Africa can benefit from Japan and East Asia through the reflection of past failures

Earlier this week the fifth meeting of the Tokyo International Co-operation concerning African Development was hosted by Japan.  It is still apparent that while the rest of the world seeks investment in Europe, China looks to Africa for a prosperous future. A focal issue bought to the table was the poverty crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Today the world is projected a mixed image of Africa, and although we are seeing innovations and non-stop growth across the continent, what is being done about the negative factors and dilemmas certain countries are faced with is what this article is based on. There are some prominent successes rooted in Africa. From 2007 to 2011 Africa comprised 5 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing countries with a population exceeding 10-million. On the flip side, some sources point out that there are now more middle-class families in Africa than in India; the continent has countries with the world’s highest levels of inequality. Agriculture and the stagnating yields have not been so promising.

Japan’s commitment to Africa is exceptionally important, not only because of financial and other forms of support but also due to the possibility that Africa may learn valuable lessons from East Asia’s development experience. This may be intensely applicable today, as we are witnesses of China’s rising wages and appreciating exchange rate underscoring rapid change in global comparative and competitive lead.

Some manufacturing will move out of China, and Africa has a chance of capturing a fraction of it.  Rapid manufacturing development will not just happen; African governments must have industrial policies to help reform their economies. Such policies have brought up controversy and debate; certain governments and other power groups argue it makes no difference whether the country produces potato chips or computer chips.

East Asia lesson one-on-one:

With resources so scarce, developing countries have to think carefully about the direction of their economies — about their dynamic comparative advantages. The world’s most successful developing countries — those in East Asia — did just this, and among the lessons to be shared are those about how they conducted industrial policies at a time when their governments lacked the sophistication and depth of talent they have today. Weaknesses in governance may affect the instruments of industrial policy, but not its use.

Japan lesson one-on-one:

Key elements of Japan’s development strategy — including its stress on education, equality, and land restructuring — are even more important in Africa nowadays. It is evident that Japan and other East Asian countries followed a noticeably different course from that recommended by the neoliberal Washington Consensus. Their policies worked; all too often, those of the Washington Consensus failed wretchedly. African countries will benefit from reflecting on these successes and failures, and on what they mean for their own development strategies.


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