April 22, 2024


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Breaking the Shackles of Socialism in Africa 

Women sells fruits at the market in Thies, Senegal. 2018.

In her new book The Heart of a Cheetah: How We Have Been Lied to About African Poverty — and What that Means for Human Flourishing, Magatte Wade argues that government corruption, overregulation, and Africa’s embrace of socialism have caused Africa’s poverty. She is pushing back against the standard narrative that slavery and colonization are the root cause of Africa’s misery. While Wade acknowledges the horrific effects these had on the continent, she points to other countries across the globe that have been lifted out of poverty over the past forty years. Taking Singapore, South Korea, and others as examples, she asks an important question: If these nations can rise out of poverty, why not the nations of Africa? Wade’s book masterfully argues that the path to prosperity in Africa depends on its embrace of markets and entrepreneurship. 

Wade isn’t an academic. She is a businesswoman who has the lived experience to write this extremely accessible book. Wade is from Senegal, and she has a passion for lifting her home out of poverty. As a girl, her parents moved to Germany and later France where she received an education. As a young woman, she moved to the United States and worked in Silicon Valley. After helping her husband start his business, Wade had an epiphany about her purpose in life. She realized she could no longer “reconcile the life of abundance [she] was afforded in the United States with the life of scarcity that existed back home in Senegal and in most of Africa.” She made a promise with God that she would “devote every single breath of mine to the betterness of my Motherland.”

As someone who understands business, Wade decided to take her skills and create a brand that produced indigenous African beverages. Wade insisted on building her business in Senegal, using local ingredients, and employing local Senegalese women who understood the beverages she hoped western consumers would enjoy. She named her company Adina, which means life and set about getting her business off the ground. But it wasn’t going to be easy. 

Wade quickly realized how unfriendly the business environment was in Senegal. It is so difficult to start a business in the country that ninety-five percent of businesses operate illegally. Once they get so big, the authorities realize what they are doing and crack down on them. It is also extremely hard to fire someone in Senegal. As Wade explains to employees, “If I can’t fire you, I can’t hire you.” There were so many regulations and other hoops that Wade had to jump through that it took her three years to open her company and that was with her developing a close relationship with the First Lady of Senegal. Her experience taught her that while many regulations may be well intentioned, in reality they are crushing the dreams of businessmen and women who would like to provide opportunities for employees and create products for consumers.

Wade’s ultimately turned Adina into an extremely successful company with thirty million dollars in capital and distribution throughout the United States. Wade’s story is one of success, but it took incredible effort and dedication on her part to stick with her plan to produce in Senegal. In the face of government corruption and an unfriendly business environment, someone who was less committed to her homeland would have undoubtedly created her business somewhere else. Wade’s experience led her to the conclusion that capitalism isn’t to blame for Africa’s problems. In fact, entrepreneurship, job creation, and markets are the answer. As she concluded from her experience: 

We Africans are poor because we have not been allowed to create companies — precisely because of layer after layer of government bureaucracy that is profoundly un-African. It’s because of layer after layer of government bureaucracy that only powerful multinationals can lawyer their way out of. Please, please, please, my Western socialist friends, quit supporting the regulatory regimes that are killing us!

Wade ultimately lost control of Adina through some unfortunate internal politics. While she remained associated with the company, she shifted her focus toward her ultimate mission of lifting Africa out of poverty. While Wade has been amazingly successful in her professional life, she has had to endure hardships. Her first husband committed suicide. It was a devastating loss that almost crippled her ability to keep going. Wade remarried in 2009. She met her new husband, Michael Strong, through his work on the Freedom Lights Our World (FLOW) project. The two share a passion for lifting people out of poverty through entrepreneurship and together have turned their attention to Africa. 

While Wade was already a prominent figure, she further made a name for herself by criticizing Jeffery Sachs’ approach to helping Africa. Sachs embraced a top-down solution for African betterment. Wade describes it as a “technocratic fantasy in which ‘development experts’ led by him would teach us Africans how to do things right and thereby alleviate our pathetic condition” Wade and Strong penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post condemning Sachs’ Millennium Villages project and describing the “revolting condescension” that Wade felt from the entire project. Luckily for Africans, Sachs has moved on to other noble causes.

In contrast to those who believe that experts can engineer progress for Africa, Wade argues that what is needed is deregulation, entrepreneurship, and investment. In short, she argues for free enterprise as a means to bring about human flourishing. Some 250 years of evidence and examples all over the globe support Wade’s thesis that markets are the way to bring about economic progress. Once Wade explicitly embraced markets, she lost most of her progressive friends. Overtime she came to realize that “many of my anti-capitalist friends were motivated more by their hatred of capitalism than by a positive love and care for Africans.” 

Wade continues to be invested in Senegal and is committed to the cause of bringing about human flourishing in Africa. Today, she runs SkinIsSkin a beauty company in her home country and actively works to inform young Africans how they can help end poverty. A new generation of Africans (Wade labels them the Cheetah Generation) are rejecting socialism and embracing entrepreneurship and markets as the path to human flourishing. Wade laments that “one of the greatest tragedies of twentieth-century Africa is that ‘socialism’ was associated with anti-colonialism, whereas ‘capitalism’ was believed to be imperialist — and therefore colonialist by nature.” In reality, Wade insists that socialism and top-down governance was a European import whereas decentralized governance and participation in robust free markets are integral to the African experience going back thousands of years. 

Wade concludes the book with a list of initiatives that the reader can take part in. She is excited about the opportunity to decrease corruption by moving more of African government processes online and thereby into the open. Wade also advocates for the creation of startup cities that attempt to establish property rights, the rule of law, and freedom from the bottom up rather than the top down (after all most African governments are extremely corrupt and unlikely to embrace needed market reforms). Finally, she encourages the average American to learn more about Africa, to get involved, and to support African enterprises.

Magatte Wade is a remarkable woman, and The Heart of a Cheetah is a remarkable book. As she reminds us, we are on the verge of eliminating absolute poverty across the globe. We could achieve this in a generation. Wade has dedicated her life “to accelerate the small positive changes currently taking place in Africa so that in a few decades we can be respected as true equals, global co-creators of innovation and prosperity.” We should wish her all the best and do what we can to support our African brethren as they break the shackles of socialism so that they can liberate themselves.