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Zimbabwean Hero Represents Hope for Better African Leadership

Blog Post | Government & Democracy

Zimbabwean Hero Represents Hope for Better African Leadership

Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's hero, stood for freedom, accountability and racial harmony.

Southern Africa had a memorable Valentine’s Day. In Johannesburg, the business heart of South Africa, Morgan Tsvangirai, the former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, lay dying of cancer. Eighty kilometers away, in Pretoria, the country’s capital, Jacob Zuma was resigning as President. Tsvangirai stood for freedom, accountability and racial harmony. Zuma stood for the exact opposite. Today, we mourn the premature departure of the former and rejoice in the much delayed exit of the latter.

I met Tsvangirai only once. As the newly appointed Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, he came to the Cato Institute to recognise the work we have done to keep the sad story of Zimbabwe’s decline in the news in Washington, D.C. and to hear from a variety of policy experts about reforms that his government could implement to jump-start Zimbabwe’s moribund economy. He was humble and gracious. All of us were delighted to meet a man of Tsvangirai’s courage. We write about the struggle for freedom. He has lived it and had the scars to prove it.

Tsvangirai first rose to prominence as a trade union leader in the late 1980s. In 1989 he severed the labour movement’s ties with the government and organised a series of strikes against Robert Mugabe’s corruption and abuse of power. Over a decade later, he led the opposition to the dictator’s attempt to solidify his power in the 2000 constitutional referendum. Unexpectedly, Tsvangirai’s efforts paid off, earning him Mugabe’s implacable enmity. In fact, Tsvangirai would never again get better of his old foe. Committed to peaceful protest, he stood no chance against Mugabe’s murderous ruthlessness.

Years of harsh imprisonment, brutal torture and numerous assassination attempts followed. In 2008, Tsvangirai had, probably, won the presidential election, but widespread voter intimidation and electoral fraud spearheaded by Emerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s current leader, ensured that Mugabe remained in power. An economic collapse and hyperinflation forced Mugabe into a power-sharing agreement brokered by South Africa, with Tsvangirai becoming Prime Minister.

In retrospect, joining the power-sharing agreement with Mugabe turned out to be beneficial to Zimbabwe, but detrimental to Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC received all the social and economic ministries, while Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party retained control over the “power ministries”, including intelligence, police and the military. Still, Tsvangirai and the MDC ministers did a reasonable job and the country began to recover.

In 2013, Mugabe comprehensively outmaneuvered his Prime Minister by calling an early election. With the voter rolls rigged in ZANU-PF’s favour by the “power ministries,” the MDC was defeated and Tsvangirai returned to the opposition bench. The position of Prime Minister was abolished and Mugabe, once more, reigned supreme. Once fully back in charge, the ageing dictator undid much of the progress that Zimbabwe had made during the power-sharing days. The return of hyperinflation and subsequent economic meltdown finally precipitated a military coup d’état in late 2017 and Mugabe’s replacement by his former henchman, Mnangagwa.

Meanwhile, south of the Limpopo, a man without character finished his descent into ignominy by resigning as President of South Africa. Jacob Zuma joined the African National Congress in 1959. Following arrest for anti-government activities and a stint in Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela, he went abroad, where he continued in the struggle against apartheid. By 1977, he rose to the leadership of the exiled ANC. He also became a member of the politburo of the South African Communist Party, which he joined, along with many other ANC leaders, in the 1960s.

Following the unbanning of both parties by President FW De Klerk in 1990, Zuma returned to South Africa, where he was given an assignment requiring truckloads of ruthlessness and duplicity. He was tasked with suppressing the ANC’s main rival, the Inkatha Freedom Party, which dominated the political landscape in Zuma’s native province of Natal. Thousands of people died in the ensuing violence.

After the ANC crushed Inkatha in the 1994 general election, Zuma’s efforts were rewarded with a series of senior party positions, culminating in the Deputy Presidency of the ANC and, consequently, Deputy Presidency of South Africa. It was also during this time that Zuma got his first taste of ill-gotten riches.

