Is Africa the next Asia?
A texitile factory in Uganda, photographed in 2003.
April 18th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Is Africa the next Asia?

Editor's Note: Richard Aidoo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Geography, Coastal Carolina University.

By Richard Aidoo, The Diplomat

The rhetoric surrounding Africa, or at least the continent’s economic development, appears to be changing.

Despite the ongoing global economic turmoil, a number of African nations have been making impressive strides in their development, a point underscored by The Economist’s decision recently to run a leader describing Africa as the “hopeful continent,” drawing a clear contrast to its cover story “The Hopeless Continent” a decade ago.

And the continent’s leaders are now looking east for their inspiration. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for example, has said he hopes to eventually transform his country’s economy into the “Singapore of Central Africa.” Such sentiments tap into the vast and growing repository of Afro-optimism, an optimism that sees sustained economic growth as the future, even as the north of the continent is embroiled in domestic political turmoil and uprisings.

So, is it Africa’s time to replicate the economic growth feats of Asia? This may seem like a herculean task, but given the recent economic gains made in countries like Ghana, which posted 13.5 percent growth last year as it casts off the failed economic policies of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the success of recent BRICS addition South Africa, there’s now hope for an “African miracle.”

Why China Succeeds in Africa

But if Asia is the guide for Africa’s economic miracle, then the Asian foundations of a strong state and supporting institutions must be made a reality in Africa. The examples of China and Japan loom large in the minds of many African leaders and elites. Yet in contrasts with these two Asian giants, the post-independent African state is still encumbered with significant structural weaknesses, a lack of professionalism and an excess of cronyism, patronage and other corrupt practices that would make even officials involved in some of China’s most notorious cases of corruption blush. This lingering image has undermined efforts to settle on a positive economic agenda in Africa, even when visionary leaders of developmentally-oriented states such as Mauritius and Botswana have emerged.

Some argue that the East Asian model of state-driven economic growth might not be suitable for African states, given the apparent weaknesses in their leaders’ characters (this isn’t to mention the somewhat troubling view that Africans are inherently not up to the task of producing sustained and healthy economic growth). With this in mind, some argue that the social, historical and structural weaknesses demonstrated by many African states suggest that their economies would instead be better off relying on market incentives, i.e., the Southeast Asian path beaten by Singapore and Indonesia.

Regardless of the model that African nations choose to follow, achieving the enviable growth patterns of some Asian economies will require the strengthening of intra-regional trade. Africa’s recent economic gains have been mainly driven by external trade, especially with emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Korea. A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute puts intra-African trade at a lowly 12 percent, about half that achieved in Latin America. This is despite almost a billion consumers residing in the African continent, meaning that intra-African trade should no longer be perceived as an insignificant element of any country’s economy, but rather a potential path toward market consolidation and leverage for African markets in the global economy. China and other Asian economies offer clear examples of the benefits of looking local as well as outside the region.

Why China Wins Africa Game

Another vital element in Africa’s future that chimes with the Asian experience is industrialization. This is where African governments really need to shift the economic discourse, away from a focus simply on commodities to a more diversified economic base that adds value to these products. Achieving this will require efficient and ultimately well-maintained infrastructure, a challenge that African leaders must face up to and address quickly. Interestingly, it is on this very issue that Asia, particularly in the form of increased Chinese investment, is able to offer practical assistance toward achieving this goal (although African nations must also be careful that they don’t miss out on opportunities to develop their own manufacturing sectors, rather than relying on imports and expertise from China).

Another key to African success will be following best practice in success stories like Singapore, particularly the city-state’s merit-based approach to bureaucracy. Whether its growth is state-driven or laissez-faire, a well-organized bureaucratic system should recognize and reward genuine talent. If Africa wants to replicate Asia’s success stories, it will need to work harder to ensure that merit displaces cronyism and elitism as the determiner of progress.

China: Africa’s Other Kony

African nations are in a better position to achieve and maintain economic growth than at any time in their post-independent histories. And, in spite of the sporadic political and civil conflict that persists in parts of the continent, there have been many signs of a growing political maturity. With political discipline and a focus on merit-based critical institutions, the social cohesion necessary for sustained economic growth is gradually emerging, which should allow the continent to take advantage of its rich natural resources.

