Professor Eleanor Fox, who is very well known for her works linking competition policy to development issues and economic democracy, has come up with yet another gem in the form of a book titled Making Markets Work for Africa published by Oxford University Press. Her worthy co-author Mor Bakhoum, a Senegalese, brings in the desirable native perspectives. The book presents a comprehensive analysis of the use of (or way to use) competition policy and law in removing barriers and obstructions in markets that hurt people most as well as optimise upon opportunities that can help the people most, in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I feel very happy to write this review as we were able to impress upon Eleanor, during the course of our long friendship, of the value of equity in pursuing competition policies in developing countries rather than efficiency alone. This was done by engaging with her on several of our competition research projects, which she has kindly acknowledged. However, what she and Mor have missed is the reference and inputs from our detailed research work that we have done in Sub-Saharan Africa during the 2000 to 2016 and that Eleanor was engaged in the same through review and participation in several project meetings. However, the book is rich in its analysis and presentation.
More a story than a typical research report, the book vividly explains with the help of actual examples how to pursue “public interest” in a market economy and how to balance “efficiency” and “equity” using competition tools. The aim is to steer a market economy such that in addition to it being fair, it ends up providing opportunities for disadvantaged sections of society to be an active player in such economies and benefiting poor consumers.
Despite being resource constrained, some African competition agencies have shown significant maturity in their pronouncements and advocacy efforts in promoting competition, which in turn proved quite beneficial to the common people and economy as a whole.
For instance, the Kenyan competition authority’s dealing with the payment sector after M-Pesa became a big hit among masses, resulted in non-discrimination and promoted interoperability with rivals in the sector—a status that even many developed countries have not yet achieved. Similarly, the Tanzanian authority’s successful activism against their own government’s protectionist measures in cement sector not only benefited common citizens, but also resulted in boosting the job-intensive construction sector and national economy as a whole.
By categorising Sub-Saharan African countries into various clusters, based on their level of development, Eleanor and Mor, in this book, have presented a good template to find solutions for market restraints that are typical of a given cluster. The book clearly refrains from providing one-size-fits-all solution, and recommends a bottoms-up approach (or roots-up, as the authors put it) that is sensitive to the socio-economic concerns of an economy.
In that sense, the book is a must for high-level policy makers, and policy influencers, of low- and middle-income countries, in order for them to draw an effective development roadmap ushering higher growth along with equity. The book can also be insightful for policy researchers in the developed world who are grappling to find solution to increasing inequality in their own societies. Many potential investors in Sub-Saharan Africa can also learn in order to design their business strategies. The competition authorities in the developed world, who are under attack due to growing concentration in their economies, are also likely to get useful leads from this book.
The book is not merely for “making markets work,” but for “making markets work for people” and for inducing “inclusiveness” in a market economy.