After the ANC came to power, the party’s top priority was to rebuild South Africa’s military, which was deemed to be much depleted after decades of international sanctions. The rearmament program was not, strictly speaking, necessary. South Africa has no regional rivals or enemies. But the multi-billion dollar contracts provided the greedy ANC elite with a fabulous opportunity for self-enrichment.

As Andrew Feinstein amply documents in his book After the Party: Corruption, the ANC and South Africa’s Uncertain Future, one of Zuma’s jobs at this time was to cover the tracks of Mandela’s Defence Minister Joe Modise, who received kickbacks from some of the world’s leading arms manufacturers. Zuma himself was permitted to dip his beak in the military contracts through an intermediary – a corrupt businessman named Schabir Shaik.

A court, which sentenced Shaik to 15 years in jail, revealed the relationship between the two men, forcing Thabo Mbeki, who replaced Mandela as South Africa’s President, to fire Zuma from the number two post in the government. Crucially, as we shall see, Mbeki could not fire Zuma from the number two position in the ANC.

Facing 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering, Zuma faced one final humiliation – a rape accusation. In the trial that followed, the court decreed that the unprotected sex between the polygamous Zulu and an HIV-positive family friend was consensual. Offering a glimpse of Zuma’s limited intellectual capacity, South Africa’s future President noted that he was not worried about becoming HIV-positive, because he took a post-coital shower.

So, how did a brutal, corrupt, semi-literate and, possibly, feeble-minded philanderer become the leader of Africa’s richest and most powerful country? The answer lies in the character of the political party he came to personify. The ANC ceased to care about ordinary South Africans long ago. A quarter-century in power reduced it into little more than a vehicle for elite empowerment and self-enrichment. Zuma, with his deep pockets, excellent patronage network and a ruthless streak, cobbled together an ANC majority that elevated him to the Presidency in 2009.

During his tenure in office, Zuma proved to be a figure of both terror and amusement. He loved publicly to sing his favourite song about machine-gunning South Africa’s white farmers, while being unable to read out large numbers in his speeches. More corruption scandals, including massive expenditure on his private residence at the state’s expense and dodgy dealings with shady Indian businessmen who received lucrative contracts from the South African government, followed. He even tried to get one of his ex-wives to replace him as the head of the ANC.

Zuma’s luck finally ran out late last year, when Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labour leader, narrowly defeated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the contest for the Presidency of the ANC. Ramaphosa, in turn, asked Zuma to step down as South Africa’s President. When Zuma refused, Ramaphosa threatened the former with a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Bowing to the inevitable, Zuma resigned.

In life, Tsvangirai suffered extraordinary hardships. In death, he deserves to be remembered as a moral giant. Jacob Zuma, in contrast, has enjoyed luxuries and adulation befitting one of Africa’s “big men”. He will remembered as a corruptor of South Africa’s democracy, and a destroyer of its once vibrant economy as well as its formerly stellar international reputation.

This first appeared in CapX.

Blog Post | Science & Technology

Joe Biden Kicked Off the Encryption Wars

The Crypto Wars, Part - 1

This article was originally published on Pessimists Archive.

In 1991 Joe Biden introduced two bills containing anti-encryption language to prevent private emails: the Comprehensive Counterterrorism Act & the Violent Crime Control Act. He had effectively declared war on math, but why?

Newsletter containing information about a government bill seeking access to encrypted information.

Encryption – once mainly used by government – had increasingly become appealing to consumers with the rise of personal computers and then the internet. The prospect of democratized access to encryption worried governments and law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, an agency the Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed had persuaded Biden to attack encryption.

ℹ︎ In the early 1990s encryption was still treated as a munition and subject to export controls, software companies had to sell different versions overseas.

Newsletter highlighting a bill introduced by Joseph Biden when he was a senator.

While Biden’s bills didn’t become law, his attempt to prohibit email encryption gave programmer Phil Zimmerman the motivation to finish and release his open source encryption project ‘Pretty Good Privacy’ (PGP.) PGP would spread rapidly throughout the early internet – including across boarders – making it much hard to prohibit.