And, looking ahead, Africa has another potential advantage – a youthful population with a hunger for change. Many of the uprisings in support of democracy across the continent have been championed by disaffected young people bitten by the technology bug and anxious for opportunities. For these young and driven Africans, change isn’t a distant hope, but something achievable. The memories of colonial exploitation are receding further into the rearview mirror as young Africans look forward.

Should Asia Try to Rescue Europe?

Ultimately, of course, building on Africa’s current economic gains will take a mix of optimism and dispassionate study of success stories like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. But even though the historical settings may differ, the promises of some African leaders to chart a course similar to Asia’s should be seen as the best way of lifting millions of Africans out of poverty – and beyond.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Richard Aidoo.

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Topics: Africa • Economy

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soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Jesse Parent

    Africa's development will be important to watch, and is appropriate to underscore China's influence.

    Ghana's blossoming is welcomed, and hopefully other African countries will try to take the best from the already developed nations.

    April 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • John Phillips

      Ghana is a great example of what can happen in Africa as a whole. Unfortunately, for every Ghana, there is a Nigeria. Corruption is so rampant in Nigeria that it is no wonder that the level of internal strife has increased to the level that is now present. I know from personal experience that bribery and corruption is present at all levels of government and society. Bribery is almost a value added tax in order to get even the most mundane tasks accomplished. What is true in Nigeria is also true in placed such as Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Central African Republic, just to name a few.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  2. George Patton

    While Africa may not become the next Asia, it stands a good chance of continuing to make great strides if the United States, Great Britain and France don't interfere extensively in their internal affairs with the C.I.A., the notorious British MI-6 and the French Intelligence Services. The less interference from these countries, the better!

    April 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • Proud Wolverine

      By "interference" – I assume you mean all those nasty dollars we've been flushing down that sinkhole for the last 100 years ?

      April 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
      • Scintillation

        No.. more like 50 – 60 yrs ago where you plundered everything possible and acted worse than barbarians, in search for diamonds and minerals..

        April 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
      • Abram

        You plunder and stole billions, but sink a few millions into the hole. You sound like an African hater, a racist – as you're known in the West.

        April 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
      • powatodappl

        Ok, us 'pouring' money into those countries is an illusion. US foreign aid does little to actually affect poverty abroad, but it does create the illusion that we are pumping money from the states to other countries, when it is overwhelmingly the opposite. Look at the data- most all of the worst countries where we have aid there is a net gain from the united states. We have corporations taking over natural resources and blackmailing, lieing, and cheating countries into adopting the free market package of privatizing national industries, full expatriation of profits, and getting rid of environmental and worker protection laws. We buy up their resources because we have money and they don't (and that has nothing to do with centuries of colonialism and slavery...) then all the profits head back here. Providing a little emergency aid while we are pillaging them distracts from what is going on.

        April 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
      • 100% ETHIO

        Europe is the root of evil. Some of their secret Agents already caused Millions of lives and divided people and Countries in Africa, not to mentioned the Trillions of Dollars worth natural resources robbed from Africa, since the Euro-evils invasion times and until now.
        The Eurevils never admitted the mass murder they caused and they did and the natural resources they robbed.

        April 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • brrryce

      Well said!

      April 19, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
    • qq

      I would be ecstatic if the US canceled all foreign aid today. I would be overjoyed if the US stayed out of Africa.

      April 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
      • JUGGERNAUT

        I wonder hat will happen if Africa stop giving it's resources to USA and start only doing business with China.

        April 19, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
      • Kelso

        I wonder hat will happen if Africa stop giving it's resources to USA and start only doing business with China.
        --

        Nothing would happen.

        April 20, 2012 at 8:52 am |
      • Patrick

        Foreign aid or (development assistance) is often regarded as being too much, or wasted on corrupt recipient governments despite any good intentions from donor countries.
        There are numerous forms of aid, from humanitarian emergency assistance, to food aid, military assistance, etc. Development aid has long been recognized as crucial to help poor developing nations grow out of poverty.

        April 21, 2012 at 11:49 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Here's just more right-wing bla-bla-bla from this Patrick here who keeps on belly-hooing U.S. foreign policy trying to convince the rest of us just how much U.S. foreign ais is "helping" the people in Africa. In fact, the only people the State Department "helped" are the right-wing dictators over there!

