The most intriguing aspect of the Northern African uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is not democracy. It is that the whole movement was sparked off by a young man protesting against a corrupt system that prevented him from earning a decent living. 26 year old Muhammad Bouazizi had a small street business selling fruit and vegetables in a cart which the corrupt Tunisian police confiscated, slapping and insulting him in the process. His crime? Selling without a licence. He set himself on fire and later died.

This goes to the deeper issues of freedom and individual rights. All humans want freedom, except the Collectivist-Socialist types who impose slavery in the name of social justice and fair play and supposedly preventing “exploitation of man by man” as the Zambian first president Kenneth Kaunda used to say.

Yet most people do not realize that freedom is what makes productivity possible. If a person is not free to produce and trade freely with others unhindered, how can he improve his lot in life and the lives of others? Unfortunately, governments the world over are the greatest agents of poverty through their failure to respect individual rights via policies like nationalization, regulations and red tape, the welfare state, progressive and/or excessive taxation, subsidised health/education, etc.

I like what Leon Louw, Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa & Law Review Project said as it is simply timeless and summarises the greatest lesson from North Africa.

“Poverty is a choice. Prosperity is a choice. It is not some destiny that comes in on the wheels of inevitability, about which we have no control… Poverty is caused by governments that prevent prosperity. Prosperity is the natural, spontaneous consequence of human action.”