Politics, policy formulation and business in Africa
Olufemi Adedamola Oyedele, MPhil. in Construction Management, managing director/CEO, Fame Oyster & Co. Nigeria, is an expert in real estate investment, a registered estate surveyor and valuer, and an experienced construction project manager. He can be reached on +2348137564200 (text only) or firstname.lastname@example.org
March 13, 202387 views0 comments
In “Why Politics and Business Don’t Mix”, Steve Tobak, an executive management staff at Cyrix, a Dallas-based microprocessor company, stated in Entrepreneur that his CEO sent out a company-wide email encouraging the staff to get out and vote. The message, as he said, sounded “highly partisan – right-leaning, of course. And as the company’s head of marketing and communications, that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t think it was right to pressure employees to conform to some sort of corporate political standard and I still don’t.” Politics and business don’t mix but you can’t do without mixing politics with business. Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 – December 18, 1978), an American political scientist and communications theorist, stated that “politics is who gets what, when and how”.
Most successful and renowned business men and women cannot do without influencing politics that goes on in their community. They are aware that politics is about acquisition of political power through public governance, getting connections in the government circle and getting government patronage in one’s business. After all, there is no business greater than the business of governance in any part of the world. No wonder David Easton defined politics as the “authoritative allocation of value” in “A Framework for Political Analysis” and “A Systems Analysis of Political Life”, both published in 1965 by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Most big manufacturers seek the assistance of the government for favourable policies that will make them stay in business or boost their businesses.
Government subsidy, import duty waiver and tax-holiday are three of the numerous incentives that business men and women can benefit from government and its policy formulation. Policy formulation is about how problems identified in the agenda-setting phase transform into government programmes. The five main areas of policy formulation process, following the traditional model, are: Agenda setting, Policy formation, Decision making, Policy implementation and Policy evaluation. As the process of designing policy alternatives expresses and allocates power among different interests, policy formulation affects both implementation, and outcomes. Since policies are made for the people and people are business customers, businesses must be interested in all public policies.
The only way to do this is for businesses, either individually or through their associations or both, to be actively involved in politics. But as politics is a pool of risks and the presidential system of government is ‘winner takes all system’, businesses are wary of being identified with a government. What they normally do is to support politicians and their administration underneath so that should a government fail to win elections and not be in authority, businesses will not be stigmatised and sidelined by a new government. Some businesses also make sure that they patronise all leaders and or governments in power. These types of businesses are referred to as “all governments in power” (AGIP). In Africa, the life-cycles of some businesses which are government-contractors tend to be short because of government lack of patronage.
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Construction companies and big government contractors which mainly depend on government patronage avoid bankruptcy and liquidation by getting closer to government, with some having “Government Relations Manager” – an officer who serves as liaison officer with government and interfaces with appropriate government officials (desk officer) on behalf of his or her company. Government relations managers promote legislative efforts that are beneficial to their organisation and collaborate with public relations officers on campaigns to earn the backing of government officials and the public. The duties of government relation manager include staying current on existing and proposed legislation, meeting with local, state and federal government officials and lobbyists, and updating management on relevant laws and regulations.
For any serious business in Africa, government relations management is a serious business. Government is all-in-all and determines how much purchasing power the masses can have. Government can do and undo, including asking commercial banks not to release cash to their customers, especially as a political instrument to ensure politicians do not have cash to buy votes. In policy decision making as a process of policy formulation, stakeholders are usually contacted and involved in final decision-making, but in Africa, governments can make policy without involving the stakeholders. After all, there will always be some beneficiaries of the policy formulation and if there is no beneficiary of the policy, like the Nigeria naira redesign policy, the government believes it will still be business as usual, forgetting that its taxes – income and corporate – depend on how businesses perform.
Most small and medium scale businesses in Africa do not have spokesperson to represent them and fight for their interest in government circles. Aside, they lack the financial muscle to influence policy formulation. They do not get patronage from the government as government officials do what small businesses are supposed to do by themselves. In some cases, government officials are the owners of the small and medium scale companies they patronise because the process of their job procurement either does not go through tender board and advertising or public scrutiny. Small businesses therefore, small in number, do not outlive their founders and it is one of the reasons that poverty is rife in Africa. The bigger jobs are monitored by major contractors who have the financial capacity to investigate and institute disciplinary actions against erring officers.
Businesses – small, medium or large scale – must be interested in the policies that affect them and the politics of their host communities. They should have a sizable budget to influence the decisions that are made for them. They should also have officers within their organisations or lobbyists outside to interface on their behalf. Businesses that want to grow from start-up to unicorn in a modest period of time must give the government’s day-to-day policies all the attention they require.
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