Africa’s population is expected to double in the coming years according to the World Bank. The continent currently has the largest population of young people as compared to other continents across the globe. This means that African governments must create conducive macroeconomic environment to deal with the triple challenges of high levels of unemployment, poverty and socioeconomic inequality if the continent is to successfully rid itself with the ‘dark continent’ tag.
In their series of books in providing advice to African policymakers, authors Dr Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasango, Hailemariam Desalegn and Emily Van Der Merwe echo this sentiment. In their latest edition titled The Asian Aspiration- Why And How Africa Should Emulate Asia, they take a look at what African governments can learn from their Asian counterparts in order to improve the economic well-being of many people, especially the poor. The scribes use what they call the ‘ten tigers’ of Asia (economically advanced countries of Asia) as their case study.
Before I started perusing through the pages, the title of the book left me with so many unanswered questions. Do the authors think all Asian countries are economically and politically advanced as opposed to all African states if the entire continent should emulate them? Secondly, why should Africa emulate Asia while many East Asian countries are under autocratic rule, with China being one of those leading countries under such a system? Upon digging in the content, I think maybe the title of the book could have been made clear that the focus will be on the economic growth lessons that Africa can draw from the East Asian countries and that only, because the generic view creates a bit of misunderstanding.
I was disappointed throughout, as the authors’ strategically decided to solely focus on the economic growth of the so-called ‘ ten tigers’ without thoroughly emphasising on the point that democracy is non-existent in those countries. This begs the question of whether economic growth should trump democracy. The Asian Aspiration creates a perception that it is okay for governments to only focus on economic growth while neglecting the citizens’ basic human democratic rights like the Chinese have done for years, great economy growth story but abuse of human rights and the media by the government.
One positive thing that I think readers, especially current African Presidents can take as a lesson, is how education, accountability and building strong institutions can be used as important vehicles of development for any country. The book is well-researched, more especially the first part of it where many Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan’s economic rise from the bottom ladder of the world’s economy is fully depicted. The text is very much academic and one that readers will have to take slowly in order to fully grasp it.
The Asian Aspiration is a book that many African policymakers and heads of state should read in their bid to turn the economic fortunes of this continent for the next generation. Another great work from the Brenthurst Foundation researchers, as the book does contributes to the discourse of political economy in Africa.