Is 'freedom' just another word?

Is 'Freedom' Just Another Word?

By Omosefe Oyekanmi, Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research.


The prevalent nature of conflict laced with poverty and gross “unfreedom” as Amartya Sen christens it, has not only reduced development in Africa to a recalcitrant quest, but also created much humanitarian debacle that has taken the edge off man’s dignity and liberty. As asserted by Sen, a poor nation will have at least one anti freedom index. Hence, development must be perceived from the perspective of freedom.

Furthermore, the deafening clamours made by African leaders at international fora in their quest to develop does not justify the government centered policies that invariably fattens government officials and hampers any possible freedom and liberty that can birth the necessary energy for economic harmony. Indeed, it is not only that the poorest nations in the world are predominantly from Africa, it is also true, that successive administrations from military to civilian regimes have clogged human freedom, through human rights abuses, agreeing to monstrous external conditionalities, taxation, excessive bureaucracy and corruption.

The institutional framework of various African nations, permitting excessive government control over choices, freedom, resources and the economy, is largely anti developmental. Entrepreneurs basically have to wait for government to release budget, announce investments, determine profits to be made, impose tariffs and subsidies. Nepotism takes place first in the allocation of government resources, job opportunities, licensing and the like. Again, the bureaucratic nature characterised by these institutions creates artificial bottlenecks that further impoverishes a large population of vibrant youths.

An introspect, into the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world, gives a lucid picture of the trajectories of a strained economy. In Nigeria, many youths are under-utilized and under-skilled, government through the multiplications of agencies and institutions, have created a freedom crippling environment that limits the minds of college graduates. Opportunities created are centralized, and the controlled system by government agencies carves out a perceived and miniature structure in the minds of the youths, which in the long run limits human capital in producing a creative, re-vitalizing and sustained economy for development. Basically, with many impoverished population dependent on government institutions for education, job creation, health provision and retirement benefits, etc. the system becomes trapped in the hands of a powerful few and this systematically leads to poverty, inequality, weak judicial system and deep seated conflict that endures time.

Still on Nigeria, before the telecommunication industry was privatized in 2001, the industry was merely a shadow of itself. As expected, life in the most populous African nation was hedged-in and slow. This was because, NITEL, the ‘inefficient’ government telecom agency, monopolized the entire industry, hampered productivity and of course enslaved freedom. But with the privatization of the industry, multiple choices became available for consumers, job creation increased and technology advanced. Consequently, the competitive nature of privatizing the industry increased creativity, sufficient to boost customer’s satisfaction and generally enlisted the telecom sector as one of the pre-eminent drivers of economic growth in the country.

Some degree of Laissez faire; a doctrine which became popular in the 18th century, is necessary to overcome corrupt and self-serving government bureaucracy. It is a pre-requisite for growth in some parts of Africa. This is not to say, that government hands are washed off state matters, but rather, government should focus on those activities where it can serve the interests of its citizens, providing security, effective regulation and public services. In other words, Africa must embrace some free market policies, to promote individual liberty, consumer sovereignty, zero or minimal government interference, economic independence, profit maximization, the human dignity and sustained development. The benefits of a free economy for an ailing African continent cannot be overemphasized, it must come to the fore. Hence, development must be judged as freedom.