Democracy and Economic Freedom

Published on 2nd January 2018

Our continent might have achieved political liberation, and democratically elected governments might be in place in many parts of the continent; but the struggle for rapid economic development is very far from being won.

Too many of our peoples are still kept down by extreme poverty. The promise of prosperity that was to accompany freedom has not materialised for the mass of the African peoples, and has rather been replaced with widespread despondency across the continent. This is not what our forebears promised. It is time, therefore, for the current generation to rise to meet the challenges of today. You have to help banish the disgraceful spectre of young Africans, taking harrowing risks in trekking the Sahara desert or drowning in the Mediterranean, seeking greener pastures in Europe.

It is not to our credit that, because of successful governance, hundreds of millions of Asians are currently being taken out of poverty, whilst, as a result of poor governance, hundreds of millions of Africans, living on the world’s richest continent, continue to wallow in abject poverty, and ending up being sold as slaves in Libya. Your generation has to ensure the fulfilment of the statement, made almost 70 years ago in 1949 to the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly by Joseph Boakye Danquah, the father of modern Ghanaian nationalism, that “the two things go together, economic freedom and political freedom. And we must have the two together in this very age, and in the shortest possible time.”

Nevertheless, there is far more self-confidence among Africans today than there has been since the very early days of self-government. Freedom and the principles of democratic accountability are strengthening the determination of Africans to build a new Africa that charts its own independent path to progress and prosperity. This has been the longest period of stable constitutional governance in Ghanaian history, and the benefits are showing. For the first time in the history of West Africa, all 15 countries have democratically elected leaders.

Democracy is on the march, and the ballot, not the bullet, is now the preferred way of changing governments. This is an indication that democracy, equality of opportunity and respect for human rights, ideals which have stood the test of time, have now found firm anchor in the body politic of our region.

The recent ruling made by Liberia’s Supreme Court on the presidential election mustensure that this country will have its first peaceful handover of power from one democratically elected leader to another in 73 years. The work undertaken by that truly historic figure, the first elected female leader of an African nation, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in stabilising the country, after a bitter and protracted civil war, has been very solid and commendable.

I am anticipating that, at the end of the day, Liberia’s institutions, particularly the Supreme Court and the Electoral Commission, will be up to the task, and shepherd the country through a successful transition. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made a huge investment in promoting peace in Liberia. As the then Ghanaian Minister for Foreign Affairs, when my former boss, the great Ghanaian statesman, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, the 2nd President of our 4th Republic, was Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority, I was heavily involved in all the deliberations that brought peace to Liberia. West Africa is not prepared to contemplate Liberia sliding back into instability and conflict. We will do all we can to ensure that democracy is entrenched in Liberia, and we will not accept any other outcome.

But, my friends, it is not enough to hold successful elections every four years or to be able to criticize the government and to have a choice of 100 radio stations. Democracy must ensure that we are able to provide our people with a good quality of life. The structure of economies, bequeathed to us by colonialism, was dependent on the production and export of raw materials. Even though Liberia was not colonised, the structure of her economy remains very much the same as the others on the continent. Such economies cannot create opportunities, prosperity and wealth for our people.

The time is long overdue for us to take a deep look at these structures, and transform our economies to serve better our own needs. The era of Africa’s industrialisation has dawned, so that we can also trade in the world economy not on the basis of raw materials, but on the basis of things we make. Trade between us in Africa is minimal and our share of world trade is negligible. We have to improve both substantially. The good Lord has blessed our lands, and we should exploit our resources to benefit our peoples. It is the only way to make sure we are able to build an Africa Beyond Aid.

To this end, a new paradigm of leadership is called for – leaders who are committed to governing their peoples according to the rule of law, respect for individual liberties, human rights, the principles of democratic accountability and social justice; leaders who are looking past commodities to position their countries in the global marketplace; leaders who are determined to free their peoples from a mindset of dependence, aid, charity and hand-outs; leaders who are bent on mobilizing Africa’s own immeasurable resources to resolve Africa’s problems; leaders who recognise the connectedness of their peoples and economies to those of their neighbours. This new generation of African leaders should help bring dignity and prosperity to our continent and its longsuffering peoples.

Africa’s progress will be decided by the quality of her entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, thinkers, researchers, industrialists, farmers, workers, professionals, artists, public servants and political leaders. We owe it to our predecessors to keep up the standard, and never let it be said we have let down the side either through our words or our deeds.Our collective goal must remain constant – to build a new African civilisation, where the African peoples are neither pawns nor victims of the world order, and make their own distinctive and unique contribution to the growth of world civilisation.

By Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo,

President of the Republic of Ghana.


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