Growth without Development: An Examination of Political and Transactional Freedoms in West Africa

Oladele Omosegbon

Everywhere, economists and policy makers, as well as almost everyone involved in development, are calling for more growth as the best recipe to world’s problems of poverty, famine and many other social and economic malaises. In the case of West Africa, growth is even more alluring, now that authorities of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank, among others, have pronounced Africa as the new growth pole of the world (NewsfromAfrica, 2012; ECA, 2011). Everywhere, governments and civil society groups are redoubling their efforts and the resources devoted to economic growth.

This paper revisits the historical oddity first documented in Liberia by Clower et al, (1966), in which economic growth not accompanied by development was seen as the bane of transforming shifting cultivation and commercial farming in Liberia. Our attempt encapsulates this oddity in the breakdown of freedom and its constitutive values from economic growth and development.  Following the hypothesis, first put forward by Amartya Sen (2001), that no major famine has ever occurred in a democratic country that has regular polls, opposition parties, and relatively free media, we examine the countries of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, for political and market transactional freedom, using the Human Development Index, HDI, the Democracy Index and the World Press Freedom Index. Results clearly show that whereas, ECOWAS countries have been growing better than most parts of the world, their performance in ensuring that the values of freedom get passed down to their citizens leaves much to be desired.

Economic growth will no doubt aid the availability of the inanimate objects of pleasure and material comfort for West Africans. But the apparent lack of deliberate and active policies to integrate political freedom and market transactional liberties into the agenda for growth will hurt all efforts to develop the region both individually and as an economic, social and political bloc, for years to come.

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