The Importance of Shadowing in African Political Accountability

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on April 2, 2017

A Shadow Cabinet consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the Cabinet. There is much use for the concept of Shadow Cabinets in the context of Africa’s political and economic development.

If every member of the Cabinet in ruling administrations in Kenya and Africa in general, knew they had an individual or team of qualified professionals scrutinising their policy, strategy and actions in their respective ministries two developments would likely occur. Firstly, the scrutiny would make cabinets more thoughtful and effective in policy and strategy development and implementation as cabinets would know all official communication and activity would engender an informed response and critique. If Shadow Cabinets were created in a context where Shadow roles were taken seriously, government would know that vague, incomplete or inaccurate information as well as inadequately thought through strategies would meet credible resistance. Secondly, the actions of Shadow Cabinets would give the general electorate a sense of how the Opposition would govern if they were in power. The track record of Shadow Cabinet critiques would present citizens with a clearer idea of how Opposition would address key challenges in the country. Image result for cabinet government


In Kenya the concept of a Shadow Cabinet is particularly important because political parties are not drawn along ideological lines. Unlike other parts of the world, political parties in this country are drawn along personalities and tribal lines. Further, political parties always realign and change composition in each election period, changing the dynamic of the leadership in the parties. As a result, in Kenya it is very difficult to know how an Opposition government would govern the country. I have long wanted to read Shadow Budgets as well as Shadow Policies on Agriculture, Education, Health and Finance for example. What would fiscal and monetary policy look like in an Opposition government? How would an Opposition government have handled the teachers’ and doctors’ strikes? How would Opposition address corruption if they were in government? These are all valid questions.

The frustration I have as a Kenyan is that I often do not know how governments will govern until they get into power. While Party Manifestos are produced every election year, they do not form a solid and consistence basis of engagement for analysis. Further, it seems Manifestos are political tools used during electioneering that are swiftly forgotten once elections are completed.


The time has come for Africans to demand Shadow Cabinets. In doing so citizen interests will be protected through the application of clearly thought out and consistent pressure applied on governments enhancing political and financial accountability. Further, the political landscape in Africa would stabilise as it would no longer be a guessing game as to how an incoming administration would rule the country.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;


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