Why vote-buying in Africa is old-fashioned

Kenyan citizens queue for voter registration ahead of August 2022 General Election. Voter registration numbers as well as registered voter turnout has been falling below expected numbers after every election cycle. PHOTO/Courtesy.

In his short story, “The Voter”, novelist Chinua Achebe paints the African image of the electoral process, from staging campaigns, all the way to the ballot box.

Rufus Okeke, the protagonist and a poor African, is used by two politicians during their campaigns.

Being a former bicycle repairer’s apprentice and well known in the village for his political influence, he mobilizes the villagers to vote for Mr. Marcus Ibe, a politician seeking re-election as a Member of Parliament for Umuofia.

Roof, as the villagers call him, takes bribes from Marcus and continues to campaign for him.

As Achebe writes, Roof “had become a real expert in election campaigns at all levels: village, local government or national.”

Marcus is set to compete with a close rival, Mr. Maduka, whose party has also circulated a “very considerable amount of money” to the villagers, wooing them for their vote.

Maduka labors to emancipate his coastal people from absolute political, social, religious and cultural annihilation.

However, as the election day nears, Roof gets a surprise visit from the campaign manager of Maduka’s campaign team.

Wasting no words, he gives Roof five pounds and demands, “We want your vote.” Taking the bribe, he vows to give them his vote, swearing by Iye, a charm.

In the ballot booth, Roof is torn between voting for Marcus his close friend or betraying his conscience, even in secret, and voting for Maduka.

Overcome by his ego, yet afraid of Iye’s curse, he tears the vote into two, placing half into each ballot box, Marcus’ first, then Maduka’s.

He then verbally declares, “I vote for Marcus!”

This easy-to-identify-with story speaks to the African heart.

Poor Africans have always been blindfolded and made to exchange their precious decisions, life, developments, good health, lower taxes and job opportunities encapsulated in the Vote, for money.

In the African setting, vote-buying has become a rampant, normalized yet unethical strategy to win people’s support.

In my country Kenya, the significant portion of politicians have bowed to the misguided ideology that no one can win an election without letting loose chunks of (stolen) money in form of handouts to the electorate.

The bribe is set to trigger the electorate to betray its conscience, chide good leadership and embrace short term enjoyment in form of foodstuffs, hard cash and other forms of bribe.

In his research paper titled “Vote-buying and Political Behavior: Estimating and Explaining Vote-buying Effect on Turnout in Kenya, Kramon Eric concludes that in some instances, vote-buying significantly influences the voter’s probability to vote.

After being bribed, the voter feels obliged to go and vote for the bribing party.

While the bribing party follows-up on the bribed masses’ behavior, an approach he describes as monitoring and punishment mechanism, the masses fear punishment (in form of absent development) or outbreaks of violence if such parties don’t carry the day after the ballot.

As well, he speaks of credibility perception mechanism, where voters are hypnotized and made to think that a “giver politician” is refreshing and caring, thus will obviously bring more development back to the voter.

But how effective is it in areas where many political parties are seeking similar electoral positions, like in Kenya?

While the elderly, uneducated and poor people are the target, vote-buying proves unproductive among the learned and those in areas with many political rivals.

In the African setting, Kenya being the case study, to the one who has much, more is given!

Those already seated in political seats and thought to have power are given more power by the electorate.

Thinking otherwise would be easily termed as “wasting your vote!”

Opining about politics, Kenyan Pan-Africanist Prof. PLO Lumumba said that “We live in a country and in countries where the young people are always told ‘You are the leaders of tomorrow’, a tomorrow that never comes.”

As the electorate would assertively remind you, fresh-bloods with better ideas, clearer visions and specific strategies are hard to win the game in the Kenyan political arena.

In fact, those seeking electoral seats fresh from the boat are often discouraged. In higher political positions, the youth have been locked out, often.

This ideology has dragged many African countries behind.

Undoubtedly, vote-buying through bribery has ushered bad leadership into my country and most likely, into yours.

Though lower than after independence, coup d’états in Africa have remained on a significant rise in recent years, as research shows. Illustration, BBC.

Bad leaders have gradually permeated into the political landscape and predisposed themselves into the hearts of the masses, all in disguise.

The African Voter, just like the Umuofia people, has remained wondering how politicians quickly rise “from the dust” to higher ranks of honor, wealth, doctoral and honorary degrees, big cars and mansions, within a very short time.

Over time, vote numbers have diminished steadily because the fear that “Even if I vote, my candidate will not be ‘given’ the position”, has taken root.

Do African countries stand any chance to witness a positive change in the spheres of development towards better healthcare, better, affordable education, infrastructure and other developmental spheres?

Writing for the Potentash, Susan Mukami reminds us that “The only way we can change the destiny of our country is by our vote. If you don’t vote for good leaders, you do not have the right of judging bad leaders.”

Sadly, in a country like Kenya and in many others, credible leaders are hard to find. Or even better said, the political algorithm rarely allows them into the public office.

Resultantly, research has it that in recent times as from 2010 to-date, Africa has witnessed an alarming number of political coup d’états and coup attempts than any other continent.

In 2019, Sudanese soldiers overthrew president Omar al-Bashir following months of protests, prompting the establishment of a new government.

In August 2020, Mali witnessed a coup d’état while only two months into 2022, Burkina Faso has had a coup, with Guinea Bissau having an attempt in January and February 2022 respectively.

Many other countries in Africa have made both successful (lasting more than seven days) and unsuccessful coup attempts in recent years.

In countries where coups aren’t in the list of options, impeachments have filled the pages.

Seemingly, using different strategies, Africans are trying to emancipate themselves from the shackles of dictatorship and backwardness.

They are seeking better life in form of affordable education, lower taxes, passable roads, peace and other life’s valuables, which the leaders who bribed them and got into office have refused to deliver.

However, coups aren’t the way out, in any case. Actually, even a successful coup doesn’t always mean a transition to a successful leadership, though in a few cases, it may.

Knowing the value of your vote and making the right choice is the only way out. The right choice will usher in the right governance and better life, changing our countries positively.

It’s the right time Africans and Kenyans in particular, have got to offer a deaf ear to the usually dreaded voting paradox – contradictory results or opposite of the expected outcome.

It’s time we refuse playing like Roof and taking bribes from both parties, vowing allegiance and then wasting everything in the secret ballot, lying to our consciences that “It was the right thing to do.”

There lies a sea of potential in changing our African countries if we stop gauging leaders according to their feigned generosity during campaign period and then going back to lament how bad our rulers have become. 

Instead of taking bribes from those seeking our votes and then later impeach them after seeing their true colors, it proves wise to elect the right leaders and start off well.

Africa’s poverty lies in the mindsets and strategies employed by the African political mafia, or rulers, as the term fits them better.

As many Kenyans have been asking of late, only months to the general elections, ‘In whose hands are we safe?”

I stand convinced that in the hands of visionary leaders, leaders of integrity and who are attentive and willing to change the lives of the electorate towards stability, the Voter remains safe.

So, the next time you carry your voting card and go to the ballot, carry your brain along as well.

RELATED: My take on democracy in Africa

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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature.


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