REVIEW | Mamphela Ramphele criticizes “A long road to economic freedom” by Johan Fourie



Mamphela ramphele Johan Fourie’s review A long road to economic freedom, in writing it, it falls short of its intended orientation mission to show the way to the promised land of economic freedom.

Author Johan Fourie is to be commended for seriously tackling the most pressing issue facing South Africa – how to ensure that the 27-year-old political freedom we enjoy is appropriately complemented by freedom. economic.

He has beautifully put together a journey of historical comparative economics, with the aim of allowing the reader to learn from the experiences of other nations around the world.

With cleverly titled chapter titles, the reader is immediately intrigued by the possibility of a unique cross-cultural analysis.

Fourie’s book falls far short of its intended guiding mission to show the way to the promised land of economic freedom.

The strategic use of the rhetoric of the freedom struggle to present the author as “the empirical sociologist who has made it his business to find ways to solve the problems of the continent” is an unnecessary rhetorical gimmick that borders on the pride.

His book rests with concern on three fragile intellectual pillars. First, it is based on an inaccurate understanding of ancient history. Second, it is based on illusions that reflect its Eurocentric view of the world. Third, it is too narrowly framed to proclaim GDP as the authoritative measure of human progress.

Historical inaccuracies

The book includes six historical inaccuracies that undermine Fourie’s stated purpose. First, over the past century Tibetan, Iranian, Brazilian, Mexican, Tanzanian and Ethiopian societies have been successfully guided by national aspirations and measures of progress different from the GDP-centric approach adopted by Fourie.

Second, the argument that poverty has been the historic global norm is ahistorical.

The amount of wealth controlled by the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and the Kingdom of Mali ruled by Mansa-Musa as well as the Kingdom of Ashanti was in each case so enormous that these countries were globally recognized at their respective heyday, just like America. and UK are by modern standards. The fact that there was no measure of GDP then should not obscure this fact.

Third, economic development is not mechanical.

The author is obsessed with using a single mechanism to describe economic history. Increases in living standards have occurred in many societies using radically different models of economic development.

Common elements are found in the relationship between the formal institutions of these countries and their informal institutions. This foundational relationship informs the ability of different societies to establish and follow rules that ground belief in the principles of systematic fairness that underlie their law and order. Although the author alludes to this reality, he again attributes radically inaccurate theories as to why formal institutions hold in one society and not in another.

Fourth, the author does not recognize that the discoveries attributed to “Western peoples” between 17000 BCE and 3000 BCE were made by Africans living in Europe, Arabia and Mesopotamia.

Afro-Arab immigrants from Turkey brought agriculture, religion, astrology and language to Europe. African immigrants brought mathematics, science, engineering, and writing to Mesopotamia. How then to attribute to these last inhabitants of these regions the merit of the technological developments developed by their predecessors?

Fifth, the author glosses over an embarrassing fact that agricultural and pastoralist lifestyles began in the Nile Valley before 17000 BCE. The arguments for an agrarian revolution and the resulting development of specialization in the Levant should also apply to the Nile valley. The idea of ​​”luck” should also apply to companies in the Nile Valley. They had regular and predictable seasons with some of the most fertile land on the planet.


Sixth, the author repeatedly associates the institution of slavery with illiberal societies practicing “custom and control” models.

It ignores the fact that slavery has been the foundation of all Western societies, especially the more “liberally democratic” like the UK and the US. The effects of slavery were amplified and perpetuated by the extractive economic models that fueled colonialism and apartheid inequalities in our own country and elsewhere in the world.

Given Fourie’s stated goal of promoting understanding of African economic history, a few accompanying facts are worth noting.

First, until 1300 BCE, modern Europeans lived in present-day Scandinavia, Ukraine, Holland and Germany first as cave dwellers and then as hunter-gatherers, and only after 3500 BCE as farmers.

DNA analysis conducted by European scientists concluded that immigrants from Turkey to Europe, who originally brought agriculture and language there in 7000 BCE, had Arab, African and Asian blood. .

No trace of European DNA was found in their DNA samples. Archaeological evidence shows that Europeans came to southern Europe, Mesopotamia, the Levant, and the Mediterranean basin after 1300 BC.

Second, the first introduction of “white” DNA into Africa was in the form of prisoners of war kidnapped after 1278 BCE, when Ramses II defeated the Sherden pirates who were attempting to plunder Egypt from the Mediterranean. , and during the Battle of the Delta in 1175 when a larger Confederate army of Europeans was defeated by Ramses III. A thorough DNA analysis conducted by Cheikh Anta Diop, the Senegalese scientist, has successfully shown that the Egyptian royalty is of African descent.

Third, cattle, horses and sheep were domesticated in Africa in 11000 BCE before the date of the first known genetic mutation promoting pale skin pigmentation (which occurred no earlier than 6000 BCE ). This denies and makes insane the idea that whites were the first to domesticate certain animals and plants, and that blacks had the “bad luck” of domesticating yams.

Fourth, the author takes it as an indisputable fact that market economies have been universally successful, especially when combined with “Western liberal values”.

Thomas Pickety’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, argued that these values ​​have fueled inequalities and structural injustices in our world.

Glorified military might

Fifth, the author repeatedly asserts that luck determines the fortunes of vast peoples across countries and continents. That Africans have had the bad luck of an abundance of land, huge variations in weather systems, almost limitless mineral resources which have led to low productivity in agriculture. This argument tries to make a curse out of abundance. It is ahistorical to advance this argument ignoring the fact that the growth of Africa without slavery, without colonialism and without imperial interference is not quantifiable.

Finally, throughout the book, the author seems to glorify the use of military power and expects the indigenous populations to have reciprocally the warlike and bloodthirsty approach of the colonizers.

For example, he asks why 138 Spanish conquistadors were able, between 1519 and 1521, to lie and cheat to kill and colonize the Incas.

Fourie does not understand that the behavior of the conquistadors, the Dutch and those British immigrants from the Mayflower to America was deviant, unethical and cruel. The societies they encountered had no frame of reference for such behavior and therefore were not able to expect other humans to act in this manner.

I would like to invite Fourie students to approach the learning process with an open mind, taking into account that the complexity of human development challenges a single linear narrative of truth.

– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome.



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