Pushing the envelope of knowledge – socialism v capitalism

On one side of the Wall, were millions locked in a new world shaped by a few wise men and on the other were millions of free people filled with hope and promise.

On 9 November 1989, it took a member of the East Germany’s ruling Politburo, Guenter Schabowski, to casually declare that East Germans would immediately be free to travel to the capitalist West to make history.

Annemarie Reffert and her 15-year-old daughter made history by becoming the first East Germans to cross the border in response to a mere unplanned and uncoordinated declaration.

That night, around midnight, the gates were open and the rest is history. Masses of people bottled in a system that they had no power to change, streamed into West Berlin, unabated and unfettered.

What is remarkable is that the movement of people was in one direction from socialist East Germany to capitalist West Germany.

East Germans came in droves riding their motorcycles, Trabants and bicycles. Store in West Berlin stayed open late and banks doled out 100 Deutschmarks in "welcome money" to each visitor.

The historic party lasted four days with more than 3 million crossing the border and the country became one out of spontaneity.

On this defining and cold night, years that separated brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers melted into a new dawn of freedom and a future without a wall, border guards, secret police, food shortages, informers, and state controls.

From 1961 to 1989, the wall came to symbolize more than the separation of East and West Germany but a contest of two ideologies and their impact on humanity. About 136 people were killed trying to cross over to the West.

Sections of the nearly 155 kilometres (100 miles) of wall were pulled down and knocked over.

We still remember vividly tourists chiselling off chunks of the Wall to keep as souvenirs.

The images of tearful families reuniting with bars in the West giving out free drinks remain in our memories.

We also can never forget the images strangers kissing and toasting each other with champagne.

Today, a united Germany is led by Angela Merkel, Germany’s first chancellor from the former communist East.

If there was any sign required to demonstrate the un-sustainability of socialism, the tearing down of the Wall was one. People who filled with anxiety about the future were given a new lease on life and a chance to build something new, and to make a difference.

For 28 years, people in East Germany could only imagine what was on the other side but were sure that the architects of the Wall knew what everyone must have known that the grass was greener westwards.

It was the communists who built the Wall at the height of the Cold War because they knew that without it any rational person would opt for freedom.

When I was a student, I naively thought that a socialist system was the answer to poverty and underdevelopment.

East Germany had 28 years to prove that socialism could address human challenges and inspire hope. What happened in 1989 proved that this was not the case.

People voted with their feet and were not mistaken the West offered hope and more significantly that a system characterised with militaristic structures could never be a model for human capital.

As we celebrate the fall of the Wall, we have no choice but to reflect on Africa’s future. Although no African country has created a similar wall, many barriers have been created to keep people in ignorance and are state control.

The shape and size of the envelope of opportunity is determined by a few who have the privilege to preside over the state machinery.

The living conditions of many Africans are no different from the socialist way of life. We now know that socialism provides fewer answers to progressive human minds and yet many of us believe that the state can be trusted to reduce the frontiers of poverty.

Germany is now a united Republic underpinned by values, beliefs and principles that are necessary to give hope to living people.

The demise of the socialist system in East Germany went a long way to confirming what many in Africa do not know that a free society has better prospects to deliver promise and opportunity to its citizens than a totalitarian system.