        April 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
      • Patrick

        I wonder if you could explain to me how the statement I made is "right-wing?"

        April 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
      • Jaosn

        Have you ever heard the phrase " Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime"? This is an example of the difference in American and Chinese investment in Africa. Even though China is buying up mines and resources in Africa ( which is now being greatly regulated by many African countries), China will build a mine but also create a training facility, a school, and a highway in the neighboring area. In addition they will employ the locals. Giving large amounts of aid is a big scam. First of all those programs are corrupt because everyone has to get their fair share before it reaches the poor. Do the research. Many of these donations and non-profit organizations are lies. If they wanted to help poor people they would invest in the countries. Giving them a new village or paying for food for a year is not as beneficial as giving them sustainable employment and wages. How did the Industrial Revolution occur? Poor people were employed increasing economic output. Don't send aid invest in a country

        June 20, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • CW

      Yes, the new Chinese masters will be much nicer....Sheesh.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  3. ✠ RZ ✠  

    At the rate China is weaseling their way in there, could be.

    April 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • miller

      Yeah the American way is far better than weaseling. Just start a war based on dubious intelligence and invade; it cost a lot more and makes you dreadfully unpopular, but it get's the job done.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        Only until the cycle repeats itself.

        April 21, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • tdsd

      China is only conducting commercial business but westerners, envious of its success, constantly tagged it as neo-colonialism. Africans are not fooled.

      April 20, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
      • Abram

        Thank you, China – Africa loves you.

        April 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        Given the choice of an exploitive relation with the West, Russia, China, Israel, or Al Quaeda..........I would start looking for more choices. Like Australia, Canada, or Uruguay or something. Deal with counties that are more or less content with themselves and have no real need or desire to take you over or suck the life out of you. And let the others either explode or implode until they realize their own inherent limitations.

        April 21, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  4. stevchipmunk

    A big reason for Africa's growth in GDP has been the fast growth of its population. The flip side of this has been that per capital GDP has not grown much - so there continually is grinding poverty. So African economic growth has been more in line with Indian economic growth: significant total GDP growth, fast growth in wealth by a thin strata of the population, but with most of the population still mired in grinding poverty.

    In East Asia, both total GDP and per capita GDP growth has been amazing - because the economies have been growing with population held in check voluntarily or by government fiat (as in Mainland China).

    Africa has got to check its exploding population.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:41 am | Reply
    • JUGGERNAUT

      FALSE.......many African counties have now a growing middle class.

      April 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
      • Kelso

        No

        April 20, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Abram

      I beg to differ; conversely, Africa needs more of young educated population. Most of its grown-ups today are not properly educated and are not adequately amenable to the guidance of the enlightened few. Even in elections, the crony of the ignorant (a criminal himself) wins and favors only his votaries. The disenchanted resort to arms and other vicious means to actuate justice. Once the African developed minds reach a critical mass, Africa will become a second to none. It's a mind thing – the examples cited are a great hope. All the best, Africa, the rising sun.

      April 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  5. Benedict

    African countries have beeen showing signs of emerging from a hopelesss path to one of growth and development. This mostly been as a result of the civil movement away from military rule which causes more bad than good. However,the democratically elected officials of these nation must fight the need to enrich their friends and family at the expense of the unelected masses while pouring financial resources in infrastructural and human projects.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:19 am | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    this site is jammed!

    April 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      No, Africa has – despite its natural resources – still a long way to go to improve its human resources. Education and ethics still leave much to be desired. The Asians in general are very ambitious.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  7. RealityBasedIndependent

    I tried in 1999 to start a business in Eastern Africa. No one was willing to provide capital for a startup in Africa. The most common reaction I received when I brought up the idea was "Why would you want to try to do business there????? All they have is drought and HIV."

    Maybe I was just ahead of my time!

    April 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • 100% ETHIO

      HIV and drought are originated from Europe. Since they can't compute with Africans Pinus, they created the virus called, HIV, to destroy Africans. Most of the Jewish and Europeans become overnight Billionaires and Millionaires, the financial embezzlement and bribery that has been gained from Africa, through foolishly convinced African leaders.

