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