Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Africa needs free market economies

Gates money for vaccines will help Africa's children, but better economic policies will help them more.

A health worker drops anti-polio vaccine into the mouth of a Somali child in the capital Mogadishu, Sept. 10, 2006. (Shabelle Media/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced last month that he will donate $10 billion over the next decade to develop and deliver vaccines to children in poor countries.

That is tremendous news for millions of young Africans who suffer from ailments varying from tuberculosis and malaria to diarrhea and pneumonia. But the magnanimity of Bill and Melinda Gates, investor Warren Buffett and other philanthropists can only go so far. African children continue to suffer from diseases long forgotten in the West because of poverty — a problem that can only be solved by Africa’s largely venal, corrupt and incompetent governments.

Everyone knows the story of a greedy businessman or an unscrupulous corporation making profit from defenseless workers in poor countries. This storyline — a subject of thousands of movies — usually ends with the wicked exploiters punished by a selfless and resolute agent of a government. Inconveniently for the Hollywood screenwriters, there is a paucity of evil corporations on the world’s poorest and unstable continent. It turns out that African governments are perfectly able to wreak havoc without the help of the private sector.

Since the 1960s, a large number of African countries went through devastating civil wars. While some of them, including Angola, Mozambique and Nigeria, seem to be on the mend, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan remain perilously unstable. Others, like Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania experimented with socialism, becoming some of the world’s poorest countries in the process.

Some African countries ended up with nutty dictators. Idi Amin of Uganda, for example, kicked millions of the most productive people out of the country, while Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic was so enthralled by Napoleon Bonaparte that he had himself crowned emperor.

Bad government has devastating consequences.

Take Zimbabwe, where a power-hungry dictator took land away from farmers, both white and black, “guilty” of the crime of supporting the democratic opposition. Zimbabwe’s agriculture-based economy promptly collapsed and with it, its standard of living. An average Zimbabwean was richer when Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States than today.