The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit concluded last week and the delegations have returned home, but conversation about U.S. engagement with Africa still continues in DC. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the summit, CIPE and Freedom House initiated a dialogue on advancing political and economic freedom in Africa and on Wednesday, CIPE and the Society for International Development-Washington, DC Chapter concluded summit events with a discussion on African civil society and its sustainability by bringing together civil society practitioners. The discussion revolved around possible solutions to two main issues civil society is facing in the developing world: a dependency on donor funding and draconian laws restricting civil society.
The panelists included: Lars Benson, Senior Program Officer for Africa at CIPE, Jeremy Meadows, Senior Democracy Specialist for Bureau for Africa at USAID, and Natalie Ross, Program Officer for the Aga Khan Foundation, USA. The discussion was moderated by Richard O’Sullivan, co-chair for the SID-Washington Civil Society Workgroup.
When government regulations establish a privileged position for certain companies or individuals it often creates opportunities for rent-seeking — an abstract economic concept perfectly illustrated by the plight of Khartoum’s 20,000 wheelbarrow users.
Typically, rent-seeking involves firms like regulated power monopolies leveraging their privileged position in a marketplace to extract excess profits by suppressing competition. Rent-seeking doesn’t generate wealth, it just redistributes it to those with more power and influence. The company benefits, and often the government officials involved benefit, but the rest of society loses out.
The regulations that enable rent-seeking are usually deeply entrenched and difficult to dismantle – for no reason other than the fact that someone, somewhere is benefiting from them.
The BBC recently examined a peculiar, yet classic, example of how such nonsensical regulations hamper entrepreneurship and economic growth: wheelbarrow fees in Sudan. According to the report, local Sudanese in Khartoum are not allowed to own their own wheelbarrows. Instead, they are forced to rent them from contractors who have made a deal with the local government.