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Friday, February 15, 2008

Asia and Africa

I'm currently in Asia, reading about Africa. It's an interesting compare and contrast.

I'm specifically reading Martin Meredith's 'The State of Africa', which chronicles how it all went wrong across Africa in the fifty years since most colonial powers pulled out and the various countries achieved independence.

What a sorry litany of kleptocracy, famine, pointless war and endless tribal conflict it all adds up to.

The irony is that many of those countries, whatever you care to think of the colonial legacy, were in pretty good financial shape when they were handed over to the indigenous 'Big Men' dictators who assumed control after independence.

But after a few decades of nutters like Amin, Mobutu, Bongo and so on, the continent is in worse shape than it ever was.

The contrast with Asia is simply staggering. Here in Bangkok, a city of sixteen million people, the work ethic of the Thais is impossible to ignore. Sure, begging exists, practiced by those with genuine disabilities. But this is a people prepared to better themselves, to try to work their way out of poverty and a people who are proud of their own self-determination.

They are fond of the odd bloodless coup, and corruption is certainly familiar to those at the top of the heap. The latter applies equally well to Ireland, for anyone familiar with our many tribunals. Nowhere's perfect.

In that regard, one could feel disdain for Thailand's sex tourism, the suppression of minorities in the south, and indeed the protectionist nature of its property market and currency.

But when compared with the latest news from Zimbabwe, for example, where what was one of the richest countries on the continent a mere three decades ago is now suffering 66,212.3% annual inflation (official government estimate; others put it closer to 150,000%) and at least 80% unemployment, it becomes clear that the Asian Tigers are, with the possible exception of Burma, infinitely preferable places to live.

Thaksin Shinawatra may or may not have lined his pockets to the tune of millions while in power. But he is wanted by the courts in Thailand who want to hold him to account. That's no different to how Russia has dealt with those oligarchs who have displeased Putin.

And you could contrast it with Charles Haughey's fate, which was to be permitted to live unmolested in a big house visiting his big private island while wearing his Charvet shirts, even though he had been found guilty of corruption.

On the flip side, not one African despot has ever been held to account in a court of law. They've either died in their sleep as preposterously wealthy men, or been dragged from their beds and murdered by their successors.

I'm coming to the conclusion that in the vast majority of African countries, there is little hope of expecting indigenous democracy, indigenous industry free from corruption. Can you imagine any African country recovering from genocide as successfully as Cambodia has? Rwanda may be healing, if you believe the various optimistic news reports. But it's still poorer than a church mouse, even compared to somewhere as poor as Cambodia.

It strikes me that in Asian countries, the people have more self-respect than to permit leaders to stay at the trough for decades upon end, or to expect the West to continue to finance their economic follies via the aid train.

Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and other Asian countries may well be poor, as poor as much of Africa. But they are determined to succeed on their own merits. They get up in the morning, facing the same heat, the same diseases as afflict Africans. The difference is, they take responsibility for their own lives. They do get up and they do go to work.

The Asian Tiger period may have passed, but there is much to note economically in this region apart from the usual suspects of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. Places like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are also on the up, and they will drag the slackers like Cambodia and Laos with them.

There is no such similar hope for Africa, I fear. Bulging with natural resources, African countries have been systematically ravaged by their own corrupt elites. When I look at the actions of that syphilitic loon Mugabe, and hear inflation figures that beggar belief, I wonder how long such a man would have lasted in South East Asia.

One day, Africans will have to stop looking to others to blame for their troubles, and start acting in their own self-interest. And that doesn't mean lifting machetes and going on tribal murder sprees as has happened in so many African countries, including Kenya and Sudan at this very moment.

They could usefully learn from Asians the benefit of working together for a common purpose, I believe.


Informer said...

I could have swore I seen u slurching up the Ardoyne Road with a blue bag in hand looking abit worse for wear today too! Must have been a double ganger.

Nice piece, but I do believe the diamond mines have brought some comfort to a few million Africans in Bots as they now get free HIV medicines if they work for the corporate giants and China's booming Sand brick market is helping modernise the shanty towns throughout lower africa at the moment. Supposedly the influx of Chinese into Africa with its modernist communist work ethic is supposedly helping Africans off their behinds and into the building trades. (Thanks to BBC/ Tropic of Capricon for my education on Africa!!)

Jo said...

Are you looking for reasons to be angry??

I'm a great admirer of Asian growth. Wish I could have some.

But going along with tirades on Africa? Don't you tire of it? It's a bit hackneyed, isn't it?

Go through that book and isolate facts - just plain facts, who did what, when, where and with what evidence.

Listen to the beeb with the same ear. What is in the recent past tense? Yesterday in Harare, Joburg, etc, so-and-so did what and said what exactly. A lot of the so called news is now in the future tense. What passes for news at 6am is laughable. No one was up during the night finding out what is going on.

The news is on now. Doctors opposed to the shake of NHS are warning that it is a waste of money. Ahhhhh!!! That would be tossed as an opening line of a first year essay. So why is my radio on? There is a couple of funny programmes on Saturday mornings on Radio 4. It will be switched off soon!

And I will switch myself off now. No need to tell you what to think either.

The two weeks on a trolley team said...

I think Thailand have enough to be ashamed at with regard to their treatment of Burmese refugees.

I *Hope* Africa's problems are infrstructural in nature. I used to work there, and have some hope for the future. But I mean 100 years into the future.

Fingers crossed.

Dr. thunder

JC Skinner said...

Informer: Glad to see my squadron of dopplegangers are effective!
Jo: No straining for anger here. More a case of sadness. Hundreds upon hundreds of billions in aid have been ploughed into Africa in t he past half century, a region much richer in natural resources than SE Asia and suffering much less catastrophe at the time of independence.
Yet living standards in Africa now are way below what they were at the end of the colonial period. SE Asia, as I've pointed out, has managed to do the exact opposite. The reason? Less indigenous kleptocracy and a greater sense of working together for the common good.
Two weeks: If we're in the blame game, then surely the Burmese junta followed by China are the people to blame for the problems of Myanmar. No one said Thailand was perfect, but they're hardly the villains here. Glad to hear you have hope for Africa. Increasingly, I do not.