In 1993 a Federal Grand Jury opened an investigation into exports of cryptography software with regards to PGP and Phil Zimmerman, who later admitted “I was quite guilty.” Zimmerman’s emails were – ironically – subpoenaed, and he faced possible jail-time for breaking export laws.

Phil Zimmerman, and newsletters about the grand jury investigation in  encryption software exports.

Meanwhile the Clinton Administration started pushing the NSA’s ‘Clipper Chip’ – a computer chip that would allow the government to break any and all encryption. The ultimate goal was to make the chip mandatory. While Biden didn’t comment on the Clipper Chipper at the time, he didn’t speak against it as some other Democrats did.

Newsletter about the "Clipper Chip"

Government snooping wasn’t the only concern raise about the Clipper Chip, if the encryption key was cracked or leaked, criminals would have free rein to cause havoc. This fear was proven out in 1994 when computer scientist Matt Blaze figured out how to break Clipper Chip encryption, and again in 1995 when a French student broke the weakened encryption Netscape were forced to ship its web browser with abroad.

Newsletter about a flaw found in computer clipper chip.

The Government investigation into PGP would hang over the head of Zimmerman for 3 years until 1996 – when the US government announced they didn’t plan to prosecute him. The same year the ‘Clipper Chip’ would be declared defunct and abandoned by the US Government.

In the following years encryption export controls remained, stunting the growth of US software companies in foreign markets. Technology industry figures like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google’s Eric Schmidt lobbied the government to relax rules, which eventually happened in 1999.

Newsletter titled "Software executives lobby in D.C. for end to ban on encryption"

When terrorists struck on September 11th, 2001 encryption opponents would pin part-blame on the uncontrolled proliferation of strong encryption they warned against.

While the passing of the Patriot Act in response (a bill Joe Biden boasted he inspired) proved to cryptography proponents how important it was for encryption to be open and available to protect citizens from government over-reach. The following years saw renewed attacks on encryption in the name of fighting the war on terror.

Different newsletter with notes about threats to encryption.

It is worth keeping all this history in mind as we see governments – including the Biden administration – move to propose, pass (and force through) laws to in the name of stopping people using AI for nefarious ends. Especially when those same governments continue to try and undermine encryption.

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Freeing American Families

In their new paper, Vanessa Brown Calder and Chelsea Follett propose reforms to make family life easier and more affordable.

Fertility is on the decline in the United States and around the world. Although some commentators celebrate population declines for environmental or other reasons, others fear that below‐​replacement fertility will result in negative economic and social consequences. As a result, many countries are pursuing various policies intended to boost fertility rates, such as baby bonuses, cash benefits for families with kids, paid family leave, and universal childcare. In the United States, members of Congress in both parties favor greater federal intervention to boost fertility rates or to support families more generally.

However, such policies are costly and have limited effects on fertility. International evidence indicates that expensive efforts to subsidize childbearing have failed to raise countries’ fertility to replacement levels and sustain fertility rates there. They typically fail even to meet policymakers’ more modest fertility objectives. Recent estimates suggest that fertility initiatives in the United States would be similarly misguided, with some $250 billion in annual subsidies needed to achieve a modest increase of 0.2 extra children per woman.

Although policymakers should avoid implementing similar initiatives, many other reforms would make family life easier and more affordable. This study proposes reforms to labor laws, child safety policies, tax and trade policy, and health policies that affect birth and conception, in addition to education, housing, and safety policy changes that would reduce the cost of raising children. Evidence suggests that some of these reforms could boost fertility, for instance, by reducing work‐​life tradeoffs or other intensive parenting requirements. However, these reforms are also worthwhile as standalone measures that improve family life.

Read the full paper here.

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Modernization and the Loss of Japan’s Samurai Culture Benefited the Japanese People

Economic, technological, industrial, and other progress radically improved the life of the ordinary Japanese citizen.

