One dictator To go, please

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
March 20, 2005

The speaker was dressed in bright clothing and used a portable PA system to address the crowd. The assembly, enthusiastic and ready to be led, responded with cheers and chants of their own. At one point, it sounded like a pep rally for a North Carolina State basketball team. 'P-A-C-K! Wolfpack! Wolfpack! Wolfpack!'

But this was no basketball pep rally. The chants weren't even in English; I was listening to something in the West African language of Ewe that only sounded like 'Wolfpack.' This group of demonstrators from the Republic of Togo was making a point that has to do with the world of work, not play'in Knoxville as much as in West Africa.

Togo has suffered from 40 years of dictatorial rule and human rights abuses. Its leader, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, is Africa's longest-serving head of state. Well, he was, until he died of a heart attack a month ago.

Don't expect much to change. Only hours after the President's death, the military suspended the sham constitution and installed the President's 35-year-old son, Faure Gnassingbe, as the new leader.

For decades, the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have provided all types of assistance to the Togolese. These international agencies have tried to implement economic reform. They've worked to attract foreign investment. They've solicited additional foreign donors.

How successful has this multibillion-dollar effort been? In the last ten years, the Togolese gross domestic product per capita has shrunk. A greater number of the population now lives in poverty. Electricity consumption has actually declined. Mortality rates have increased.

So much for foreign aid.

Do you know what the feverish protestors wanted? Not another guaranteed loan program. Not another foreign investment incentive or IMF task force. They don't want any more consultants or studies of economic reforms.

The protestors wanted the United States of America to whup Faure Gnassingbe's butt. These Togolese were congregated in Lafayette Park, just yards from the White House, holding signs encouraging President Bush to send troops to their little country (Togo is about twice the size of Maryland) and prevent another 40-year totalitarian regime from taking hold.

I met Erika, a member of the Huti'r, a tribe of Togolese from the southeastern coastal region of the country. She was in Washington working a menial service job she had traveled hundreds of miles to reach ' a job that would only last four days. She didn't care the job was temporary; the job was hers. She says she is like all Togolese she knows: willing both to work and fight for the right to do so.

What's the point? Without freedom, there can be no prosperity. This is true at any level. The Soviet Union fell because its backward economy could no longer support military infrastructure needed to compete with the U.S. Individuals who forever depend on the charity of others for their income will never be self-sufficient. The Togolese understand what the World Bank and many people in this country either fail or refuse to realize: many problems appear to be economic when they really aren't.

The problems in Togo aren't about money. They are about oppression. The lack of individual freedom is the root cause of their macro economic dependence. There is a reason Baskin Robbins offers more than just peppermint ice cream; human beings prefer choice. We thrive on it. We require it. For millions of years, our survival has depended on it.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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