I argued elsewhere that as an ideology, liberalism is the belief in and a movement to celebrate the freedom and responsibilities of the individual. It is predicated upon the belief that human beings have rights, both natural and inalienable, which cannot be negotiated but recognized and respected. These common assumptions on the right of the individual gave rise to the much acclaimed documentation of the fundamental human rights. Part of that recognition of right is the individual’s right to acquire and own property. This part is the key reference for us because it is the sum total of the individual’s yearnings and aspirations. The concept of “mine-ness” of a property is a good understanding of man’s quest for possession and sustenance of what is possessed. A thing or property is able to have ownership that prided in such. Whether we agree or disagree with Hobbes and Locke in their descriptions of state of nature or state of war, such description was made possible because man wants to acquire and attribute “mine-ness” to property for which he will lay down his life or defend the glory of such life. He is able to say, “…this is mine!” for that he will fight, defend and extend that “mine-ness”.
If the individual has right to acquire and own property, then he must be able to acquire and own such under a system that is devoid of conflict in the manner of the Hobbesian State of Nature or the Lockean State of War. The individual must be able to engage in enterprise that will earn him some income that makes him have what to save to acquire and own property. So he has a fundamental right to have means of engaging in acquiring properties if he so wishes. But this right has not been seen as a necessity in the first instance when African leaders speak of reforms. They only think that once they refer to the opportunity to make a few jobs available, they have satisfied their political responsibilities. Property rights must set the pace of economic policies; those policies are set to meet one of the basic and essential rights of citizens under them. Suffice it to say that market economic policy is premised upon the inalienable rights of human being.
Another variable in our consideration of market policy is something that is basic and typical and that is the concept of rule of law. Rule of law is the bedrock of sustenance of human rights and the law that bounds everyone under the operations of those laws. It is that sole inheritance of government to use as level playing field for market structures to operate on without frictions.
For market economy to make more sense, there must be a high premium placed on the concept and practice of rule of law. This is inseparable from the zeal to create jobs through the dynamic of market economic structures. By rule of law, leaders must help create the atmosphere where the laws of the land rule supreme and everyone is under the structures and dictates of this challenging concept. Government has no business in business other than creating enabling legal structures that brings order and fair play.
Another essential key to liberal concept is market economy itself. By market economy, policies must be made in favor of free and fair level playing field for investment. The government must hands off completely from engaging in business. As the saying goes, government has no business in business.
And then the universal call for democratic governance. It is only under a democratic system that the rights of the individual, the privilege of the laws and the atmosphere for level playing fields for investments would be greatly enhanced.
THE AFRICAN REALITY
Francis Fukuyama once said;
Now…I am going to assert the single most fundamental lesson that we have learned about democracy promotion, and I want to begin with that. I will have to just assert it without being able to prove it at first. That lesson is the following: The United States is never the prime mover in promoting democracy in any country around the world. Or, to put it slightly differently, democracy cannot come about in any society unless there is a strong domestic demand by local actors — elites, the masses or civil society — that want it(Fukuyama: NED)
It is fast becoming apparent that the African nations as at the year 2006 have come to accept the reality that its political administrative structures need to be democratic and not only democratic, conform to the acceptable and universal type of political democracy. Examples abound. No time in its existence have many countries of the continent been more apt to democracy than now. Liberians shunned the “militro-crasy” of Charles Taylor and embraced democracy even with a giant step of electing the first female president ever in the continent. Sierra Leon, Ivory Coast, from the military Jerry Rawlings to a more democratic John Kuffour of Ghana, the dictator of Gnassingbe Eyadema to an “elected” Eyadema Jr. (even if it was stage managed but he went through semblances of democratic process) down to the Nigerian military handing over the reigns of power to a democratically elected President Olusegun Obasanjo. No doubt the peoples and nations of Africa want and have embraced democracy. No time in African history has it embraced democracy in the form in which it has done in the most recent times. To demonstrate Africa’s quest for democratization, APRM; (African Peer Review Mechanism) has been infused as a core part of NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development). APRM is an approach by African leaders to assess themselves on the core essence of universal objectives and millennium goals of NEPAD which are good governance, accountability, democracy and transparency. Henceforth, African leaders will subject one another to these noble goals and where a nation which has voluntarily indicated membership of APRM errs in the aspects of millennium goals, that leader will be called to order his/her peers and where there are shortcomings as consequence of some needs, other richer nations will provide strategic support to meet these needs.
