Walter E. Williams

In terms of natural resources, Africa is the world's richest continent. It has 50 percent of the world's gold, most of the world's diamonds and chromium, 90 percent of the cobalt, 40 percent of the world's potential hydroelectric power, 65 percent of the manganese, millions of acres of untilled farmland as well as other natural resources.

Despite its wealth of resources, Africa is home to the world's most impoverished and abused people. Of the 41 black African nations, only three (Senegal, Botswana and Mauritius) allow their people the right to vote and choose their own leaders. Only two (Botswana and Senegal) permit freedom of expression and criticism of government policies. In countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Sudan, Chad and others, ethnic genocide has taken the lives of untold millions of innocent civilians. Slavery is still practiced in the Sudan, and Mauritania.

African leaders are quick to blame the legacy of colonialism for their troubles. I'll never make an argument for colonialism but the fact of business is that the average African, was better off under colonialism than they have been under independence. For example, when Zaire became in independent in 1960, it had 31,000 miles of main roads; today, less than 3,500 remain usable. Before independence, every African country was self-sufficient in food production; today most depend on imports and others stand at the brink of famine. At the time of independence, the average growth rate among African countries was three percent. By 1980, it had fallen to one percent and by 1990, a negative 2.8 percent. By contrast, African countries with a greater measure of freedom and stability, Botswana, Mauritius, Cameroon and Senegal, have growth rates of 8, 4.4, 4.5 and 1 percent, respectively.

People who think more foreign aid is the solution should know that the money either winds up in the hands of the elite and deposited in Swiss bank accounts or it's used to pay bribes to keep corrupt governments in power. Some African chiefs of states are among the world's richest men, such as Zaire's recently deposed Mobutu. If foreign aid doesn't fall into the hands of kleptocrats, it's used in ways that'd make a lunatic blush such as status symbols, factories and other projects of little or no use.

The legacy of colonialism, used so often by Africans, is a sham excuse that can't hold water. After all some of the world's richest countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong were colonies. What's true about those ex-colonies that's untrue about Africa? The answer is a no-brainer. There's a greater measure of personal liberty, more secure private property rights, more limited and honest government and rule of law.

These features are critical ingredients for peace and prosperity in any country, but even more so for African countries, some of which have over 200 antagonistic ethnic groups. Switzerland was a country with a history of bitter ethnic divisions whose citizens now live in peace. That achievement was made possible by developing a system of limited central government authority with most decisions made at more local government units (cantons). Just as important in conflict reduction was the development of respect for private property, rule of law, and stability in their laws.

Oppressive regimes have always exported their most talented and ambitious people to freer and richer countries. Africans who migrate to the United States do well. As an American, I love that but it's especially devastating for Africa.

Walter E. Williams

June 4, 1997
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