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This is why Africa needs equity more than economic efficiency

Tuesday October 8 2019

China

Chinese performers dance at a gala in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China is focused on delivering equity. PHOTO | NOEL CELIS | AFP 

KENNEDY CHESOLI
By KENNEDY CHESOLI
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To mark the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing put on display a mix of spectacular ceremonial activities and military parades.

Beyond sending a message that China was no longer a military pushover, observers were impressed by the unheralded social and economic successes of the communist republic.

In a few decades, pragmatic government policies and interventions have pulled close to a billion people out of poverty and eradicated extreme poverty.

Africa, the poster child of destitution, should find inspiration in China’s transformation from an overpopulated, poverty-stricken Third World nation to the second-most powerful one.

Western scholars and institutions that have long championed the superiority of democracy and private sector-led growth are at pains understanding this.

WEALTHY FEW

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Evidently, democracy is overrated, particularly as a determinant of social and economic prosperity and inclusion.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, African nations were forced into adopting Western-style democracy with term limits and competitive elections.

However, this may have been a worthless arm-twisting exercise since the socioeconomic well-being in the compliant countries is not any better than in the “autocratic” regimes.

Regulation of business activity is the uncontested role of the State, yet the target beneficiaries are remarkably different for the capitalist West and the communist China.

Since the Reagan administration that lasted the entire 1980s, the US government has increasingly undertaken reforms and regulations that advance cost-saving, efficiency and inherently benefit corporations more than the American people.

Whereas taxes are steadily raised on the people, corporations and their wealthy owners enjoy massive tax breaks. As a result, public schools and municipalities are starved of critical cash.

EQUITY

President Donald Trump has repeatedly acknowledged that America’s core infrastructure is dilapidated and risks collapsing, yet his administration remains beholden to big business. The decay continues unabated.

In contrast, communist China is focused on delivering equity and has found a formula for a healthy mix of capitalism and socialism. State regulation and spending is in favour of the collective many.

The number of dollar billionaires and entrepreneurs on mainland China is on the rise, yet much of the economic activity is steered by the State.

In China, benefits generated by the system are shared, or, as they say, the economic tide lifts every boat, not a select few. Equity, it appears, is a major consideration in Chinese overseas dealings.

Compared to industrialised nations, Beijing’s development cooperation is less discriminatory. China is spending massive resources in critical infrastructure and productive capacities in countries long bypassed by global financial systems.

DAMS SCANDAL

Virtually all advanced nations achieved economic transformation by being self-centric. Instead of lifting other nations along the way, they exploited, colonised and occupied them.

In contrast, Africa’s ongoing revival is, undoubtedly, tied to Beijing’s activities.

Shall we continue implementing Western dictates on democracy and governance or forge independent pathways that are quintessentially African and responsive to our uniqueness as a people?

By cancelling and scaling down the dams in Elgeyo-Marakwet, President Uhuru Kenyatta chose efficiency over equity — a decision likely to have serious long-term ramifications for communities historically marginalised and isolated from national development.

On the basis of equity, arid and semi-arid communities deserve their dams and more. Anything else would simply leave them stuck in abject poverty even as other regions get superhighways, universities, the SGR and industrial parks.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected] @kenchesoli

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