When the colonies in Africa and Asia became independent, their political leaders were faced with two main challenges: achieving domestic political stability and transforming their economies from the production of raw materials to industrial production.
The outcome of that project is today a matter of general knowledge. Although Asian countries went through many conflicts in the early years, by 1965 most of those conflicts had been resolved. Asian leaders turned to the second challenge of developing and diversifying their countries’ economies.
Africa’s story is far more mixed. Many old conflicts, including wars in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, continue. More recent conflicts, such as the genocide in Rwanda, continue to erupt on a scale and ferocity that is difficult to fathom. Internal conflict has split Cфte d’Ivoire – once the crown jewel of West Africa – in two. With few exceptions, Africa’s political elites have driven their countries’ economies backwards.
In a recent publication entitled Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? the World Bank noted that many observers, the 1974 winner of the Nobel prize for economics Gunnar Myrdal among them, expected Asia to remain mired in poverty while Africa steamed ahead. A comparison between Ghana and South Korea, two countries that were at a similar level of development in the 1960s, shows that the countries experienced the exact opposite.
The World Bank found that “In 1965…incomes and exports per capita were higher in Ghana than in Korea…Korea’s exports per capita overtook Ghana’s in 1972, and its income level surpassed Ghana’s four years later. Between 1965 and 1995 Korea’s exports increased by 400 times in current dollars. Meanwhile, Ghana’s increased only four times, and real earnings per capita fell to a fraction of their earlier value.”1
World Bank, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? (Washington: World Bank, 2000), p. 19.