Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Shadow states infest Africa’s democracies

Democracy and development in Africa are under threat from powerful networks that join forces with government politicians to capture political institutions and use them to further their own interests, according to two reports published on World Democracy Day.

The reports from Democracy in Africa and the Centre for Democracy and Development-Ghana feature case studies on nine African countries. Taken together, they document the existence of broad and well-structured, but often invisible, networks that connect judges, political leaders, businessmen, multinational companies, securocrats, ruling party leaders and their family members. Through their privileged access to the state, these individuals misappropriate government resources while using their control of the legislature and the courts to get away with it.

The extent to which democracy has been captured in this way varies across the continent, and is lower in countries that initially developed stronger democratic institutions and have a longer history of placing checks and balances on those in power. 

But where these networks become so strong they come to represent a “shadow state” that holds more power than elected officials, the impact on justice and development is profound.

Take a look at Nigeria. According to a former Supreme Court justice, Kayode Eso, the country features many “billionaire judges”, who made their wealth by accepting bribes to exonerate defendants. This allows irresponsible politicians, corrupt businessmen and criminal gangs to go free, generating a culture of impunity.

It then becomes much more difficult to prevent the theft of state resources and deter human rights abuses. In turn, this demonstrates one of the biggest challenges

generated by the rise of shadow states – their control over the security forces and judiciary enables these networks to overcome resistance to their activities.

Democracy capture is not an African phenomenon — it happens everywhere self-interested elites meet weak institutions — but its effect is particularly devastating on a continent that already suffers from high levels of poverty and inequality. 

Unless shadow states are identified, exposed and challenged, countries such as Nigeria will never fulfil their developmental and democratic potential. 

This article, first published by The Continent, was produced in collaboration with Democracy in Africa.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Idayat Hassan
Idayat Hassan
Idayat Hassan is director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organization with focus on deepening democracy and development in West Africa. Idayat was previously principal program officer and team leader for democratic governance at the CDD. She previously coordinated the Movement Against Corruption in Nigeria (MAC). Idayat is a lawyer by profession and has held fellowships in several universities across Europe and America. Her core interest spans democracy, peace and security and transitional justice in West Africa.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

More top stories

COP26 touted to resolve long standing issues on climate debt

Only 16% of losses in South Africa from weather-related disasters in the past four decades were covered by insurers, leaving governments and communities unable to build back

Conservation boosts cattle farmers

By adopting sound grazing practices livestock owners get access to markets in a foot-and-mouth disease red zone near the Kruger National Park

Most climate science is written by white men

In deciding how the world responds to the climate crisis, policymakers rely on research that tends to be written predominantly by men in the Global North

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×