People living in the West like to think that money can solve any problem. Ironically, poverty in the poorest countries cannot be alleviated that simply. Bad government and corruption are two of the primary causes of poverty. No matter how much rich nations donate to poor ones, poverty will continue until bad government and corruption cease.
In a seemingly farsighted attempt to copy Western success, 40 African leaders met in Lusaka, Zambia, in early July to replace the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963, with the new African Union (AU), modeled on the European Union (EU).
More than 25 years ago some African political leaders formed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to create a common market in West Africa that would replicate the success of the European Common Market (now the EU) in the region. More than a quarter of a century later it is difficult to point to any accomplishment of ECOWAS. The people are no better off, and in many cases they are in greater poverty now than they were in 1975. The only likely accomplishment of the new AU will be the creation of thousands of new jobs—in the bureaucracy that will run the new organization!
More government is exactly what Africa does not need. In a scenario repeated in dozens of countries in the first five years of independence, the numbers of people employed by government doubled while the tax base halved as the former colonialists were forced out. It doesn't take a degree in economics to realize that you can't double spending when your revenue is cut by half without creating major problems.
After five years, jobs in the bureaucracy would keep growing as politicians filled government departments with members of their extended families. This growth in government would, in turn, add to the burdens faced by private companies and discourage further investment through mountains of paperwork. Government would also be fueled by the spread of corruption as bureaucrats demanded bribes to do their jobs, issuing the licenses and permits necessary for private enterprise to function legally.
Botswana, one of Africa's few success stories, proves the point. This big country with a small population chose a different path. Democracy and private enterprise have flourished, and the nation has averaged a 9 percent growth rate since independence in 1966.
A more recent success story was highlighted in the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Somalia, in its death throes a decade ago, is experiencing fast economic growth. As Peter Maass's article was subtitled: "In the Absence of Government Bureaucracy and Foreign Aid, Business Is Starting to Boom." In short, Somalia grows because it has no government to hinder business and no free handouts to remove incentives to work.
Ghanaian author George Ayittey pointedly showed that much of the blame for Africa's ills lies with its postcolonial governments. In his 1992 book Africa Betrayed, Ayittey wrote that "in Africa there are two classes of people: the real people [the peasants] and the parasitic elites" (p. xvii).
Ayittey recounts Africa's three invasions. First came the Arabs, then the European colonizers. But the worst and most devastating was the third and most recent. "A third and far more insidious invasion began under black neocolonialism. Educated abroad and having assumed the trappings of foreign cultures and ideologies, a new wave of invaders struck Africa. They were actually returnees, sons of Africa who briefly left to pursue studies overseas or to go into exile. But they came back with a vengeance to denigrate, to enslave, to destroy, and to colonize by imposing alien ideological systems upon the African people.
"The economic exploitation and political repression of the African people continued unabated . . . Economically, politically, and culturally, Africans today are worse off than they were at the time of independence in the 1960s."
He adds: "Three decades of independence from colonial rule have produced nothing but economic misery and disintegration, political chaos, and institutional and social decay" (pp. 7-8, emphasis in original).
Africa faces enormous problems as wars plague a third of the continent's nations and the AIDS epidemic worsens by the day. Yet the last few years have seen signs of hope as new leaders have replaced the old and are trying to bring about much-needed reforms. Although democracy is not the answer to all of Africa's problems, the increased freedom that comes with it does help economic development. GN