      Just think about where these Condominium builders got the Money and resources.
      Most of the African leaders are placed by Western choice, but not by Africans.

      April 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  8. Akahn

    No Africa is not the next Asia because you would have to totally remove the African Continent from the tectonic plates and then stretch the Asian continent somehow to where Africa once was. Media has got to stop using these stupid phrases such as "this is the new that" or "this is going to be the next that". The next Africa will be Africa until a meteor or something totally obliterates the entire land mass...

    April 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  9. jim stanek

    Wow...this is amazing. the number of times the author says stuff like "is africa the new asia" and "China: Africa's other Kony." What the heck is he smoking?

    So, you have effectively reduced the meaning, understanding and definition of the word "Asia" to one thing?!

    Be original, please. Consider ALL the other countries in "Asia" before making repeated sweeping generalizations. Countries like Cambodia, Laos, India I'm sure don't make your list...nor do all African countries.

    The fatuous article is full of word associations intended to conjure up clear images, when all they do is reinforce stereotypes.

    Africa's Singapore...Africa as the New Asia...

    give it a rest and quit comparing the countries of one continent to those of another. (p.s. and please stop trying to make value/judgment calls on issues- this is supposed to be news...! "Should Asia try rescue Europe?" Didnt realize Europe was in need of rescuing. And I don't know if you are qualified to judge whether or not they "SHOULD" do anything. Arrogant. Priceless. CNN.

    In other words, we could just say that the author of this article has contributed greatly to making:

    "CNN the new FOX." whatever the f that means.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  10. jim stanek

    We could just call "Toilet Paper: the new CNN."

    At least we can do something useful with Toilet Paper.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  11. jim stanek

    Or..."America: the new Stupid."

    This makes more sense than "Africa: the new Asia."

    April 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  12. jim stanek

    Sorry... "next" Asia. "Africa: the next Asia."

    How about "CNN: the next National Enquirer."

    Pretty damn apt, in my opinion.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  13. jim stanek

    Can't wait till you stooges post an article called "White: the next Black."

    This would be quite in line with CNN's ongoing attempts to demonize and devaluate white americans.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
    • CalJ

      THAT WOULD BE AN INSULT TO BLACK PEOPEL!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  14. SNJ

    Unlike other areas, Africa has a lot of potential for growth and development. What is needed is less corruption and cronyism as the author stated (and that will be the biggest hurdle). The continent has the cash and resources...it doesn't have many governments willing to distribute the resources reasonably and efficiently in order to develop infrastructure, education, businesses....hopefully that's where the younger generation will step in and reverse this trend.

    April 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  15. vistarian2011

    Remotely possible, but only if Africa's politicians and their military become suddenly honest and intelligent managers of their countries.

    Take the case of Nigeria, it is a country which proliferate stupid internet scams and tricking equally stuipid netizens.. Many Nigerian men have been arrested in some Asian cities – for cheating and drug smuggling.

    That is what most Asians think of Nigerians – as an example for all Africa.. Nigeria could have become a risingTiger if not for their culture of corruption and dishonesty.

    One can ttoday easily count the vast number of corrupt and incompetent men running Africa's states. There is even one dictator who actually runs the country in a luxury yatcht docked far out in the sea ! He is scared for his own life, while his country's inflation run into 4 digit figures.

    A country can only succeed if the top is clean. And held accountable.

    Africa must kick out its military leaders from politics. Because these are really average people who are robbing their own country while holding the country in ransom with their guns..

    April 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  16. Laura

    No, it is unlikely. It is like saying that Louisiana is going to match Maryland's average income in the next decade. Perhaps in the next 'decade of millenniums".

    April 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  17. Aristocles

    These expectations are overly optimistic at best, and insane at worst. Africa has far too much entrenched corruption, tribalism, disease, and civil war to be anywhere near Europe, whose socioeconomic systems the world currently runs on, Asia, a continent with 6000 years of civilization, or North America, home to the most powerful country by far.

    April 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  18. FirenzeH

    There are only less than 10 continents. The 'next' here is so cheap

    April 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  19. Terrible_Ted

    Africa the birthplace of mankind yet these idiots have never advanced themselves. The infrastructure was created by the colonial powers. The uneducated African masses have no clue as to how to run an economy or government.

