|George Ayittey is a Ghanaian economist, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation in Washington DC. He is a professor at American University, and an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.|
(GhanaWeb) - "During the Cold War, the World Bank, the IMF and the West so did not pay much attention to democracy, focusing only on economic liberalization. It was argued that if only the leaders in the Third World could get their economies right, it would unleash powerful forces of change. As people grew wealthier, they would demand greater say in how to spend their money and how their country is run, which would force political change. But this did not happen in Africa and many parts of the Third World. China in particular became wealthy but remained politically oppressive and non-democratic.
Economic liberalization can indeed produce prosperity but all successful economic liberalization under dictatorships eventually hits a political ceiling. This stage is often reached or triggered by a crisis: falling copper prices in Chile in the late 1980s, falling cocoa prices in the case of Ivory Coast in the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis in the case of Indonesia in 1998, among others. Investors or people who lost money during these crises demanded explanations or accountability. When the leadership was “sanguine” enough to flee or open up the political space and addressed the grievances of the people, the economic prosperity continued without any political tumult. Such was the case in Chile under Augusto Pinochet in the 1980s. By contrast, Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years with an iron fist, did not open up the political space. Indonesia imploded in 1999."