February 23, 2015 Print

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When officials from neighboring countries meet to talk about political collaboration, the discussions inevitably center around where power should be concentrated rather than why that power should be scaled back to make way for freedom, trade, property rights, and real economic growth.

The African Union (AU), comprising all nations in Africa other than Morocco, was ostensibly founded to facilitate continent-wide cooperation, but “African leaders refuse to face up to their own or their neighbours’ failures, whilst preventing ordinary Africans from using their ingenuity to build their own future,” writes Franklin Cudjoe, founding president and CEO of Ghana-based Atlas Network partner IMANI in a recent commentary.

“Above all, there will not be a whisper about property rights, the rule of law and economic freedoms that would allow Africans to emulate the growth of Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea that were as poor as we were at independence in the 1960s,” Cudjoe writes. “Even the growth records of South Africa, Mauritius and Botswana are ignored as being somehow exceptional instead of being acknowledged as the result of sound economic policies.”

Cudjoe points out that trade has historically been a boon to African prosperity, when pre-colonial African nations traded goods and natural resources like gold, copper, salt, ceramics, pottery, glass, and silks freely among themselves. In the intervening years, though, extensive barriers to trade have been erected throughout the continent.

“Today, Africa has lost the ability to trade,” Cudjoe writes. “As a result, many conspiracy theories abound for its backwardness. Regardless, the blame game ignores the devil within: the internal and regional barriers that hobble trade, making tariffs within Africa far higher than any tariff barriers by outside blocs.”

The benefits from sound economic policy can accrue in a short period of time, if only political leaders take the simple step of no longer blocking free exchange.

Read Franklin Cudjoe’s full commentary, “African Union without economic freedom is useless.”

Read “Travel costs and institutional corruption cripple regional trade in West Africa.”