Remaking African institutions to foster entrepreneurship at #AfricaLF21

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The reality of continued international travel restrictions in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic led Atlas Network to host each of its four Regional Liberty Forums online in 2021—this time all in the same week in June. The action-packed week kicked off with a deep examination of entrepreneurship in Africa at Africa Liberty Forum 2021 (#AfricaLF21). With over 232 think tank and civil society professionals representing 29 countries in attendance, a rich dialogue was facilitated, despite the circumstance of convening virtually. Attendees were as much a part of the excitement as winners when the Regional Liberty Award and Think Tank Shark Tank champions were announced.

Each session of the 2021 Africa Liberty Forum will remain available online, and below are some highlights of the event.

Welcome Remarks

The forum kicked off with a welcome from Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips and Aimable Manirakiza, founder and CEO of the local co-host, Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes. Manirakiza expressed his excitement for working with African organizations to help create a better, freer, and more prosperous future for the continent.

After the opening remarks, Atlas Network Director of Institute Relations Casey Pifer spoke with several leaders in the African freedom movement about what the pandemic has meant for everyday life and personal and economic liberty in Africa. Olumayowa Okediran of Students For Liberty (Nigeria) spoke about how the Nigerian government followed the lead of other countries on lockdowns instead of evaluating how factors like demography might require a different strategy. He pointed out that Nigeria’s population is very young and therefore not at particular risk for COVID-19.

Phumlani Majozi of was originally in favor of lockdowns to allow the healthcare system to prepare for the pandemic, especially given the high rate of HIV in South Africa, but changed his mind as the timeline progressed and the government healthcare monopoly failed to respond adequately to the situation.

Bruce Vaillant Ntangibingura of CDE in Burundi expressed optimism that the pandemic response would give think tanks an opportunity to gain more attention in their fight to open international trade and break up government monopolies, which CDE has already had success in doing.

Big Ideas: Africa Reimagined

Led by Ibrahim Anoba of Atlas Network’s Center for African Prosperity, the Big Ideas portion of the 2021 Africa Liberty Forum focused on how African leaders can build a better Africa.

Anoba was joined by Aimable Manirakiza, Christo Hattingh of Free Market Foundation in South Africa, and Kofi Bentil of IMANI Center for Policy and Education in Ghana to discuss how Africa can grow its economy and assert its independence among the geopolitical ambitions of powerful nations such as the United States, China, and the EU bloc.

The panelists concluded that free trade was an essential part of this equation, but that politicians should not be the ones negotiating trade deals, as their incentives do not necessarily match up with what is best for their countries. Private actors and civil society organizations need to be given a stake and a say in the process.

Interview of William Kamkwamba

During the day one finale of #AfricaLF21, Magatte Wade, director of Atlas Network’s Center for African Prosperity, interviewed William Kamkwamba, discussing why Africa needs to allow for greater innovation and entrepreneurship. Kamkwamba has extensive experience starting his own businesses and helping others start theirs in his home country of Malawi, and he was the subject of the Netflix documentary “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.”

Magatte Wade interviews William Kamkwamba.

Kamkwamba told Wade that poor institutional environments in Africa hold people back from prospering as entrepreneurs. Unrealistic and burdensome registration processes discourage or altogether prevent many Africans from starting profitable businesses.

Things are getting better in some parts of the continent, however. Rwanda has followed in Singapore’s footsteps of reforming institutions to encourage business growth. Kamkwamba was optimistic that similar reforms across Africa would raise millions more people out of poverty.

Regional Liberty Award

After Wade and Kamkwamba’s discussion, Tanzania’s Liberty Sparks was announced as the winner of the 2021 Africa Liberty Award and its $7,000 prize.

Through their Wezesha Biashara (“Improving Business”) project, Liberty Sparks has helped remove barriers to entrepreneurship in Tanzania. They collaborated with researchers, the government, and the public in planning their campaign, which sought to reform policy and remove regulation in order to aid small businesses and encourage new entrepreneurs. The campaign has resulted in Tanzania’s Revenue Authority making it easier for Tanzanians to pay their taxes and instituting less punitive tax collection methods, including removing the fines and interest on unpaid taxes.

Evans Exaud of Liberty Sparks (Tanzania) accepts the 2021 Africa Liberty Award.

Other finalists included the Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes, for their Fungua Njia (“Open Road”) campaign to remove barriers to trade between Burundi and other African countries; and African Students For Liberty, for their project, which trains student writers to get their work published.

Africa Think Tank Shark Tank

At the close of day two of the 2021 Africa Liberty Forum, Ibrahim Anoba returned to the stage to announce Rejoice Ngwenya of Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO, Zimbabwe) as the winner of the 2021 Africa Think Tank Shark Tank competition. Ngwenya pitched the #MyTitle4Life project, which will fight cyclical poverty by providing property titles to inner-city Zimbabweans, giving them access to financial institutions and a tangible way to improve their lives.

Rejoice Ngwenya, winner of the 2021 Africa Think Tank Shark Tank competition.

Ngwenya competed against two other pitches. The first was from Bruce Vaillant Ntangibingura of Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes, who presented his Fungua Njia (“Open Road”) project to open trade between Burundi and its neighbors. #MyTitle4Life was also challenged by Henri Kouam of Nkafu Policy Institute and his prospective Nkafu Open Trade Initiative, which seeks to educate policymakers, members of government, and the public about what Cameroon must do to make the most of the recent African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.

Closing Remarks

For the closing session, Ibrahim Anoba was joined on stage by Martin Van Staden of the Free Market Foundation in South Africa, Feyisade Charles Adeyemi of Nigeria’s Chale Institute, and Rejoice Ngwenya of COMALISO in Zimbabwe to discuss constitutionalism in Africa.

Their consensus was that written constitutions inherited from colonial powers are not inherently powerful enough to ensure personal liberty. Ngwenya stated that African nations need to develop institutions to enforce constitutions and to defend human rights when states fall short.

An important topic within the discussion was the right of private citizens to own firearms, a right that is being eroded—especially in South Africa. This erosion points to the insufficiency of constitutions to keep governments in check. It is up to think tanks and civil society groups—like many of Atlas Network’s partners—to encourage the formation of informal institutions that protect individual rights.