China as a metaphor for Africa

An Expert's View about Business Environment in China

Posted on: 16 Apr 2010

Onwubiko Emeka Cyprian,

University Putra Malaysia

April, 2010


China, from 'Grass' to 'Grace'

Çhina’s emergence as the would-be largest economy despite practising Communist’ regime not western- style democracy has come to many people as “taken aback”. China could emerge ahead of all the Asian Giants: Japan, Korea, Singapore etc. There is no definite consensus among financial matters analysts and scholars about the role of that era in the outcomes observed today: while some believe that the ‘foundation’ for the recent performance was laid during the communist era, others see those decades as lost decades for China.  This paper will explore avenues whether African nation is the “Next Wonder” like China in the global economic growth story to emerge from a near basket case to become the largest economy in the world by 2050 ahead of Korea, Italy, Canada, etc? The issue therefore is not whether Africa has the potentials to be the ‘next surprise’ as China, The key area of emphasis is building and exploiting the networks of the African elites in Diaspora. A careful disaggregation of the ethnic origins of Foreign Direct Investment flows might show that Asian-Japanese, Chinese, etc., still invest mostly in Asian countries; while Americans and Europeans mostly invest among themselves. It is not surprising that African countries receive much less FDI than would be   predicted by the fundamentals of their economy, whereas other countries in other regions receive much more even when they reform less. It is estimated that about 50 percent of the FDI into China in recent decades came mostly from the ethnic Chinese in Diaspora. In the same vein, Israel is said to receive most of its FDI and assistance from Jews all over the world. The ethnic Diaspora not only remits money remittances and FDI, but also provides a veritable source of skilled manpower and technology transfer. They also provide the ready networks for opening markets for trade abroad. It may not be inappropriate to also surmise that at least 40 percent of Africa’s most talented and skilled manpower reside outside of the region the brain drain. Nigeria alone is said to have about 17 million elites abroad of which over 10,000medical doctors live in the USA. The real tragedy is that Africa runs the risk of being perhaps the only region of the world that may not benefit over time from the continued growth and development impact of the Diaspora. For example, wherever you go, ethnic Chinese, still speak their native language even after several generations of settlement in the place. Indeed, the China immigrants here in Malaysia have forced them to literally adopt Chinese language as its medium of instruction in Chinese schools. In the case of Africa, the pressure to adapt and be ‘accepted’ in the West forces them into extreme forms of self- rejection brain draining. The impact of this phenomenon is that the children and perhaps future generations of the current generation of Diaspora would not be able to speak the language of their parents, would not know much about the culture and traditions, and hence would never have any attachments to Africa.


How China Metamorphosis to World’s Economic ‘Giant’

