For the bookshelf: Africa’s third liberation
13 Sep 2013|

Africas third liberation coverIt’s now time for Africa’s third liberation, according to Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst in their positive and uplifting book, Africa’s Third Liberation. In their construct Africa’s first liberation was from colonial governments—in essence the struggle for decolonisation—the second from African liberation governments, who invariably became dictatorships. The third will be from poverty and unemployment. They give a roadmap of how to achieve this third liberation, employing a comparative analysis with other regions of the world: Asia, the Middle East and Central America.

The book focuses on how Africa can stimulate economic growth and utilise the immense resources of the continent to pull its populations out of poverty. A key argument is the need to end the staggering levels of unemployment, especially amongst African youth—80% in some countries—which has the potential to create further political instability. The authors encourage African governments to embrace the private sector and entrepreneurship to create an attractive environment for business. The time of basing development on foreign aid has passed.

Within just half a decade, a combination of higher commodity prices and better governance has relegated the aid debate, which distorted economic practices and the accountability of leaders to citizens, to a secondary development consideration.

The focus now must be on attracting investment flows. The challenge is to find models of development which can be used by African governments to create economic growth and jobs for their populations. The critical change is that all the people benefit from national wealth, rather than a small political elite as happened in Africa’s second phase of liberation.

The authors concede that many countries are still in the second stage of liberation, under the yoke of repressive liberation governments that serve a small minority. This is especially evident in Southern Africa. Overall, the book extols the possibility of a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Africa and the ability of countries to achieve this relatively rapidly. The scourge of armed conflict has lessened and there are more democracies, albeit of varying shades, across the continent. The way forward is political and requires that governments be focused on inclusive long-term gains for their nations.

Africa is rich but its populations remain poor. The book argues that government policy can reverse this trend and create an environment in which economic growth benefits entire populations. They explain that Africa is lagging behind other regions due to

…the existence of patronage-ridden systems of government, where investment and economic decisions are, for example, not made solely on economic principles, but rather to serve the imperatives of redistribution and maintaining allegiances for the sake of political control and holding on to power.

Herbst and Mills use African case studies to make the case that ‘trade, open markets, macroeconomic stability and prudence, fiscal conservatism, and the centrality of entrepreneurship and human capital constitute the necessary package for advancement’. They recognise that there’s some ‘aversion to the Western model’ of development and that the creation of African models is desirable.

African governments must adopt policies that are business friendly and enable entrepreneurship and the growth of the private sector. It’s not clear how much appetite there is for such a model:

The biggest challenge of all remains the gulf between those who favor the distributional model of growth over the model based on enterprise through entrepreneurship and the creation, by government of an enabling environment. Until now, African entrepreneurs have made progress by circumventing their governments. To truly succeed, governments must be enthusiastic about creating an environment where business will prosper.

The authors maintain that African governments need to adopt a ‘growth ideology’ and develop the infrastructure required for economic development, especially addressing the severe constraints caused by sub-standard transport and electricity infrastructure. Another important issue is the provision of quality education to Africa’s populations to increase worker productivity. The potential use of special economic zones, as utilized in China, and the possibility of establishing an ‘African Liberation Fund’ with the aim of rewarding countries that are open to competition and business are some of the interesting ideas put forward in this book.

This is a concise, unique and easily readable argument, illustrated and supported with an abundance of African case studies. The global comparative perspective adds weight to their focus on economic growth. Most importantly, this is a positive book which makes a strong case that ‘no country is destined to be poor’. In essence, Africa and Africans have reached a time when they can begin again, after much intervention, ‘to write their own story’. It’s a book that traces Africa’s progress through the cycles of liberation and stresses its potential to become a prosperous and peaceful continent. This book should be read widely across Africa by politicians and citizens alike, and will hopefully lead to popular demands that governments begin implementing economic policies that will lead to growth, jobs and freedom from extreme poverty for all:

The debate is how Africa can realise its enormous economic potential and thereby avoid the dashed hopes and disappointments so common in the first 50 years of independence. The stakes—which for hundreds of millions of people in what is the world’s poorest continent, include their chance of escaping poverty—could not be higher.

Sabrina Joy Smith is a PhD candidate with the Centre for the Study of the Great Lakes Region of Africa at the Institute for Development Studies and Management, Belgium. She is currently based in New South Wales.