Africa could learn a lot from China

Published Mar 13, 2019


Africans account for a significantly high number of people wallowing in poverty worldwide, whether one uses the gross domestic product or purchasing power parity as key standards of measurement.

Eradicating extreme poverty should therefore be the priority of African governments.

Africans have to find their own ways of doing so to meet the number one goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. However, Africa can learn some lessons from China.

The National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference gathered last week in Beijing for the Two Sessions to review government’s performance in the past year.

China has single-handedly reduced absolute poverty by 66.6% since it opened up its economy in 1978. This has uplifted 700 million Chinese from poverty, making it the first country to meet the UN Sustainable Goals.

The Chinese leadership has set clear targets backed by policies and resources to eradicate absolute poverty by next year, which will make China a moderately prosperous nation by 2049.

In 2003, AU heads of state and government identified agriculture as a key priority for development, leading to the adoption of the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security. Henceforth, the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program required African governments to invest at least 10% of their national budgets in agriculture.

The Malabo Declaration Principles set 2025 as the year in which Africa will eliminate absolute poverty. It is clear that Africa will not meet this self-imposed target. Although there is notable progress in the performance of many African countries, poverty remains high. This means that African leaders ought to be beyond making declarations and targets that they cannot achieve.

The lack of discipline, resources, political will, policy and regulatory frameworks are some of the reasons for poverty alleviation targets not being met.

If left unabated, poverty will bring to a halt all other efforts to develop Africa. China has won the battle against poverty because the leadership mobilised the nation backed up by clear policies, resources, setting realistic targets and, more importantly, discipline. This is what appears to be lacking in Africa. Africa is rich in human capital, mineral resources and fertile land. It is time Africans take a tough stance on the quality of their leaders.

Africa must pay special attention to anti-corruption efforts and redirect all resources to the battle against poverty. African citizens deserve an enabling environment that appreciates merit and does not frustrate their efforts. It would help successive governments to test the merit of some initiatives started under the auspices of previous governments. Consistency and stability have been crucial to China’s rise. Africa could learn from that.

When Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s miracle, famously popularised that aphorism “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, he meant that the future is pregnant with uncertainty and China was well counselled to remain grounded. Another possible interpretation of this saying is that any initiative that a country weaves in its search to end poverty and surmount challenges has to emerge from the country’s specific context.

Unfortunately, Africa has failed dismally in this regard because of policy susceptibility. The chronic dependence on mineral export is one factor that undermined the utilisation of Africa’s most durable resources: its people and land. We can learn from China’s recognition of adapting policies to local circumstances. Poverty can be ended by empowering Africans in all facets, diversifying economies towards land, and ensuring that responsive leaderships are in power.

* Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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