Many nations of Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America started off on a similar footing 20 years after gaining their independence at roughly the same time were faced with problems of underdevelopment, corruption and ethnic conflicts. Yet today, countries of South Africa and Latin America are one of the world’s most poorest nations with children likely to die under the age of five while adults are least likely to live beyond 50, but South East Asian countries have seen unprecedented growths in Gross National Product per capita (GNP) at an average of 6% which was then unmatched by all other regions of the World.
The crucial question to ask would be why were the countries of East and South-East Asia more successful than the countries of Africa and Latin America in promoting economic growth in the post colonial period? To answer this question, it is important to examine both the weakness of the Latin American and Sub- Saharan African countries and the strengths of the “Asian Tigers’ of East Asia. One of the weaknesses of the Latin American and Sub- Saharan African countries was that they possessed a corrupted government.
These governments often lived extravagant and ludicrously luxurious lives by imposing high taxes which go into the pockets of theirs and then siphoning off international aid and funding which was intended to be spent on important tasks such as rebuilding the infrastructure of the country. Such a case would be Zambia’s president Frederick Chiluba who pocketed much of the international aid and allowed cabinet ministers to award themselves huge pensions, mansions and public contracts.
While the common people lacked even a decent mean of transport, these ministers were driving imported Mercedes limousines. This occurred at the expense of the common people who lived in perpetual poverty and being unable to equip themselves with the crucial skills due to the lack of education were thus incapable of finding jobs and completely stripped of the opportunity to escape from the vicious cycle of poverty.
Subsequently, with people unable to contribute to the economy, there was no way the economy of these Latin American and Sub- Saharan African countries were able to improve. Not to mention, the lack of basic infrastructure arising due to the absence of funds injected into developing them and this included an efficient transport, communications and sanitary systems meant that the whole environment of these countries were economically unsustainable and unviable for initiating the start-up of industries.
This only worsened the economic situation of these countries. In contrary, the governments of South East Asia (SEA) exercised a policy of transparency and honesty. Take for example Singapore which under the governance of the People Action’s Party (PAP) has been voted repeatedly as one of the least corrupted countries in Asian according to a poll taken by Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).
The lack of corruption in Singapore is due to the government’s efforts in combating corruption through the establishment of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). Such an untainted government meant that every effort was put into developing the country’s economy whether it might be through the wise and efficient use of local funds to build up the infrastructure necessary to support industries or provide amenities to improve the standard of living of the people to motivate them to generate economic growth for the country.
Thus, the presence of an uncorrupted government in SEA countries while the years of corruption in Latin American testifies to the fact One of the strengths of the countries of SEA which allowed them to promote economic growth was that of political stability. Such a politically stable climate is important for promoting economic growth insofar as it cultivates an environment conducive for commercial activity and the attraction of foreign investors who develop a country economically and help it to emerge from the throes of acute poverty.
Take for example in Singapore. The PAP has been in power for 42 years and under the PAP’s stable and peaceful governance, Singapore has attracted much foreign investors like Magnolia Diaries Limited from America and the royal Dutch/ Shell group of companies which in 1961 set up a $30 million oil refinery in Singapore. A peaceful political climate provided them with a sense of security that their investment would not be destroyed in incidents like racial and ethnic conflicts or political upheavals.
In contrary, in Latin American and Sub- Saharan African countries like Nigeria or Congo, political upheavals and the hostile atmosphere of the undercurrents of popular revolutions scare investors away. Ethnic violence between Christians and Muslims in Ambon for example and more recently the slaughter of Madurese immigrants in Kalimantan by the Payaks in Indonesia have created a climate fraught with danger and instability. Thus, a political stable climate in the countries of SEA explains why they were more successful than the countries of Africa and Latin America in promoting economic growth in the post colonial period.
Another strength of the countries of SEA which allowed them to promote economic growth was that they did not possess a colonial legacy as serious as that of the countries of Africa and Latin America. Both continents were left with a backward economy which was predominated by an agrarian system that was monoculture and thus highly price elastic as it had many others substitutes. It is this high price elasticy which causes them to be so volatile to prices and is the main reason why economies of both continents were highly unstable.
However, while the elite of countries of Africa and Latin America never developed indigenous models but instead tried to transplant Europe to Africa by trying to purge what was the deepest and most authentic in their cultures, one common feature of Western colonialism in East Asia was that it had never managed to supplant historical tradition- be it the emphasis on education, the hierarchical respects for elders or the religious traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism and in Indonesia and Malaysia, Islam which had came later.
This was asserted by Basil Davidson, a renowned British Scholar who mentioned in his book ” The Black Men’s Burden” how European colonialism there had set out to deny and eventually eliminate the continent’s pre colonial history and in that, the Europeans found willing accomplices among Africa’s European- oriented elite, the “modernisers”, who were in constant conflict with Africa’s “traditionalists”. These modernising Africans clung to the notion that anything traditional was by definition primitive.
