Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

The "shadow states" that threaten Africa’s democracies

Nigrazia 21.09.2021 Antonella Sinopoli Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Two studies analyze the levels of the external entities that threaten state machinery in Africa. These analyze focus attention on nine nations of the continent in which the groups or individuals’ power develops political and economic pressures diverting the choices of governments to their own advantage.

They are private power networks, influential economic groups, networks of individuals and organizations capable of guiding policy makers. They are also illegal business brokers, legislative apparatuses, and ministerial decision makers. Even electoral commissions and the media. Taken together, but also individually, they create the so-called "shadow states" that operate and manipulate the government political machineries to hijack decisions, laws, economic choices for their own benefit from the citizens’ benefit.

In short, a real threat to both civil liberties and inclusive development in Africa. In a word, to democracy. A situation that not only undermines the transparency and accountability of government apparatuses, but also facilitates corruption and the abuse of power, especially in more authoritarian contexts.

People have being trying - often awkwardly - to hide such things even though all were aware of them. Today two reports put them unto paper. The Ghana Center for Democratic Development published the first one focusing on five countries: Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria. The study demonstrates the level of takeover and subversion of democratic institutions by entities from outside the state.

The second report, edited by Democracy in Africa, examines how unelected networks can infiltrate and subvert state structures. In this case, the experts studied the cases of “shadow states” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

What is remarkable, at first sight, is that the "shadow states" also operate in the contexts of recognized development and democracy, such as in Ghana. A country with the highest GDP index of all the countries analyzed, with a free press and a long alternation of democratically elected governments and, above all, where economic interests, for example the exploitation of mineral and oil resources, are very strong.

Naturally, the level of penetration into the state apparatus, and therefore the ability to act within it, varies according to the history of each country. It is relatively lower or less pronounced in countries like Ghana, of course, that experienced power’s multiple transfers through free and always very participatory elections, and much higher in states like Zimbabwe, where, on the contrary, the government has never essentially changed hands.

Both reports show, however, that in many African countries (obviously not all), there are not individuals and state apparatuses accountable to citizens that make important political and economic decisions, but some networks that include executive members, political brokers, presidents’ families, judges, businessmen, senior officials, military leaders and international financiers.

In some cases, these networks are crossing the national borders, both through deep ties with international companies or through integration into transnational organized criminal networks. So significant resources are drained out of the country.

The level of expansion and presence of realities external to the state - that however that state administrates-, varies as does the form that these control networks take. In Uganda, the President Yoweri Museveni’s family and the country’s military aristocracy run such a pivot the "shadow state", along with a select number of stakeholders from the business community.

In Benin, things look very different. Here, President Patrice Talon exploited the weakness of the legal, judicial and legislative system to transform one of the continent's most vibrant democracies into a near-one-party state.

In the DRC, the international military alliances around former presidents Laurent Kabila first and then Joseph Kabila played a fundamental role in creating a "shadow state" intimately connected to transnational networks of smuggling, especially of precious minerals.

In Zambia, the security forces played a small role in capturing democracy, which instead a collusion between civilian politicians, government officials and private businesspersons is driving. Such individuals, with former president Edgar Lungu, have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. In Zambia, it must be said, all this did not prevent a transfer of power this year.

In Zimbabwe, on the contrary, since the beginning of the 2000s, the importance of the army has always increased and it has gradually penetrated into the state and the economy areas. As so much so that it is now to wonder whether it is President Emmerson Mnangagwa - who recently ended up in the eye of the storm due to the troubled business emergence of a powerful Zimbabwean tycoon, his former adviser - who holds power and acts as the country's representative or a top military group.

Understanding how democracy is appropriated - says the introduction to the reports - helps explain the lack of progress in many countries towards democratic consolidation. It helps also to answer the question of how it is possible that governments that fail to respond to the needs of citizens, to bridge the gaps in development and social justice, still manage to remain at the helm of the country. And for a long time.

The analysis of the reports made concrete examples of how the occult power’s ganglia manage to maneuver every area and always to the detriment or disadvantage of the population.

It underlines how, in Nigeria, billionaire judges make their fortune by accepting bribes to exonerate political leaders and criminal organizations, facilitating corruption and creating a culture of impunity that undermines both democratic accountability and the rule of law.

It shows how security officials, bank directors, election officials, judges and journalists, collude with ruling party members to prevent opposition campaigners from effectively campaigning. This happens in countries such as Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe, where the democratic power transfer at the end of each mandate is effectively prevented.

It also looks at how the police and military in the DRC have set up command posts near new mineshafts, not to protect workers, but to issue unofficial taxes. There the situation reached a level that some mining operators must pay 40 consumption tax, only nine of which are the official taxes imposed by the national government.

In Zimbabwe, for instance, some companies, with ties to the ruling party and to the military, have used their friendships and networks in order to create artificially a fuel shortage that has inflated prices at the expense of motorists, creating great difficulties for companies and citizens.

The report shows how presidents, like Ugandan Yoweri Museveni, grant tax exemptions to their business allies in exchange for financial contributions to their election campaigns, through a fund even called a war-fund. In this way, the Treasury's revenues lose hundreds of millions of dollars, insofar reducing the funds that should have been destined for health and education.

Finally, another concrete example is that of Ghana, where the partial conquest of democracy has contributed to the emergence and consolidation of an upper class of Ghanaians, but not always for personal merits. On the contrary. Very many - individuals and families - have become rich, and even very rich, thanks to their privileged access to the state, to the ruling politicians and opposition parties, and to their friends in the business sector and in the state bureaucrat leadership.

Obviously, the population of these nine countries analyzed is widely aware of their state machineries and representatives’ weaknesses (in this case the term is really a euphemism), and this deeply undermines both the trust in democracy and the civic sense lacking therefore from the higher to lower institutional levels. This mistrust and default of confidence further jeopardizes security and civil life.

The damage is evident: from the creation of an impunity culture facilitating corruption and diverting resources from productive investments, to the manipulation of public spending and resources supporting client networks, thus diverting investments into private hands insuring so far the "shadow state" policies’ survival.

These monopoly and oligopoly networks raise prices and allow companies linked to the "shadow state" to make excessive profits. All situations that keep populations in a state of need and poverty. Reversing this picture is the challenge of African democracies.

See Gli “stati ombra” che minacciano le democrazie in Africa

Photo. ©Sutterstock

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The comments from our readers (1)

Bernard Farine 01.06.2022 Sur le fond, je ne suis pas surpris par cet article. Dans les institutions européennes, considérées comme démocratiques, les ONG doivent régulièrement intervenir pour réglementer et restreindre l'intervention des lobbies. En France, quand une loi risque de gêner des intérêts privés, divers groupes, notamment économiques, construisent des amendements tout faits et essaie d'influencer des parlementaires pour modifier le projet de loi. En Europe, on pense aux lobbies pour la pêche électrique et tout récemment à l'autorisation des modes de pêche destructeurs dans les zones protégées. En France, les industries chimiques s'allient à un grand syndicat agricole pour empêcher la diminution des pesticides, etc.