This piece was published on September 5, 2018, in the Nation, a daily newspaper published nationally in Malawi. It was published under the title “Campaign finance.” You can read it at: https: https://mwnation.com/campaign-finance/.
They are off to the races: our political parties are coming to a street, village or town near you to ask for your vote. Watch out, now: They come bearing promises—credible and dubious. Typically, the gentleman or lady, running for president will make a grand appearance in a posh vehicle, perhaps a Toyota VX or Range Rover, that sort of thing. For good measure, there may even be a convoy of some sort—the longer the better. Even those parties not in government will have these whenever and wherever possible. After all, who needs to have the actual police sirens to have a convoy, right?
By the time the aspirant presidential candidate arrives at the rally, the executive members of the party will have already arrived and presented themselves on the receiving line: somewhere near the front of the line is always preferable. They will be wearing very enthusiastic grins as they ever so humbly greet the aspirant: the men will bow; the women will genuflect. The rest of the supporters, the common folk, will be loudly proclaiming their devotion. They will have arrived many hours earlier by lorry or pick up or bus, ideally one painted in the respective party’s colors and emblems. They will be clad in or be clasping party paraphernalia: a textile for the ladies; T-shirts for both ladies and gentlemen; berets for those whose heads can squeeze into one; a small flag for those who can get their sweaty hands on one. Whichever the party, the political rally is quite the spectacle—quite the expensive spectacle. And who is paying for said spectacle? Search me.
As much as our political parties are spending a fortune holding political rallies in various parts of the country and offering promises and party paraphernalia to both their true and fake supporters, we simply do not know who is paying for their respective campaigns, even though current law requires the disclosure of the source of campaign funds. Those pickups and buses, party textiles, T-shirts, and small flags cost money. The question is whose money? To be clear, some of the parties are entitled to some funding from the government based on the number of votes they garnered at the last election. Also, to be sure, the parties’ respective presidential aspirants and their executive members had their own money before they joined politics. Still, they didn’t have, as they say, “go to hell money.” None of them had the sort of money that would have allowed them to spend on an expensive and unpredictable venture, such as is a national political campaign.
This is not to imply that their sources of funding are illegitimate. It is to say, though, that it is necessary for us to know the money behind the parties. We are all allowed, by law, not only to canvas for our respective political parties, but also to support them financially. Such support is perhaps even more vital for parties that are not in government. The party in government has advantages that arise from it being in government. I must emphasize, though, that this is not to advocate for the use of state resources for political purposes. It is merely to recognize that incumbency has its stated and unstated advantages; this is true anywhere in the world. Yet it is also true that there is no such thing as a free lunch: one can be assured that anyone supporting a political party financially will expect something from the party in return—an ROI of sorts. Is it too much to ask that we know who these supporters are, particularly the major ones? You know, just for future reference.
Surprisingly, our media have offered little in the way of coverage or analysis of this all‐too‐important issue, which is regrettable. If they are serious about challenging present and possibly even future corruption, they must begin by posing this tough question to our politicians, especially, perhaps, those who are travelling around the country railing against corruption—real and perceived. They are the ones seeking to form a future government. So, ask them this: “Tell us: Who is funding your campaign?”