Imagine you’re a farmer in Japan in 1850. You pay homage to your feudal lord, wear clothes of plain cotton, eat rice and fish, and are mostly preoccupied with surviving the occasional famine and outbreaks of disease. You likely have no education. Fifty years later, life has changed beyond recognition. Farmers now have an education, have fertilizer to farm with, have access to vaccination, and can use the telegraph and the postal service. They have more money to spend, more leisure time, and access to mass media.

The 2003 movie The Last Samurai portrays Japan during this period of modernization. The film laments the loss of traditional samurai culture amid rising Westernization. The film is inspired by the Satsuma Rebellion, a revolt from disaffected samurai amid the loss of their privileged position in society.

Longing for a privileged past is not unique to Japan; many in Europe romanticize the medieval era as one of knightly chivalry. However, such portrayals usually look at history through rose-tinted glasses. The “good old days” is a common fallacy, with facts becoming more distorted the further one looks back in history.

What really happened in the era of The Last Samurai?

The period takes places after the Meiji Restoration, showcasing the Westernization of Japan. Before this period, Japan was ruled by Tokugawa shogunate, a military dictatorship that had dominated the island for over 260 years. It imposed the foreign policy of Sakoku—that is, one of extreme isolationism. Aiming to reduce the spread of Christianity and cement the power of the shogun, the islands of Japan became closed to foreigners. No one was allowed to enter or leave Japan, and foreign trade was virtually nonexistent. (There was some trade allowed from the Dutch through the island of Kyushu, notably in porcelain.) This period was one of peace, which many in Japan welcomed after the Sengoku Jidai (a period of civil war) of the 1500s.

Conservatives in Japan welcomed this closing of the country to foreign influence. At the time, Japan was dominated by the samurai class. Samurai, while traditionally warriors, had moved in peacetime to become aristocratic bureaucrats at the service of their daimyo, a feudal lord. Samurai had a monopoly on military force and controlled most of education. Merchants were seen as a lower class, even lower than farmers. Feudalism, a system where a lord would rent out land in return for labor from the peasantry, had ended in parts of Europe around 1500. Whereas competition among European powers had created the emergence of a middle class, Japan had remained socially, technologically, and militarily stagnant from 1639 onwards.

As described by Mitsutomo Yuasa in his study The Scientific Revolution in Nineteenth Century Japan:

The traditional society (feudalism) before the Meiji Restoration, namely the age of Edo of Tokugawa Shogunate, was based on pre-Newtonian science and technology, and on pre-Newtonian attitudes towards the physical world.

In 1853, Japanese isolationism came to an end. With the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry demonstrating a textbook example of gunboat diplomacy, the United States forced an end to Japanese isolationism and the opening of Japanese ports to American trade. In the years that followed, Japan established diplomatic relations with the Western Great Powers and underwent a collapse of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate.

Japan then went through a period of rapid modernization, importing Western technology, ideas, and culture. Ian Inkster describes the impact:

By 1855, Western machinery and factory organization had been introduced at Nagasaki for the maintenance of warships, and a spurt of building began in 1860 under Dutch leadership. It was Englishmen who in 1867 constructed the first steam powered spinning plant, the Kagoshima Spinning Factory. . . . By 1882, the Osaka Spinning Company operated 16 mules, 10,500 spindles and was practically powered by steam. . . . From 1870 to 1872, 245 railway engineers arrived in Japan from Europe. . . . Telegraphic communication was also established by the British from 1871.

The industries that were revolutionized by foreign influence included the iron industry, mining, railways, electricity, civil engineering, medicine, administration, shipbuilding, porcelain, earthenware, glass, brewing, sugar, chemicals, gunpowder, and cement manufacture. Japan developed its staple industry and export product, silk manufacturing and spinning, under guidance from a Swedish engineer using Italian methods. The silk industry also employed a large amount of female labor in Japan, with more women in the industrial labor force in Japan than in any other country in Asia.