And it was these elite that came to the forefront of the independence movements and imposed European models on their new African states. Such an action was never feasible as it was impossible that the local tribes of Africa would just give up and wipe off from their memories the traditions that they have held on for so long and lived by them. Such a move only entailed the continual hostility of the local tribesmen towards these “modernisers” and only widens the gap between them.
A lack of unity would mean that the people of Sub-Saharan Africa were incapable of channelling and combining their efforts into generating economic growth and the perpetual hostility only resulted in more conflicts between both spectrums of people that subsequently scared away foreign investors which were critical in establishing the basic foundations for industrialisation. On the contrary, East Asian countries have managed to draw support from their cultural traditions that fostered order, hierarchal and stability.
The Confucian tradition example which encourages a disciplined work ethnic and a stable political system is widespread throughout East Asia. By preserving their culture, people of SEA are unified by a common identity and through cooperation and team-spirit are able to focus their efforts on generating economic growth instead of squabbling and fighting over which culture to embrace as in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The fourth strength of the countries of SEA which allowed them to promote economic growth was that there existed between them an alliance between strong leaders and a national consensus among them to pursue long-term common goals together. One of this is clearly seen in the direction of economic policy, concerning land redistribution in Korea and Taiwan and large scale investments in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Another feature is seen in the regional association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which formed in 8 August 1967 combined the strengths of member countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia to promote economic, social and cultural development in the region. ASEAN members have indeed cooperated to improve their economies through promoting trade and these countries have benefited from the transfer of technology from Japan.
Thus, such an alliance and common organisation that existed in SEA provides an opportunity for prosperous countries to provide help and assist developing countries in industrialising. As a result, these developing countries open their markets to the exports and this result in an economically “win-win” relationship between them which eventually could extend to the whole of SEA with each increasing establishment of good ties and links regardless whether it be trade, cultural or political between countries.
On the contrary, Latin American and Sub- Saharan African countries often lacked such an organisation which members could seek to extend their aid to one another. Thus, with the lack of such a bond and unifying relationship, these countries often find it hard to industrialise and diversify their economy.
Thus, it can seen that the presence of an common organization in the countries of SEA explains why they were more successful than the countries of Africa and Latin America in promoting economic growth in the post colonial period. The fifth strength of the countries of East and South-East Asia is associated with the fact that they were not burdened by huge mounting debts that were commonly faced by countries of Sub- Saharan Africa.
While countries of Sub- Saharan Africa ended up with heavy debt loads due to their lack of competency in utilizing the funds and this is shown by swollen public sectors and overvalued exchange rates, countries of SEA were relatively free of such burdens as their uncorrupted governments were able to maximise the efficiency of their own revenue by channelling them into industrial projects, infrastructure development and the building up of amenities to improve the standard of living of the people and were able to do all these without diverting any of their national income into paying interest on debts.
Even if they had to borrow funds from organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, SEA countries through their careful usage of funds in investing in profitable industrial projects were prompt in returning their loan without suffering the drawbacks of excessive interest payments. Thus, the lack of debt in countries of East and South-East Asia explains for why they were more successful than the countries of Africa and Latin America in promoting economic growth in the post colonial period.
The sixth strength of the countries of East and South-East Asia is associated with the fact that their governments often implemented sound economic policies and they ensured that there was continuity of these policies. In East Asian Nations, there is a very sensible relationship between governments and private enterprises. Singapore encourages private enterprises fervently.
It has provided excellent infrastructure in the form of the Jurong Island and Jurong Industrial parks which are linked by roads, telecommunication links, presence of ancillary industries and the airport and seaport. Economic development and investment are promoted under the dedicated bodies: the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Trade and Development Board (TDB). There are few state owned enterprises. This has led to a flurry of foreign investment and a rise in the standard of living.
On the contrary, some African countries have pursued misguided economic policies. Tanzania is a case in point. Julius Nyerere came to power in 1961. In 1967, ke moved the country in a socialist direction. The sisal industry and banks were neutralized. Collective farming in the form of Ujumua villages was introduced. The result was industrious. The developed countries in the world halted investments. In 1960, Nyerere exacerbated the problem by criticising America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
As a result, Tanzania’s economy was irreversibly damaged and poverty is still present. Thus, it can be seen that the implementation of sound economic policies in the countries of SEA explains why they were more successful than the countries of Africa and Latin America in promoting economic growth in the post colonial period. Therefore, from all this factors, it could be clearly determined that why the countries of Latin America and Africa were less successful that the countries of SEA were in promoting economic growth.