In the early 1960's, when the winds of change began to blow freedom into southern Africa, the causes of Africa's poverty seemed obvious. Since the turn of the century, colonial regimes had systematically disinherited and disenfranchised the black majority. As a result, while the region enjoyed a wealth of natural resources and, in a number of areas, developed industries and infrastructure, the majority of the population lived at the edge of subsistence.
By the mid-1980's, only South Africa and Namibia still labored under minority or alien rule. Yet even where countries had shed colonialism twenty years earlier, most people endured poverty and powerlessness. Their leaders had come into government promising a radical redistribution of power and wealth. That did not occur. Instead, the region's economies remained largely stagnant and dependent on unstable foreign markets, and the distribution of income and political power remained highly skewed. Poverty and inequality continued because of the failure to use the legal order—that is, the laws and regulations and the behavior of the relevant implementing and law-making institutions—to transform economic and social relationships.