The development of technological innovations improved Japanese industry. Ryoshin Minami showed the growth in total horsepower between 1891 and 1937 was in the order of 13 percent annually. The figure below shows the growth rate of development of primary industries during the period between 1887 and 1920, as well as overall economic growth. In many of the years during that period, growth in private non-primary fixed capital was in the double digits.

By the 1890s, Japanese textiles dominated the home markets and competed successfully with British products in China and India. Japanese shippers were competing with European traders to carry these goods across Asia and even to Europe.

The Satsuma Rebellion occurred in 1877, as Japanese government restricted the ability to carry a katana (long sword) in public. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the right to bear arms, the reduction in the power of the samurai class was a win for ordinary Japanese people. Having access to modern medical techniques, transportation, and goods benefited the whole society, rather than just feudal elites. Indeed, many of the samurai were able to adapt to their new roles in a modern Japan, working in business or government. In the 1880s, 23 percent of prominent Japanese businessmen were from the samurai class. By the 1920s, the number had grown to 35 percent.

By 1925, universal manhood suffrage had been implemented, a stark contrast from the Tokugawa shogunate. The social structure had loosened, allowing societal advancement far more easily than in the feudal era. By 1897, 95 percent of citizens were receiving some form of formal education, in contrast to 3 percent in 1853. With a more educated population, Japan’s industrial sector grew significantly. Of course, the new system still had its problems, such as labor strikes and industrial unrest. However, Westernization brought far more economic freedom to the Japanese people. Attitudes to commerce changed. Merchants rose from being the lowest class to becoming a vital part of the burgeoning middle class.

In Japan, progress was seen in economics, science, technology, education, consumer goods, industry, and social mobility. Society and the traditional order had been uprooted, in an example of Schumpeterian “creative destruction.” The inflow of new ideas, of new ways of doing things, allowed people to become freer, wealthier, healthier, and better educated. The opening of Japan was fundamentally an opening to progress. By isolating itself, Japan fell behind the rest of the world. As it opened itself to competition, it was able to catch up, and in some cases, surpass other countries. And the ordinary citizen of Japan was better for it.

Blog Post | Economics

Unlocking Africa’s Potential | Podcast Highlights

David Ansara, the Chief Executive of the Free Market Foundation, a South African think tank, joins Chelsea Follett to discuss progress and problems in Africa.

Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript here.

What is the broad state of progress, free markets, and individual liberty in Africa today?

You must always be cautious about broad brushstroke assessments of Africa, but there are a few general trends we can observe.

During the post-liberation period, there was a trend towards socialist and nationalist policies and highly interventionist states across sub-Saharan Africa. Many African countries were economically isolated. But since the end of the Cold War, there’s been quite an improvement, not only in economic openness but also a broader political liberalization.

However, it’s a mixed picture. There are still significant security concerns in large parts of Africa, and we also have fragile and often hostile state institutions.

What are some strengths and opportunities for Africa?

One big strength is the demographic dividend. Sub-Saharan Africa has a very young population relative to the rest of the world. Young men without jobs tend to cause trouble, but they also have huge productive potential. But you also need an enabling policy framework. You need economic opportunities. You need good education.

Internet access is allowing people to bypass traditional university systems. Before, maybe the elites in Lagos could have gone to study at King’s College in London. Now, anyone can learn the skills they need through Khan Academy or Coursera. Africa’s also located in a very favorable time zone for remote services. So, Africa is well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities.

Another opportunity is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which aims to reduce 90% of tariffs over the next 12 years. The rate of trade between African countries is low, roughly 10 to 15%, whereas intra-European trade is north of 60%, so something like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement has potential. However, many non-tariff barriers still exist, such as meddling officials trying to extract bribes and poor infrastructure.

What about the threats to progress on the continent? 

Governance issues remain a big problem, especially corruption. Here in South Africa, we’re dealing with endemic corruption that has resulted in rolling blackouts. That problem extends across all spheres of government in South Africa. President Ramaphosa himself had about $6 million worth of US currency hidden in his couch.

