January 16, 2018 | by Linda Whetstone Print

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Young African Scholars Colloquium, which took place in Nairobi in October. It was a new initiative of Network for a Free Society (NFS), generously supported by the Goodrich Foundation, to give younger colleagues in Sub-Saharan Africa the opportunities afforded to those in other parts of the world by the Liberty Fund to foster thought and encourage discourse on enduring issues pertaining to liberty. The organizing theme of the colloquium was an Introduction to Liberty, Social Thinking and Constitutional Government.

Twenty graduate students and young professionals gathered from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. After welcoming everyone, I introduced the facilitator of the event, Dr. Steve Davies, director of education at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and facilitator of many Liberty Fund Colloquia.

He explained that the two days of discussion would be run in the same way as the Liberty Fund events and added that if anyone ever had the opportunity to attend a real Liberty Fund Colloquium they should postpone everything, even their own wedding, to go! At the time people may have thought this was a joke but by the end they realised what a great learning experience it had been. He also insisted that sessions would start and finish exactly on time, and, somewhat unusually for Africa they did.

Davies had previously circulated texts including by Hayek, Bastiat, Barry and – probably the most significant – Institutions as a Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (also the World Justice Report and reports from the World Economic Forum). These informed a Socratic discussion with minimal intervention from Davies during the three daily sessions, which were followed each day by a talk by him one day and question session on the final day. Discussion and networking continued during lunch and dinner where everyone sat together for maximum benefit from the two days.

Once Davies had opened each session with a short introduction there was never a shortage of people in the ‘queue’ he kept of those wanting to make a point or ask a question. Everyone was impressed by the system of discussion and most of them had clearly read the texts and were able to make thoughtful and informed interventions.

Afterwards Davies commented that the standard of participation and discussion was impressive and very much on a level with the other Liberty Fund events with which he has been involved, even though participants in Nairobi were younger and less experienced.

Participants were selected by Network for a Free Society from the partners we work with in the region with help from Alex Njeru, of the East Africa Policy Center, who was also our valued administrator, and Linda Kavuka, who heads Students for Liberty in Africa. Three participants were journalists, one an academic, one a teacher and others involved with running Students for Liberty or think tanks in their countries. A few were in their final year at university, and it is encouraging for the future of Africa that there are so many very active, dedicated and well informed young Africans who want to increase the opportunities for human flourishing in their countries and understand why individual freedom and limited government are a prerequisite for breaking down the current barriers to it.

The positive trend we are seeing in Africa will be continuing into the new year, with Atlas Network’s Africa Liberty Forum 2018, held August 23-24, in Lagos, Nigeria.

The NFS mission is to make ideas about the principles and values of a free society accessible in countries and languages where they are currently not available.


Some comments from attendees:

“An unforgettable moment for defenders of ideas of freedom in Africa like me who comes from the region of the Great Lakes affected by many barriers to prosperity. The rule of law, limited government, innovation, social thought, spontaneous order, development, free market and other highly interested subjects with Dr. Steve Davies who facilitated the discussion. Thanks to NFS for this opportunity that has helped us learn a lot of things and help Africa special Great Lakes Region where future generations will think fit to live and work.”

“The amazing time and exchange of ideas is unquantifiable.”

“The moderator Dr. Steve Davies posed questions that opened up the sessions where great mind boggling debates came about. This was my first colloquium and I cannot wait to attend the next one in Africa. I have been very satisfied with the sessions and learned more than I imagined[!]”

 “… your investment in the African Young Scholar colloquium has impacted & reached most of the liberty movement across the sub Saharan Africa. I thank you for making this year one of the most impactful years yet by bringing optimistic, workable, free-market solutions that are key to grow strong enough & developing the next generation of pro-liberty leaders.”

“Thank you so much for the opportunity given me to be part of the colloquium. I really enjoyed the discussions more than ever with Dr. Steve as the Moderator. I have learned new things and have understood basic concepts better to help me in my advocacy. I won't forget this.” 

Linda Whetstone portrait
Linda Whetstone is Chairman of the Atlas Network and Network for a Free Society and a board memeber of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Istanbul Network for Liberty. Learn More about Linda Whetstone >