China is one of the prime countries in the world, China was a largely agrarian economy, and it has both successful and unsuccessful history behind it. For umpteen centuries, it remained the dominant civilization in East Asia. Numerous Dynasties ruled over China from the Xia Dynasty in 2070 BC to the Qing Dynasty that ended with the emergence of the Republic of China in 1911. The Republic of China lasted till the victory of the Communists over the Kuomintang (Capitalist) group in 1949. From the 16th Century when the Portuguese took over Macau, a Chinese territory, until 1949, China was experienced violence, civil wars, invasions and activities of war lords. From 1949 it entrenched and maturated from a gradual central reforms planning to a market economy in 1979, it experimented with different paradigms and models within the communist mode of production and distribution. With a population of 1.3 billion or 20% of world’s total population, China is the most populous country in the world, adding about 12 million to its population annually even with (first the late marriage policy and then lately the one child per family policy. It has deliberately reduced its population growth rate from 6.2% in the 1950s to 1.7% in 2005. Over 90% of their populations are Chinese, but it has over 50 other nationalities. By 1949, only 20% of China was literate, the Communist government established universal public education. The year 2005, saw a considerate literacy rate had risen to 87.3%. It made a conscious effort to create a manufacturing base for its growing population. Up till now, the Chinese society is largely rural with slightly over 60% living in the rural area. Per capita consumption of primary products, power, and food and so on, is growing faster than the rate of growth of the economy. The addition to middle class is at a very high rate. This makes China one of the fastest growing markets for primary commodity exports. It must be noted that the Communist era until 1979 was marked by series of experimentation to improve the system of production, reduce waste and spur development with varying successes. In 1978, the regime adopted a plan to address the systematic imbalances in the economy. The kind of reforms adopted reflected the initial conditions of China. First, GDP growth was about 12.3% that year and hence did not give an impression of a total failure of the socialist regime. It started off reforms in a rather gradualist mode, still admiring the socialist model and without any clearly spelt plan to quickly transit to a market economy. Its path to reforms was rather adaptive rather than deliberate as it went through a lengthy path of adjusting reform objectives: from ‘a planned economy with some market adjustment’, to ‘a combination of plan and market’ to ‘a socialist market economy’. The ‘dual-track’ approach started with a reform of the urban cities and experimentation with reforming the non-state sectors. Pragmatism, rather than any deliberate plan guided the process. It was a regime of “no encouragement, no ban”. Some markets were liberalized and permitted to sell output at market prices but sell to state firms at administered prices. Qian (2003) has tried to show that there was some method to the seeming haphazard reforms. For example he argued that an important logic underlying the approach was that reforms needed to improve efficiency but at the same time be compatible with important interests of the ruling class. According to him, “the first implication of the dual-track approach is political: it represents a mechanism for the implementation of a reform without creating losers. The introduction of the market track provides the opportunity for economic agents who participate in it to be better off, whereas the maintenance of the plan track provides implicit transfers to compensate potential losers from the market liberalization by protecting the status quo rents under the pre-existing plan”. The success recorded by the non-state sectors raised public sentiments for more reforms towards the market. In other words, it is in line to argue that China embraced the market economy reforms not out of deliberate plans but learnt through experience that it had no better alternative. Privatization of state enterprises followed. Beginning in 1990, six Special Economic Zones were set up to attract foreign investments. One of them was the Shanghai Pudong Economic Zone. In agriculture, the Contract Responsibilities System was introduced by which the farmers were authorized to sell their surplus produce in the market for profit. More importantly, great emphasis was placed on education and skill development. The period of compulsory education was raised to 10 years. Between 1978 and 1998, China tripled the number of its higher institutions from 598 to 1,984. China’s transition to a market economy has intensified with each success. Its aggressive export-orientation has culminated in the accession to the WTO in 2001. The outcomes of the reforms in China have been impressive. China has transformed from the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Prior to the reforms, China was a poor country, overpopulated and short of human and natural resources and also constrained by an ideology that was hostile to markets. Today, the story is different. In 1988, China was less than half of Russia in GDP terms, but ten years after, Russia was less than half of China. China has transformed from an underdeveloped country to a middle income emerging market status. China met its food needs by the 1980s. China is now the world's third-largest economy, surpassing Germany and closing rapidly on Japan, according to government and World Bank figures The Chinese government revised its growth figures for 2007 from 11.9 percent to 13 percent, bringing its estimated GDP of over $3.4 trillion ,about 3 percent larger than Germany's $3.3 trillion for the same year, based on World Bank estimates. China’s real quarterly GDP on a year-on-year basis rose by 7.9% in the 2nd quarter of 2009 and by 8.9% in the 3rd quarter of 2009. The IMF predicts 4th quarter growth at 10.1%. China has the highest level of FDI funding in emerging markets. It stood at US$52.7 billion in 2002. From the period 1997 to 2002, China accounted for an average of 32.5% of total developing world’s FDI and 55.5% of that of the whole of Asia. In 2003, about 45% of China’s exports were funded by foreign funds and capital. It is the third largest trading bloc after the United States of America and Europe. The market accounted for more than 20% of increase in world trade in 2004. It is also estimated that in 2008 China was the world's second largest merchandise exporter and the third largest importer. Over half of China's trade is conducted by foreign-invested firms in China. In 2008, foreign direct investment (FDI) in China totaled $92 billion, making it the third largest global destination for FDI.

