Political Philanthropy and its Development Implications

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International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS) | Volume V, Issue III, March 2021 | ISSN 2454–6186

Political Philanthropy and its Development Implications

Prof. Paul Achola, N.T. Othello Gruduah
Maryknoll Institute of African Studies of Saint Mary University of Minnesota and Tanganza College, Nairobi, Kenya

IJRISS Call for paper

Abstract: An electioneering season in Africa is a time politicians scramble to outdo each other in terms of buying votes and loyalty from the electorate. Kenya is no exception to the practice, where politicians have perfected the craft to astonishing proportions. This paper examines the extent to which political hand-outs influence voters’ choices and undermine development. It also seeks to establish the immediate and long-term impact of political gifts on both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. Further, the researcher aims to investigate how manipulating local communities through political hand-outs stokes inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic hostilities. The study is based on descriptive survey design and uses interviews and textual analysis. Findings from field research reveal that the practice of vote buying is widespread in Kenya during canvassing for election to public office. In conclusion the paper recommends, among other things, an overhaul of the Kenyan political set-up so as to decentralize and devolve power to the grassroots. The leaders must be made to be accountable to their people through proper oversight structures.

Key words: political philanthropy, development, underdevelopment, electioneering, dependency


This paper seeks to establish the immediate and long-term impact of political gifts on both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries in some African communities, with specific emphasis on the Kenyan situation. The researcher intends to draw significant examples of this state of affairs from a number of Kenyan communities, but also where possible, from elsewhere in the continent.
In giving further insight on the practice of political gifts, the study also attempts to determine the extent to which the local economy of a given community is affected and the resentment brought about between opposing members of the community. As much as possible, views from African scholars and other scholars from a variety of backgrounds have been explored on how the poor can be manipulated by the powerful, besides findings from field research.
In Kenya, as in many other African countries, the practice is endemic and it especially intensifies when elections are around the corner. With the vast majority of the electorate illiterate and living below the poverty line, politicians are quick to seize on their ignorance to have them mortgaged their rights for a pittance.
For instance, in the mid 1980s in Liberia, when military leader Samuel Doe stood as a candidate to return the country to civilian rule, his party, National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), went around the country dishing out money to buy votes from the rural poor. In addition, the NDPL formed a youth group known as NDPL Task Force, which was given a lot of money to mete out violence to people perceived as government opponents and opposition supporters.
A similar situation in which the poor instantly become a political football is obtaining in South Africa, with accusations and counter-accusations of vote buying doing the rounds as the country prepares to elect a successor to President Thabo Mbeki in 2009. Because of their ignorance, the poor are not aware that those who carry briefcases full of money to dish out have actually amassed their wealth from the sweat of the very poor. The plight of the poor is best described by Myers (1999):
The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their well-being. Their relationships with others are often oppressive and disempowering as a result of the non-poor playing god in the lives of the poor. Their relationship within themselves is diminished and debilitated as a result of the grind of poverty and the feeling of permanent powerlessness. Their relationship with those they call “other” is experienced as exclusion. Their relationship with their environment is increasingly less productive because poverty leaves no room for caring for the environment. Their relationship with the God who created them and sustains their life is distorted by an inadequate knowledge of who God is and what God wishes for all humankind. Poverty is the whole family of our relationships that are not all they can be. (p.13)
With presidential, parliamentary and civic elections due in Kenya on December 27, 2007, politicians are criss-crossing the country with lightning and whistle-stop excursions to dish out material and monetary hand-outs to voters – a truly remembrance period indeed! For some of the less fortunate and rural poor, this is the only time that they can, at least, get a “free” packet of maize meal or KSh100 (about US one dollar) from their political leaders.