Because many parties often lack their own funding systems, elites have a great influence on the outcome of the elections, says Ohman. It is not always about supporting the same party, but mostly about similar groups and interests, he says. However, this has consequences: Only a few people can participate in the political processes. And they do not include those who have little money, says the IFES expert.
Not everything carved in stone
What role does the state play in this? While parties in many European countries often depend on state subsidies, such financing systems exist in only two-thirds of African countries. But the amounts there are very low; the states are often small, with few capacities.
However, financial circumstances do not always determine the outcome of the election. “In Gambia, the 2017 election defeat of Yahya Jammeh, a long-time dictator, came as a complete surprise,” Ohman says, pointing out that election results in Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and Nigeria have also already changed the usual outcomes.
But there would have to be more monitoring bodies to ensure transparency, he says. The election commissions are often under enormous political pressure; civil society and the media are important in terms of providing information. Ohman sees a particular opportunity in the growing middle classes in some African countries: “If they also promote candidates and parties more strongly, this could limit the power of the elites. However, this is a slow process,” he says.
Creating fair conditions
Olufunto Akindur points out another problem: How well party financing can be monitored also depends on the strength of the respective financial system. In South Africa, for instance, money flows can be easily traced because it is an almost cashless society.
In other African countries, on the other hand, it is difficult for the election commissions to keep an eye on money sources and expenditures because many financial systems there are based on cash. She is calling for more laws from the African Union and regional organizations. “Currently there is little that regulates the funding of parties and their candidates and thus ensures fair competitive conditions,” she says.