Sunday, September 26, 2010

Western vs Eastern Perspectives on Africa's Development

During the 19th century until the first World War in 1914, Africa has been the object of invasions and colonisation by most Western European countries. The entire continent was annexed as colonies by Belgium France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Those countries found in Africa the resources needed for the European development and the raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, and tin. The geographic design of many colonies was inspired by the need to easily export those goods via the ocean. It is visible on this partial map of West Africa where all countries have an ocean access.
This geographic design was contrary to the local population's interest as it forced different tribes to live together against their natural affinity. Along the cost you would find fishermen tribes, further inland you would find farmers cultivating the land and higher in the plains you would find cow breeders tribes. The colonies' borders were cutting across these tribes, separating them by country and forcing fisherman, farmers and breeders to live together.

The only colony created by the United States was Liberia created to accept emigration of free black slaves. This colonisation attempt was against the will of the native people.
While the French colonies represented a more significant surface area occupied, it was the British colonies that hosted the largest populations.

In general, the trade balance between the colonies and the colonial power was in favor of the latest as they were selling more goods to the colony than they would buy from it.

It then took more than 20 years to see the African colonies access to freedom starting in 1951 with Libya. While "free", the same pattern of exploitation by the colonial power would basically continue. This was sometimes called the "neocolonialism". The USA had a growing influence during the post-colonial era as Africa became the target for the communist bloc and the cold war propagated in Africa. The USA were supporting often rogue government to stop the increasing influence of the USSR in the region. As an example, Angola has been the subject of a civil war after the end of the war for independence from Portugal in 1975. The war featured conflict between two primary Angolan factions, the communist MPLA and the anti-communist UNITA. lasting 27 years during which an estimated 500,000 people were killed.

So basically, the development of Africa for the last two centuries until the end of the 20th century was heavily influenced if not controlled by the Western countries (Western Europe and the USA).

Then as China and India fast growing economies required more access to natural resources, they became more involved in Africa. Over the past decade, the Asian powers have consolidated their presence on the African continent through trade, investment, aid and migration.

It is interesting to compare the Easter perception of Africa's development with the Western perception that prevailed until recently. This has been very well described by Fiona Dwinger in a report published by Consultancy Africa Intelligence: Opportunity versus Risk: Differing Perspectives on Africa’s Development 
I will summarize it here. 

The basic difference between the Western and the Eastern perception of Africa is that Western countries see Africa as a high risk business while Eastern countries see it as a business opportunity. 

Western Perception: High Risk

- Western industrialized states have traditionally shared the view of “helping” Africa.
Western strategy is aid-based development assistance, focusing on issues such as health, education, poverty reduction and, more recently, good governance
- Over the past forty years Western aid has not been correlated with a significant improvement in the African people’s standard of living.
- The Western system of development assistance has led to a high dependency on external help and has thus stifled innovation, entrepreneurship as well as hindered Africans from taking their fate into their own hands.
- Developmental projects funded by aid – such as the building of schools and health care centers – are often not sustainable and fall into decay once their control is handed over to local Governments.

Eastern Perception: Opportunity

- Asia’s involvement in Africa is much more diverse than that of the West.
Asian interest in Africa is not limited to resource-extraction but has rather brought with it opportunities for growth.
- The building of roads, railways, harbors and the expansion of telecommunications is of mutual benefit to both Asia and Africa.
- Asia reduces the costs associated with logistical inefficiency and of transporting raw materials from their source to harbors for export
- Africans gain from externalities whereby the cost and time of transporting goods - and thus of doing business in general - is reduced.

In her report, Fiona Dwinger also addresses the Western concerns (in particular from the USA about China's investments in Africa) of the Chinese non-interference policy. "The United Sates, for example, argues that by investing in or giving aid to (Western labelled) pariahs such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, the Chinese Government is directly influencing the ability of these despotic regimes to hold onto power...  The United States’ argument is rather contradictory considering that by investing in China, American businesses are also supporting a state with a questionable human rights record."

"In addition, treating African recipient countries as equal partners and not dictating the conditions of development assistance and thus controlling the domestic policy space". This is another major difference with the West which seems to subject their support to conditions of African countries adopting certain Western values. I spoke about those in preceding postings:

See you later alligator....

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