Creating the conditions for liberty to thrive—and then marketing their ideas to growing audiences—is fundamental to the success of the African liberty movement. During the second and final day of the 2020 Africa Liberty Forum, panelists and commenters alike agreed that think tank leaders and aspiring liberty activists must work together to protect the freedom to trade,
to express ideas freely, and to live without barriers to prosperity. The full slate of speakers were guardedly optimistic, expressing confidence in the rich resources of dynamic human capital across the continent while still acknowledging that much work to educate and inspire Africans remains to be done.
“Government has failed miserably,” said author and economist George Ayittey, who coined the phrase “cheetah generation” to define young, energetic leaders who reject the corruption and dysfunction that characterizes post-colonial government failure across Africa. In conversation with AfricanLiberty.org’s Ibrahim Anoba, Dr. Ayittey explicitly rejected socialist ideology as antithetical to the family and community, which were the foundation for economic activity in pre-colonial Africa, and made it plain that African solutions for progress rests on the backs of cheetahs as they take on leadership roles in both the public and the private sectors. He drew a sharp contrast between the wealthiest people in the United States, all of whom made their fortunes in the private sector; and the wealthiest people in Africa, who are all heads of state and ministers who have made their money off the backs of their countrymen. In order to create opportunities for cheetahs to collaborate, he suggested the establishment of a board or regular conference that would build support for the ideas of freedom.
Two concurrent sessions were designed to help think tank leaders determine priorities for action. Atlas Network’s Casey Pifer moderated a panel on empowering local think tanks to achieve incremental improvements by addressing challenges to human rights issues and economic freedom. Patrick Stephenson of IMANI Center for Policy and Education in Ghana offered practical advice in speaking with policymakers, using language that strikes a universal chord: “You have to show evidence to policymakers and say ‘Look, this is not helping your own people.’” Souad Adnane of the Arab Center for Research in Morocco spoke to the importance of benchmarking your work in a way that is relevant to decisionmakers, using international indices such as the World Bank’s Doing Business index. Echoing Atlas Network’s approach to international development, Bruce Valliant Ntangibingura of Center for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes spoke to the importance of local leadership. “We need local solutions to the problems affecting local populations. We need to listen to the local people and what they need in relation to their poverty. We need local solutions that are adaptive to the local situations. And we can’t bring the biggest impact ourselves—we need to look and partner with other key stakeholders to try to get their support in what we are trying to achieve.”
In a second session that addressed community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce Mbogo of Ladies of Liberty Alliance in Kenya spoke of the importance of managing mental health at a time when people are not allowed to move freely, and that domestic violence has been on the upswing. From Uganda, John Socrates Mugabi related how trade has ground to a halt because of closed borders—an issue that impacts neighboring South Sudan particularly hard, as 80 percent of food imports come from Uganda, and no trade between the two countries is possible. To make matters worse, the government requires permits for food distribution and health care, meaning that most people have become entirely dependent on government handouts. John Mustapha Kutiyote of Students’ Organization for Liberty and Entrepreneurship was unable to overcome technology problems and did not speak, reiterating the infrastructure issues that are currently plaguing his country.
The challenges of starting and maintaining a civil society organization vary, but marketing, fundraising, and maintaining intellectual integrity are constants for all organizations, irrespective of size or experience. Three concurrent sessions, held in English, French, and Arabic, featured panelists who have built think tanks from the ground up as well as leaders of newer organizations who shared their recommendations for growth. Another common challenge is in staffing, particularly in countries where the foundations of freedom are not widely understood by a mass audience. Panelists in all three sessions emphasized the importance of maintaining a mission-driven purpose by developing ideas for reform, working with influential audiences in policy and media to disseminate ideas, and then engaging in activism to create change.
Offering a closing Toast to Freedom was Dr. Nouh El Harmouzi of the Arab Center for Research, who shared a message of optimism and understanding that originated in the wisdom of Africa’s many cultures. Dr. El Harmouzi believes that prosperity rests with Africans, saying “If we want to go quickly, we go alone. If we want to go far, we go together.” He also delivered remarks in French and Arabic, using local proverbs to illustrate his words of support.
The Africa Liberty Award was presented to a smiling Aimable Manirakiza of CDE, who even let out a celebratory “Woo!” after CDE’s name was announced. Manirakiza thanked his team, local journalists, and other advisors and talked about how CDE’s programs are working hard through the Great Lakes region to educate local audiences about freedom.
The conference’s final words were delivered by Atlas Network’s Dr. Tom G. Palmer, who has spent decades reaching out to people on every continent with his hopeful message about the benefits of liberty. Dr. Palmer’s shared his belief that a just, prosperous, and peaceful future for Africa is achievable, inspiring his listeners to work for change that results in dignity, respect, and opportunity for all.
The 2020 Africa Liberty Forum will be held in Accra, Ghana in August 2020 and co-hosted by IMANI Center for Policy and Education.
Support for the Africa Liberty Award was provided by the Templeton Religion Trust.