Democracy is key to economic success

DEVELOPMENT

The first reason for supporting democracy in Africa is that the continent’s democracies have typically posted economic growth rates that are one-third faster than its autocracies. They are, therefore, better equipped to create the numbers of jobs required as their populations expand.

This matches what has been seen globally and over a longer time frame. For example, as the work by the Africa Center’s Joseph Siegle and his colleagues illustrates, since the end of the Cold War, only nine out of 85 autocracies worldwide have realised sustained economic growth. Moreover, 48 of these autocracies had at least one episode of disastrous economic experience (defined as an annual contraction in per capita gross domestic product of at least 10%) during this period.

There is a link between democratic and economic performance in this regard. Of the top 47 countries in the United Nation’s human development index — that is, those classified as having “very high human development” — 41 are deemed as “free”; two (Singapore and Seychelles) as “partly free’; and just four (Brunei, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) as “not free”.

Analysis by Nicolas van de Walle and Takaaki Masaki substantiates further the link between democracy and growth. In scrutinising 43 (out of 49) countries in sub-Saharan Africa for the period 1982 to 2012, the authors found “strong evidence that democracy is positively associated with economic growth”, and that this “democratic advantage” is more pronounced for those African countries that have been democratic for longer periods of time.

A calculation on the basis of the Freedom House classifications shows that GDP growth in those countries classified as “free” is substantially higher than growth in the “partly” and “not free” categories.

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