    April 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • A2Z

      You are stupid

      May 29, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
  20. abdulkadirmahamud

    Before Africans try to develop and put their eyes on the future they must first shutter the shackles of inferiority complex and start believing in themselves. As Buddha said " you are what your thoughts are"

    April 20, 2012 at 12:19 am | Reply
  21. ✠ RZ ✠

    At least give China credit for respecting our Christmas traditions! It seems that every year they keep bringing us more, and more of their presence.

    April 20, 2012 at 4:22 am | Reply
  22. Common Sense

    Africa the next colony in a global government and economy.Since the international bankers can't seem to conrol China anymore they'll simply dangle the carrot in from of Africa the new source of cheap exploitable labor.

    April 20, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
    • Testiclees

      First someone has to teach them how to do something worth exploiting.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  23. Jason Glugla

    We are just going to keep growing the world's population and economies. More people all consuming more of limited resources and doing more damage to the planet. We sure is smart.

    April 20, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
  24. sugarendra

    Like in Asia,one of the biggest problems in Africa is corruption,which won't go away in a hurry.

    April 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  25. Europe One

    In general, Africans inherently do not have the necessary hard-working ethics and the smartness of the Asians.
    Unfortunately, they will never catch up with the rest of the world, unless a miracle happens. They got so far behind
    already. The in-fighting did not help.

    April 22, 2012 at 5:56 am | Reply
  26. waira fred

    Africa has all that it takes to become a far better place than what the western media has potrayed for all those decades.
    Like what YK Museveni says, Africa is the biggest Donar to the Western world. Africa Donated to USA free labour for generations through African slaves, Africa donated free mineral resources to the colonists(Britain, France, Belguim, Germany, Portugal Etc). And Africa is still donating its minerals in raw form meaning it fetch little pay(prices set by the westerners) and yet buy products made from those very minerals at high price(prices set by the westerners). Those very mineral resources are the ones that feed their industries meaning we give their people jobs which would otherwise be of Africans.
    Africa still has to work very hard to counter western unfair reportage because the western world will always come up with something to cause fear to the world through its well developed media. A case in point is when Kony who is actually history in Uganda, after the Government defeated him about 5yrs ago, is now becoming big news in the western media and the reportage is as if Kony is still terrorising Northern Uganda. This affects potential investers who would like to come and do business and still more it affects Uganda's tourism industry. Where was the western media and the USA forces when Kony was actively doing those harvocs in Uganda. Does it have to take them 5yrs to realise what Ugandan fought 5yrs ago. Anyway since they failed to do the needful at that time then they should keep quite. Africans will come up victorious in there affairs even if it may takes long.

    May 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  27. China Hood

    Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a thirty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone! China Hood http://www.robinhoodchina.info

    January 31, 2013 at 5:14 am | Reply
  28. sadpon

    What???

    April 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  29. Nick

    dont know why u went on to talk incoherently about India. the only relevent comment u made was that there is nothing for Africa because the US and UK only support their allies, which doesnt even make sense.......since what has been achieved in Africa isnt the US or UK's doing.

    you are right that democratic nations are arming themselves, but when there are threats being flung every which way, nations falling into civil war, and rogue, independent groups of radicals running around trying to kill people, do you blame us? also

    i do not agree with the spread of nuclear weapons though, they are a scourge to our society and i wish every nation destroyed its stock piles......but thats never going to happen >.>

    April 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  30. Marek

    You are obviously a low-life Arab attempting to badmouth those that you dislike. Good luck though as you are not at all in a position to do so as the permanent major low life form on earth, it will only get worse for you, just wait until you can no longer take oil out of soil which is what you rely on. You don't produce anything, you only know how to limit freedom and punish. Turks, for instance, are ages ahead of you, and they can criticize you all they want, don't flatter yourself. Turkey is the world's 15th largest economy with the 2nd highest growth rate after China. They are a respected member of the western world, a NATO member, an EU candidate which comes with meeting high criteria including human rights. Turks live like eastern Europeans. You should try to improve yourselves instead of posting such random nonsense driven with inferiority complex since that will not take you anywhere.

    April 20, 2012 at 2:57 am | Reply

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