David Henley. (2015). Asia-Africa Development Divergence: A Question of Intent. Zed Books

After gaining freedom from colonial rule in the 1960s, Southeast Asian countries were even poorer than sub-Saharan African countries. However, within nearly 50 years Southeast Asian countries have succeeded sub-Saharan Africa in socio-political and economic aspects, achieving the goals of poverty reduction, health, education, public health, etc. Meanwhile, the life of sub-Saharan countries is still not better today than it was 50 years ago.

In his book “Asia-Africa Development Divergence: A Question of Intent”, David Henly identified the following three features of divergence: macroeconomic stability, economic freedom, and pro-poor public spending (including agriculture development and rural infrastructure) in which, pro-poor public spending is the most important.

Henley argued that economic benefits would not promote socio-economic development without proper policy to reallocate resources to the poor. The key is to develop rural programs that focus on food resources

Set in Vietnam in 1986, one of the five poorest countries in the world (1990), Vietnam has become the third-largest rice exporter in the world. Thanks to economic reforms and agricultural innovation (which originated from Khoan Muoi), Vietnam has leveraged its agriculture sector to create surplus labor, ensure food security, and accumulate capital for industrial development and services. In addition, the export-oriented industrialization model was applied which also explains the miraculous development of Asian tigers over the period (including Japan, South Korea).

African countries, however, pursued Western cultural and industrial models (which have proven to be unsuccessful completely, including the application of democracy model imposed by the World Bank and IMF as a condition when receiving assistance packages). Agriculture in Africa was not prioritized, and until this day, most countries still must import food. Depending on assistance packages with no pillar economies, poor governance, conflicts of interests – ethnic conflicts are the main reasons for the slow development of these countries.

Henley has clarified points above by comparing three pairs of countries that have similar economic – political – social characteristics: Nigeria – Indonesia, Kenya – Malaysia, Tanzania – Vietnam. He also raised a directional question for African countries: whether the application of rural development policies as Asian countries could be a solution for African countries when more than half of the population still lives below $ 1.09 a day?

Read the book here: Asia-Africa Development Divergence: A Question of Intent

Written by Ngoc Thao

Translated by Share4VnDev team (Bao Nguyen, Linh Nguyen, Trang Nguyen)