“Indeed, the APRM is a self-monitoring mechanism voluntarily acceded to by Member States of AU with the aim of fostering the adoption of policies, standards and practices that will lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated regional and economic integration. It underscores the commitment to implement the codes and standards contained in the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance” (APRM Implementation process, pp5)
MARKET ECONOMY POLICY IN NIGERIA
Before becoming the president of the federal republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo was a recipient of grants and supports from the free market organization Friedrich Naumannn Stiftung from the FDP party in Germany. He understands the rudiments of market economic policies. When, as soon as he became the president he started pursuing market economic policies, his actions were not surprising. President Obasanjo’s policies deregulated the downstream petroleum sector (something that most previous heads of state had been too afraid to do because of the public outcry), he, as a true believer in market economy, re-energized the BPE (Bureau for Public Enterprises) which had the mandate to offer for sale, all government moribund corporations (the lucrative corporations are firmly and remains firmly under government i.e. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation- NNPC) to the private sector. Then he deregulated the communication sector by introducing GSM which was remarkably done even to the pride of his critics. In most of his immediate policy focus of deregulation, President Obasanjo faired considerably well. However, when it came to rule of law, the president decides which judicial judgment to accept and which not to accept. He tried to influence constitutional changes to make him run for presidential elections for more than the required 2 terms. He has often been accused of waging selected justice on some people who oppose him or his policy directions through his various anti-corruption mechanisms.
The idea of deregulation is alien to the mass of Nigerians as a viable policy. When the downstream sector was introduced there was a massive outcry and there were no credible image launderers to sell the idea that it would bring about more jobs and stability in petroleum supplies. The government still holds the monopoly of information. Alliances and allegiance to the ideas of free market is still not growing as oppositions are using poverty rates to judge the credibility of the policy. Rather than bringing reforms and reducing human traffic on the roads, the creation of GSM created a new monopoly worse than the previous National Telecommunication Limited-NITEL as the few operators seemingly agreed to charge the same rates on their minute calls. There is no law accessible and at the door steps of consumers to challenge the subsuming power of the business magnets and over rated investors. However laudable free market as a policy is, if the rule of law is not operated in its characteristics, if the justice is not similarly deregulated to make assess to justice simple and easy, allow peasants to challenge conglomerates like the case of ENRON Executives, if law is not made supreme but under the wimps and caprices of a ruler, then the policy of reform remains myth because public outcry will mean that a new leader will abandon the few achievements of market economy and re-glorify welfarist policies as more humane than market economy.
In our case reference, Nigeria, the country that is currently taking the lead in policy reform to deregulate and create a market economic structure, laws are in some cases, supreme and in other cases, not supreme. Government feels bound to take some laws and in other cases not to accept the rulings of the court. Market economic policies cannot operate in this kind of atmosphere. There must be the rule which must be binding to its citizens, government and foreign investors.
In spite of the few hiccups in the practice of market economic policy currently, it still presents us with the modest policy to help teeming population of poor Africans out of joblessness and lack of hope. In the first year of operation of GSM in Nigeria, several tens of thousands of jobs in street vendor was created and it flourished. To those who got engaged in one form of vocation from deregulations or the other, market economy is ideal. However, for market economy to work on a sustained level in Nigeria and indeed Africa, political parties must be taught of the need to develop partisan policies on the basis of strong and coherent ideology that takes care of the right of citizen to own and possess properties. Once this is seen as the core essence of discourse, sustaining market economy is easier th
an before. Political parties must see the connections between the rights of citizens with the rule of law that is supreme and blend such with an economic structure that helps citizen take part in activities that will increase their chances of owning properties. Once these are in place, salaries will rise, expenditure will increase and Africa will begin to move towards the El Dorado.
Market economy remains an ideal policy to pursue and aim at. However, no government in Africa has the liver to risk taking its hands completely off market enterprise and avenue of reducing competition especially in key sectors. This is because in a country where minimum wage is still under 100 USD a month, where educational level is grossly low, where traditional conflict resolution still reigns supreme over modern strategies like judicial system, total adherence to market economy policy might be suicidal. However, as an ideal, market economy is an objective to set as a goal. And it is in human nature, to aim at an ideal.
There is no doubt that with the current zeal across the continent; the will to move forward; and the readiness of leadership to peer review on acceptable governance standards, Africa will merge to a more appreciable level of development. It will be historical and landmark effort if market economic promoters encourage African policy makers, legislators, executive branch officials and academics that market economic policy will help Africa move faster than earlier anticipated.
Join the discussion