Freedom and development [Archives:2003/661/Viewpoint]

August 21 2003

Sometimes I think to myself, is there a relationship between our poor economic performance and lack of freedoms in the Arab world. Looking to the overall picture, we can see that many countries that lack freedom of press are wealthy ones. But nevertheless, developed countries are also rich in democratic values and experiences. Is this turning into a dilemma?
However, after reading the World Bank's “The right to tell” book about democracy and freedom of expression's role in economic development, I have come to realize that wealthy countries have become so for one of two reasons or both together:
1- The country has massive natural resources (oil, gas, agriculture, etc.) and can hence utilize them to enhance the economy regardless of its democracy's level.
2- The country has empowered its people by granting them democracy and freedom to express their opinion, hence enabling them to participate in decision making through proper elections, and human rights in education health, etc. to utilize man forces and reach the best of means and plans to achieve overall human resource development, which provided greater ideas, better services, and successful trade and investment for the whole country to benefit from.
In the first case, the wealth seems to be temporary because once the oil or the other natural resources are gone -and they will eventually-, everything else will have to go including wealth and prosperity.
But in the other example, democracy and human rights -including the right of expression- have empowered the people, and expanded human resources in the best possible way, and efficient humans are an eternal source of income and main factor behind economic prosperity.
Looking at the statistics unveiled in the latest Arab Human Development report published by the United Nations, we can easily see that Arab people are deprived of true democracy and freedom, hence making them incompetent, unproductive, and an extra burden on the economy rather than a source of income.
The report concluded that the lack of freedom in the Arab world, was a major factor behind the inefficiency of its people, and hence resulted in extremely poor economic conditions.
Yet, despite that, most of the Arab regimes continued with their old way of authority, continuing to putting a lot of restrictions on Arab people's freedom. They continue to for example to attach more strings to freedom of expression and liberties. This will continue to affect our economies negatively and would easily result in even worse numbers in upcoming human development reports.
Why continue this path?
Why not change?
Arab leaders need to realize that freedom of their people is a source of empowerment for the country's economy. Those very leaders complain that income is still inefficient to cover the country's so many expenses, yet at the same time they continue to prevent the real source of income from emerging, free people.
In an attempt to try to convince the Arab regimes that freedom of Arab citizens is important for economic development, Yemen Times has taken the imitative to focus on the freedom of media as a major factor that could help achieve better economic performance. Perhaps we can start somewhere, and as an independent media organization, we will try to do whatever we can to have Arab leaders realize why it is important to have a free media to improve our economies.
A regional conference on “The role of the free Arab media in economic development” will be held in Sanaa during 13-15 September just for this purpose.
Let us participate in shedding light on the important topics.
Let us help guide the governments to the right path to enhance our economies.
We can start one step here.
And we expect others to follow.