That’s the insightful question posed by Portia Roelofs at the Democracy in Africa blog. She’s talking about Nigeria, where politicians routinely provide food or cash for their supporters, and where the government is also rolling out more structured cash transfer programs. As she notes:
Two recent empowerment schemes from Nigeria, and subsequent debates about their legitimacy, demonstrate the relevance of these debates. In January 2019 the federal government’s TraderMoni scheme, whereby N12 billion of loans were distributed to over a million recipients, was condemned by opposition and civil society groups as ‘sophisticated voter-inducement’. However, the grounds on which the scheme was judged to be illegitimate varied: was it wrong because it was too close to the election, because it was not in the party’s manifesto or because it constituted the use of public funds for party-specific aims? The Bank of Industry defended the programme arguing that the loans were simply a means to the larger end of financial inclusion. Thus the question of how to draw the line between legitimate distributive strategies that win votes and illegitimate vote-buying strategies is a live topic in Africa’s biggest democracy.
She has an upcoming article on the same topic at the Journal of Modern African Studies which looks well worth a read. A preprint is available as well.