Greg Mills And Jeffrey Herbst.

Reviewed By Stanley Uleys.

If a miracle were to sweep Robert Mugabe out of office, how would Zimbabweans start to repair their broken country? Try to rebuild it piece by piece? But if the old autocrat were to depart and similar successors take his place, how long would it take for a national rebirth to begin? What would the guidelines be? Zimbabwe would emerge from its dark age to discover that while it was slipping back, much of the rest in Africa had moved forward. The immediate future, analysts say, is brighter than at any time for a generation: Between 2000 and 2010, six of the fastest-growing economies world-wide were African (Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Chad and Rwanda).

For guidelines to the future, Zimbabweans could turn to few better books than Penguin’s “Africa’s Third Liberation: The New Search for Prosperity and Jobs,” by Greg Mills (Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, former director of the SA Institute of International Affairs, and proliific author with links to various International institutions) and Jeffrey Herbst (president of Colgate University, U.S. who has taught at various U.S. and African universities).

The authors write: “If Africa’s first liberation was from colonial rule and racist government, and its second stage involved freeing itself from the tyranny and misrule of many of the liberators, the third state must involve a change in focus in politics itself. This will require concentrating on economic development to the exclusion of racial, tribal and religious issues that have plagued much of the continent in the past….Africa’s third liberation will, for the first time, offer its citizens across the continent the opportunity to set their own agendas. They will render aid from Western countries less important….Africa’s political evolution points to a third liberation that most of the continent has yet to experience, one that will likely prove as important as the political freedoms earned over the past half-century, or perhaps even more important: the liberation from political economies characterised by graft, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, elitism, and inevitably, widening (and destabilising) society equality. Such an emancipation is necessary to open up economic space in which business can compete, a necessary condition to expand employment.”

The authors make the point that celebrities who have associated themselves with foreign assistance are no longer critical to how Africans in many countries set their priorities. Was it William Easterly who said opening an aircraft’s doors and throwing out banknotes was just as effective? Mills and Herbst are joined by other well-known writers who have warned repeatedly that until aid intervention is checked Africa will never find its feet. Aid helps to keep the “big man,” the autocrats, the Mugabes, in power, in whatever form they arrive. As for the World Bank, constantly trying to lend money, it “must be absolutely committed to seeing itself go out of business.” It will be noted that of the three hurdles that African states have to cross, Zimbabwe has crossed only the first one – release from colonial rule. In its place is the autocrat. Which is worse?

The authors raise one of the most important issues of current economics: while much of Africa’s recent growth is thanks to better prices for the commodities it produced, previous commodity booms have not always led to development. How do Africans make sure jobs and poverty reduction follow? African countries will have to diversify their dependency away from exporting raw materials, which is good for the fiscus, but does little for local jobs. With one-quarter of the world’s population under 25 projected to be from sub-Saharan Africa in 2025, ensuring the conditions to ensure employment is a continental imperative. Today eight in every 10 Africans are self-employed.

According to the authors, African governments have a further hill to climb: They will need at the outset to develop a ‘growth ideology’ beyond the vacous vision documents which litter the political landscape. Rather than employing more consultants, governments and ruling parties will need to drop their animus to business, which often has its origins in racial exclusion or perceptions of rivalry. This demands governments coming to an understanding with business, or remedying stultifying attitudes varying between benign neglect and ostentatious antagonism. In short, African governments will not only have to encourage debates about economic policy and choices, but drop the widespread animus to business if their countries are to develop and their people prosper.

The Mills-Herbst book is impeccably written and annotated, and eminently readable. In the centre are two chapters on South America and Asia. They take the reader on a wonderfully informative tour, drawing comparisons between the two continents and Africa. Africa’s Third Liberation is not a book filled with theory, but rather one intent on working out practical policy action. In so doing, it offers the means for Africa to create the jobs its burgeoning populations so desperately need.