Another major threat is the lack of respect for private property. In South Africa, we have constitutional protection for private property, but there were recent moves to amend the constitution to include expropriation with nil compensation. That amendment was unsuccessful, but now a bill has been introduced in Parliament which tries to, through normal legislation, introduce expropriation without compensation.

Security of tenure is also weak. If you want to purchase property in Mozambique, for example, you have to take a 99-year lease, which is not comforting to a potential investor. Sub-Saharan African countries need to take this seriously, and countries like Botswana and Mauritius that do take it seriously will reap the benefits.

How has the pandemic been for Africa?

What was interesting about the pandemic is that, either through a lack of respect for Covid lockdown restrictions or just the impossibility of enforcing these restrictions, much of sub-Saharan Africa escaped the worst excesses of the lockdowns. People just continued to go about their business. In many respects, I think the developed world was hit harder by the Covid responses.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s poorest region. How can this region unlock its economic potential?

Economists and policymakers make economic development seem very technically complicated, but the ingredients are actually well-tried and tested. The Economic Freedom of the World Report measures five areas: the size of government, the legal system and property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and appropriate regulation. When you adjust for purchasing power, the freest quartile of nations in the Economic Freedom of the World Report have average incomes more than seven times higher than those of the least free quartile. Average incomes in the top quartile are about $48,000; in the least free quartile, they are about $6500.

In many African states, government consumption accounts for most of the country’s total consumption, and most of the middle classes in many African countries are civil servants. That has an opportunity cost; somebody working for the government could otherwise have added new value to the economy. Keeping the government small is essential.

One of Africa’s real Achilles’ heels is the lack of respect for private property rights and the rule of law. Many critics of free-market policies, particularly here in South Africa, think private property rights just protect the interests of the wealthy, but it’s the poorest people in society who need private property rights the most. Across Africa, many poor families lack any formal title to their property, and it’s very common for a local official to come and say, “You have to dismantle your shack and move your entire home because we tell you to.” At the Free Market Foundation, we have a project that assists poor homeowners with their property title applications. That is a really impactful way of driving development. You don’t need some massive World Bank loan or a foreign NGO. If you protect people’s property, they will create prosperity for themselves.

Many people in rich countries think foreign aid is the best way to combat poverty. Do you agree?

Charity can be effective, but if you contrast it to, for example, the growth of telecommunications, it’s clear that market forces are creating prosperity orders of magnitude larger than what any NGO can achieve.

One of the problems with aid is political. International aid agencies often prefer or are mandated to work with local governments. In Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi used development funding to distribute patronage in his country to buy political favor. Paul Kagame in Rwanda has effectively played the international donor community and used that favor to entrench his power. Another problem is that much of the funding for these global development projects is used for administration. In a country like Malawi or Tanzania, whenever you see a four-wheel drive motor vehicle in the city, you know it’s being driven by somebody working for an international NGO.

International organizations have a role, for example, in emergency responses to famines. But as Amartya Sen has indicated, liberal democracies with market economies seldom suffer from famines. Those systemic reforms are not as sexy as running a well-funded United Nations project, but they are more durable. GDP per capita has increased by about 30% across Africa in the last 20 years, and that is mostly from removing barriers and letting people get on with their business. People are naturally ambitious. They want to improve their families’ lives, and they want their children’s lives to be better than their own. They just need the right conditions in which to operate.

What are you the most optimistic about regarding Africa’s future? 

I’m actually bullish about Africa.

As you’ve documented so well in your work, the story of human progress is profound. But I get a sense that, in many Western countries, there’s a lack of optimism about the future. I don’t see that in Africa. There’s a sense of imminent change. Many post-liberation movements have declining electoral majorities, which could usher in much more political competition.

Africans also have that fire in their belly. In Western countries, there’s an expectation that living standards have always been a certain way and will remain that way forever. But Africans have a real hustle-and-grind mentality, and that’s going to be able to take them very far indeed. There are strong headwinds: security issues, vulnerability to extreme weather events, and energy issues. But problems breed innovation, and I think Africans have that innovative spirit to change their circumstances and to get things done.