Human Freedom Is Key to African Prosperity

Earlier this week at a presentation to the Cato Institute, authors Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Dickie Davis, discussed their new book on African development, Making Africa Work: A Handbook. The book, a thorough study of the political and economic circumstances peculiar to Sub-Saharan Africa, looks at sectors such as mining, health, construction, and education, and tries to find answers to the big development questions in Africa. In particular, the authors identified three important and interrelated questions.

First is the frightening demographic change. By 2050 the continent’s population is expected to double to 2 billion. The more populous countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo would have a geometric rise that would most likely overwhelm their infrastructures. For example, Nigeria’s population would increase from the present 180 million to over 400 million by mid-century— greater than the United States and more than half the population of Europe.

Second is the tension between short-term imperatives of politicians and the benefit of long-term reforms. The authors argue that African leaders must always consider long-term reforms, irrespective of the immediate hardship, over any politically influenced short-term reforms, which often harm development in the long run.

Lastly is the question of limiting government control in economic life. What should be the ideal role of the state and to what extent must the private sector be permitted? Is democracy the best for development or can authoritarianism drive progress? What about the changing role of international actors in the development of Africa, such as foreign aid and foreign direct investment?

Based on their interactions with over 35 leaders across the continent, the authors conclude that there are six key elements dealing with each of these issues. They stress the importance of macroeconomic fundamentals, such as sound tax codes and fiscal carefulness; the relevance of constitutionalism; the rule of law; maintenance of a healthy democracy, most importantly individual freedom and property rights; an emphasis on beneficial long-term polices; and a sound leadership to provide guidance.

At CEI, we have been arguing many of the same things. Iain Murray and Daniel Press, for example, in their recent paper “Economic Freedom Is Key to African Development,” contend that secure property rights, low taxes and regulation, and access to affordable energy are imperative to African development. Economic freedom has historically been proven to be the best weapon against poverty, and this would prove no different to the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Without economic growth and job creation, Africa’s dramatic demographic expansion could be a social and political catastrophe. But with the right reforms, including a shift to greater economic and political freedom, this can be a tremendously positive force for change. In making Africa work, human freedom is the key.