“I Am Not the Problem”: Economic Freedom and Human Flourishing

In this passionate TED talk, entrepreneur Magatte Wade explains why the continent of Africa is so poor: bad laws, high tariffs, and excessive red-tape on businesses. “Why is it,” she asks exasperated, “that when I look at the Doing Business index ranking of the World Bank, that ranks every country in the world in terms of how easy or hard it is to start a company, you tell me why African countries, all 50 of them, are basically at the bottom of that list? That’s why we’re poor. We’re poor because it is literally impossible to do businesses in these countries of ours.”1 She continues, getting even more worked up:

I have a manufacturing facility in Senegal. Did you know that for all my raw material that I can’t find in the country, I have to pay a 45 percent tariff on everything that comes in? Forty-five percent tariff. Do you know that, even to look for fine cardboard to ship my finished products to the US, I can’t find new, finished cardboard? Impossible. Because the distributors are not going to come here to start their business, because it makes no sense, either. So right now, I have to mobilize 3000 dollars’ worth of cardboard in my warehouse, so that I can have cardboard, and they won’t arrive for another five weeks. The fact that we are stifled with the most nonsensical laws out there. That’s why we can’t run businesses. It’s like swimming through molasses.

But it was this story that broke me: 

I explained the [things above] to my employees in Senegal. And one of them started crying — her name is Yahara. She started crying. I said, “Why are you crying?”She said, “I’m crying because I had come to believe –always seeing us represented as poor people –I had come to believe that maybe, yes, maybe we are inferior. Because, otherwise, how do you explain that we’re always in the begging situation?” That’s what broke my heart. But at the same time that she said that, because of how I explained just what I explained to you, she said, “But now, I know that I am not the problem. It is my environment in which I live, that’s my problem.”I said, “Yes.” And that’s what gave me hope –that once people get it, they now change their outlook on life.

No, you’re not the problem.