States and Power in Africa

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Antony Altbeker
is Research and Programme Director at the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

BOOK REvIEW

Africa’s Third Liberation by Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst – a further review

Individually and working together, Greg Mills and Jeff Herbst have compiled an impressive body of work on the challenges Africa faces in the 21st century. And, while there are problems with the rigour of the methodologies they prefer to deploy, there is much to be learnt from the resulting texts, which are invariably well-written, informative and accessible. Africa’s Third Liberation: The new search for prosperity and jobs presents itself as both an analysis of the state of African economies in the early 21st century and as a manifesto for engineering rapid growth over a sustained period of time. Noting that Africa is a complex, diverse set of economies with wide variation in natural and human endowments, historical experiences, institutional architectures and economic potential, Mills and Herbst approach their task by describing in a few pages some of the challenges facing a variety of African states. While each case study is interesting and provocative, precisely how and why each country is selected and why one particular challenge has been elevated above others in describing the current status quo is not always obvious. In relation to South Africa, for example, the focus is on labour market regulation, welfare policies and failed industrial policies. In Kenya, on the other hand, the bulk of the entry relates to the failure to build a tourism industry, and the shoddy state of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. In Angola, the issue is corruption and inequality, while in the Burundi the focus is on the difficulties entailed in avoiding genocide. No doubt, many of these represent policy failures and all can be described, as Mills and Herbst do, as reflective of an approach to governance more concerned with distributional outcomes than with growth, but crafting a common programme for growing the economies of all these countries sometimes means a descent into abstract generalisations. It is, however, growth that the authors believe is the sine qua non for successful development in Africa and its liberation from poverty. This is, of course, correct.

africa’s third liberation by greg mills and jeffrey herbst isbn: 9780143528883 published by: penguin books

Economic growth: simplified
In some respects, at least, there is little mystery about how economies grow: they use what assets they have more efficiently and productively, and they accumulate more productive assets (especially human and physical capital). At this level of abstraction, in other words, growth is a cake baked with only two ingredients: (i) the improved utilisation of existing assets and (ii) the accumulation of more productive assets. 68

a fr i c a’ s t h i r d li b e r at i o n – a fu rt h e r r e vi e w

If this is a simple recipe, there is further good news: at least in relation to the first ingredient – improved utilisation of existing assets – we generally know what needs to be done because it is almost always the case that free exchange in a market economy will result in productive assets being put to their most productive use. Having said that, creating a market economy that achieves this goal is not easy. It took humanity many thousands of years to develop key institutions – like private property and enforceable contracts – necessary for market economies to work well. Indeed, a great many societies (and most in Africa) have not done so, usually because vested interests have worked to prevent this from happening. Mills and Herbst are right to point to this as a key reason why African states have failed to grow faster, and, seen in this light, their insistence that states should “get out of the way” – that they would govern better by governing less – is not unreasonable. Much more complicated, both conceptually and In the absence of such an...
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