Africa and Libertarianism

Libertarianism as the solution to Africa’s problems?

When people think of Africa, they invariably focus upon the negatives: conflict and poverty. Application of libertarian principles could help conquer these challenges.

Firstly, let’s examine the issue of conflict: The main source of conflict in Africa is ethnic and religious tension. These issues are escalated when a state is run by one religious or ethnic group which then attempt to purge the other factions within that country. A potential solution to this is a re-drawing of the map of Africa: reassembling it into ethnic and religious regions in an attempt to stem the violence. However, a more practical way of doing this is to regionalise states and devolve control to regional powers, which would make it much harder for groups to be persecuted by the state en masse. A large scale reduction in state power  ̶ especially when it comes to policing and armed forces  ̶  would be a massive step in reducing violence against minority groups within each African state.

Nigeria is a country which would greatly benefit from the separation of different ethnic groupings. The country is made up of three dominant ethnic groups: the Hauso-Fulani in the North, the Yoruba in the West, and the Ibo in the East. For decades these people have fought, and thousands have died. These groups were initially ruled by the British Empire, and after the country gained independence, it should have become three separate countries; nipping the future conflict in the bud. However, it isn’t too late for these groups to be able to separate and form their own independent states. It would appease all three ethnic groups and potentially create greater stability in the region.

However, it seems unlikely that African states would embrace this idea. The nature of African politics is traditionally unstable, and as the continent is troubled with threats consistent violence. So realistically, how can Africa best address the horrific poverty and violence?

Capitalism is the solution. The basic problem faced by many people in Africa is a lack of trading opportunities. Take Egypt for example: opening a business requires contacting and evaluation from 29 government agencies – it’s hardly the recipe for a thriving economy. In South Africa the message is clear: Cut red tape to get the economy going.

South Africa has failed to make sufficient progress in tackling the many constraints it faces, including a shortage of skills, the structure of the labour market, the volatility of the currency, the regulatory burden on small business and the capacity of the public service.

In Africa, the state’s ability to control or heavily regulate the vast majority of wealth, and the lack of a strong private sector, are causing many people to remain in poverty – either through black market trading, or through having zero opportunities to trade. An expanded, less bureaucratic private sector would create wealth. The growth of capitalism would benefit an emerging class of young, educated Africans who see business opportunities and need a market they can thrive in. A genuine growth in the private sector throughout Africa would help to spread wealth and weaken the financial power that the state has over the individual throughout the continent.

If capitalism could take a prominent place in African society, which it is starting to achieve, it could eventually create a continent where business can grow and relationships are based on trade rather than ethnic tensions. A thriving private sector, accompanied by small governments would vastly decrease conflict in the region, and it would thwart the power of the biggest barrier to wealth creation – the state itself.

Edward Oakes


  1. This is an oversimplification that undervalues how centuries of intentional underdevelopment has led to the morass that is the continent. Introducing capitalism as the only solution is essentially saying this person is poisoned so lets inject them with a higher dose of the same poison. Doesn’t work.

  2. What are the structural adjustments that you propose for these countries? Labour costs can be extremely low, employment regulations in regards to hiring and firing are low or non existent and a large pool of willing workers available at a moments notice. In regards to the shortage of skills in south Africa the reduction in red tape would not solve the shortage as global capital is unwilling to pay for the skills which will take years to be of productive use to the capital investor.


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