NEW YORK (April 11, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. George Ayittey, a celebrated Ghanaian economist, author, and the president of the Free Africa Foundation. He was also a former political prisoner. He served as a founding member of HRF’s International Council and was a former Oslo Freedom Forum speaker.
Author of the groundbreaking book “Africa Betrayed,” Ayittey popularized his maxim “Africa is poor because she is not free.” Ayittey dedicated his professional life to exposing the corruption of dictators and the harmful complacency of citizens within African states. He advocated for democratic governance, free market economics, modernized infrastructure, and debt reexamination to promote development in the region. In 1993, Ayittey founded the Free Africa Foundation to catalyze these reforms.
Throughout his life, Ayittey was widely praised for his work, being named as one of Foreign Policy’s “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” in 2008 and “Top 100 Global Thinkers” in 2009. He also published several books, including Africa Unchained; Africa in Chaos; and Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyrants in Africa and Around the World. He was the Distinguished Economist in Residence at American University, and was an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. His TED talk, “Africa’s cheetahs versus hippos,” became a sensation for contrasting the African struggle between the hippo generation (complacent, greedy bureaucrats) and the cheetahs (fast-moving entrepreneurial citizens who will rebuild Africa).
“We are heartbroken. George Ayittey was such a good friend to HRF. He was also a tireless mentor to so many young activists from across the world. He will be remembered as a trailblazer, activist, teacher, and scholar who was a brilliant and invaluable human rights and democracy champion,” said HRF Founder Thor Halvorssen. “George also had a disarming sense of humor. Most of all, George will be remembered for being a good man who exemplified the life of integrity he wished for the people of Africa. Words cannot describe the deep sorrow caused by his loss. He will be deeply missed and will forever remain a valued and honored member of the Human Rights Foundation and Oslo Freedom Forum communities.”
Dr. Ayittey first spoke at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF), where he described the ineffectiveness of foreign aid in Africa, where the flow of foreign money has not diminished the widespread war and economic challenges throughout the continent. He pleaded for a more informed approach to development and asserted that the African people should have a say in what kind of aid they receive, because they know their own needs better than any foreign power. He also took part in an interview at OFF that year about defeating dictators. Ayittey thereafter was a regular participant in HRF events worldwide.
HRF will defend Ayittey’s legacy and ensure that his memory lives on through its mission to promote and protect freedom and democracy in countries where they are most at risk.