiefs – holds any real power.
It is therefore important to map the phantom state on a case-by-case basis, as no two networks are identical. The differences between them reveal who really holds the power.
Shadow states have a negative impact on democracy and accountability. But the damage they cause goes far beyond. It undermines inclusive development through three linked processes:
- create a culture of impunity, which facilitates corruption and diverts resources from productive investments
- manipulate government spending and other public resources and opportunities to support patronage networks and ensure the political survival of the shadow state
- create monopolistic or oligopolistic conditions that raise prices and allow companies with links to the shadow state to make excessive profits.
The result is that resources and investments are systematically diverted to private hands.
In Uganda, Museveni grants tax exemptions to its business allies in exchange for electoral support. It robs the treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
In Zimbabwe, companies allied with the ruling party and the military have used these relationships to establish near-monopolies in key sectors of the economy that exploit the public. In one case, this led to severe fuel shortages which artificially inflated prices.
Added to the billions of dollars lost through simple corruption, theft and fraud, it is clear that these processes represent one of the most significant obstacles to inclusive development in Africa. Unless these networks are challenged, they will continue to keep citizens in poverty while enriching those linked to the Shadow State.
Professor H. Kwasi Prempeh, Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, is co-author of this article
Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy, Birmingham University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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