Africa: Political permutations and economic development
Leadership is crucial to achieving sustainable economic growth as it involves putting in place structures that enable growth and progressive development. Elections are a referendum on the president and his economic legacy and are therefore a key determinant of a country’s social, political, and economic performance. A country’s pace of development relies heavily on the quality of leaders elected by the citizenry. Unfortunately, political campaigns in Africa often focus on slogans, political rhetoric, and unpractical measures that do not address current African realities.
The brand of political leadership practiced in Africa and the kind of acrimony that dogs our politicking do not support national unity, development, and stability in governance. Neither competitive elections nor multi-party systems have led to fair and efficient governance in Africa. In fact, there have been more than 200 coups d’etat in Africa between 1950 and 2021, normalizing political disorder. Prolonged civil and religious conflicts, regional crises, degenerating economic and demographic conditions, and the rise of terrorism has ushered Africa into its “Arab Winter”.
On the one hand, frequent election cycles leave room for politicians to make unreasonable campaign promises, especially in countries with high illiteracy and poverty rates. This is quite disheartening, particularly because political goodwill is essential in ensuring that matters affecting citizens are resolved. On the other, political myopia fuels policy inconsistency – the inevitable byproduct of frequent power changes – that can prove detrimental to developing countries in dire need of long-term developmental projects to achieve growth and modernization.
These have created a wide gulf between politicians and the voting public, and culminated in low youth participation in Africa’s formal, and institutional political processes- the demographic profile is heavily skewed to a younger population. Fatigued by seeing the same old faces on the ballot for decades, African youth – who are being dealt a hard blow by inflation and unemployment – have little faith that voting will change their fortunes. Kenya, for instance, saw a decline in the number of young people who registered to vote in the August 2022 elections, and their voluntary political exclusion can prove deadly for the country’s democratic trajectory and economic development in the years ahead.
Youth underrepresentation in politics will limit the extent to which they can help determine their future and improve their prospects. When voters do not exercise their voting rights, it increases the power of influence of the few who do show up pursuing narrow interests. Also, the low rate of youth participation in politics could additionally lead to a future vacuum in leadership, denying the continent the youth’s exuberance and innovation, at a time when corruption and the economy are sticking points. However, young Nigerians seem to have figured out that they are the key economic players. At 72% of the 12.3 million duly registered voters, the big question remains if Nigerian youth will make their number count this time.
A stable political environment is a sine qua non for sound economic and meaningful performance. Thus, presidential elections are considered the most powerful political event and the bedrock of any economy. Although the effects of presidential election announcements on overall economic performance are not direct, there are channels through which they influence macroeconomic variables, including investment, government spending, and the capital market. Therefore, sound presidential elections rooted in democratic structures and the rule of law are indispensable for improved economic performance. Even beyond the elections – as the election whistles are blown in 11 sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries over the next 16 months – it is important that political aspirants continue prioritizing citizens’ needs at all levels of engagement. This means an increased focus on the challenges bedeviling the continent – including the skyrocketing cost of living that stems from extreme external vulnerability, macro-fiscal imbalances, and insecurity.