Keith Somerville, senior research fellow at the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies has just published a new book,Africa’s long road since independence. The many histories of a continent’. It deals with the great diversity of post-independence political, economic and social developments in Africa, tracing continuity and change from pre-colonial and colonial periods, and how the evolution of African states demonstrates conflict between structural factors and human agency and how, amid their great diversity, may be found common structural challenges and forms of exercise of agency.

Seemingly contradictory aspects of the continent’s history are part of the rich mix of difference and shared experience, especially in relation to the dependence on exports to fund formal economic activity and government spending, and to the functioning of informal networks of power and patronage alongside weak state institutions which feed off external revenue. These facets of development are exemplified by the results of recent elections in Nigeria and Tanzania.

In Nigeria, the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, in the first ever victory by a challenger in the country’s history. In Tanzania, President Kikwete stood down after two terms and John ‘Bulldozer’ Magfuli became the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate, defeating a strong challenge from the opposition candidate, Edward Lowassa.

Nigeria and Tanzania have very different political systems whose post-independence development have been a demonstration of the divergent histories of sub-Saharan African states. But despite the bloody, divisive and fractious nature of Nigeria’s experience since the end of British colonial rule in comparison with the relative peace, tolerance and unity of Tanzania, and despite the massive squandered oil wealth of Nigeria measured against the meagre natural resources of Tanzania, they have important similarities. Both are highly dependent on export earnings, foreign loans or aid to fund government budgets. Both have seen the development of networks of patronage as means for politicians to develop and maintain support bases, and seen these networks rely on corruption, rent-seeking from export income and impunity in the face of weak state institutions.

Former Nigerian military leader Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the issues of the Jonathan government’s failure to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, its glaring incompetence in economic management and corruption and cronyism. In Tanzania, Magfuli had stressed his past record as a minister in fighting corruption and clearing away obstacles to good, honest management.

A long-term source of corruption, patronage and power in Nigeria has been what is known as the security vote – the huge budget assigned from oil revenues to run Nigeria’s bloated military machine. Conflicts from the Biafran War through the Niger Delta insurgencies to Boko Haram’s campaign in the north-east, have enabled the armed forces and their political allies to devote huge sums to the military with little or no auditing of how the money is spent or why the army remains ineffective against security threats. Dozens of soldiers have been charged with cowardice or mutiny for failing to stop Boko Haram’s occupation of large swathes of the north-east. The accused defended themselves saying that they lacked modern equipment and even ammunition.

Now it is becoming evident why such a well-funded army did not arm its soldiers properly.  Buhari says he has found huge levels of graft involving defence funds. Charges of corruption and misuse of billions of naira allocated to paying for imports of arms have been levelled against some of the top officials of the last government. They include President Jonathan’s national security adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, a former director of finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu and an an aide to former President Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa. Some of the cash, withdrawn in foreign currency, was said to have been used to fund the electoral campaign by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party. Nigerians await the trial with keen interest to see if the wall of impunity for senior politicians and officials is being broken down.

In Tanzania, the ‘Bulldozer’ got to work fast after his October election victory. The day following his inauguration, he paid an unscheduled visit to a major state-run hospital.  Finding totally inadequate care for the patients, he fired the board and acting director there and then. Soon after, he sent his new prime minister, Kassim Majaliwa, to the notoriously mismanaged port in Dar es Salaam. The premier found that taxes totalling US$40million [more than £27million] hadn’t been paid and the port authority and customs authorities were mired in corruption. Magfuli immediately suspended and arrested the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s Commissioner General and five top officials, and sacked the head of the port authority. In recent years, Dar es Salaam has become one of the major transit points for ivory, precious metals, gems and other illicit goods leaving East Africa.

These two developments in two very different states demonstrate both the vast differences in African states’ political and economic structures, but also the way in which dependence on export income and foreign loans rather than domestically generated taxes or revenue can lead to the development of patronage networks, corruption and the exercise of power beyond the control of weak state institutions and legal systems.

A career journalist with the BBC World Service and BBC News for three decades, specialising in Africa, Keith Somerville writes and lectures on African affairs and is senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London. He is the author of several books, including Radio Propaganda and the Broadcasting of Hatred.

A full version of this article is available on the ICWS website.