Despite its noteworthy accomplishments in the world map, China is facing critical lingering challenges. According to Yueh (2003: 14) he opined that the lingering challenges to include: the reform of state owned enterprises, the high levels of growing and persistent unemployment, increasing corporate governance issues, and treatment of non-state enterprises. Related to financial liberalization, the concerns are continuing reform of the banking sector, Insurance and financial sectors, exchange rates, interest rates, and credit availability. To make trade liberalization feasible and sustainable, there will be need for the adoption of effective laws in accordance with international economic law to address growing trade relationships and new economic arrangements. Further issues remain relating to rural and now urban poverty as well as income inequality associated with China’s comparative advantage shifting away from agriculture. In a more succinct manner, he argued that China has enjoyed one of the most remarkable periods of economic growth ever seen. However, the country faces deep economic, ecological, health, political and social challenges, it is at the crossroads.

Similarly, many Africans may think that these challenges are referring to their countries that are ravaged by these aforementioned factors. This may demonstrate that significant progress is possible, even with many lingering challenges. Development after all is an ongoing process, not stagnant.


Dismantling  African barriers and Emergence as the next ‘Giant’

Most history of economic transformation of societies is full of unexpectations. Empires and civilizations had risen in many unexpected places. As recently as the early 1950s, Asia including Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, was written-off by economists as a basket case, and Africa was predicted to develop much faster because of the natural resource endowment. The rest of what actually happened is now history. The rise and fall of nations or empires has been a subject of curiosity to many researchers. In many instances, analysts have never been able to predict ahead of time (say a few decades) which nations would emerge and which ones would perish. Usually, success stories are documented after the facts and whatever they did or did not do become celebrated as the “success factors”. The recent debate on explaining the ascendancy of the East Asian Tigers (between those who argue that they followed the typical Washington Consensus-type policies and those who insist that they prospered because they did the opposite) is a classic case. China is a current example. Blanchard and Fischer (1993) sought to know why China has grown so fast ‘when the conditions thought to be necessary for growth were absent’. A striking lesson from the transformation of China, according to Qian Yingyi (2003: 331) is that “unconventional solutions applicable to developing and transition economies usually come from the people who have a stake in the economy and have information about its own initial conditions and history”. This lesson may sum up the recent experiences of most successful transition and emerging market economies in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. No standard set of policies have worked with the same set of outcomes in these economies. This does not mean however that there is no received wisdom about the minimum set of conditions that could spur and sustain growth. In another words. it does not mean that sustained growth can be achieved under any circumstance. The point is that for individual countries, while economists can explain growth based upon some fundamentals, there often remains a other  factors- tangible and intangible such as technology, shocks, luck, institutions, quality of leadership, culture, etc. And many of these factors are qualitative and difficult to measure and predict by economists. This may explain why several growth records in recent history have appeared to economists as "taken aback" or taken one unawares. In other words, the issue may not be that experts fail to see these important RESIDUALS as they occur, but often they cannot appropriately account for their impact on growth dynamics, and hence the resulted surprise. this paper seeks to ask can Africa nations surpass the Growth projections by Goldman Sachs & co?: Accounting for Possible Growth Reserves A careful reading of the Goldman Sachs studies and projections show that they are based on conservative statistics regarding Nigeria’s initial conditions. For example the growth projections assumed aggregate GDP of US$94 billion for Nigeria in 2005 whereas the actual GDP for 2005 according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) was US$113 billion, and while the study assumed an average growth rate of 5.1%, the average growth rate for the period 2003—2005 was 7.4%, and the non-oil sector growth rate averaged over 8%. So, clearly the outcomes of the projections would have been better if the actual initial statistics were used.

Furthermore, it is evident that Nigeria has several growth reserves which, when spurred, could catapult the growth rate to 10% or more for a sustained period as China has experienced in the last two decades. For example, a substantial part of Nigeria’s productive resources remains idle--- waiting to be mobilized. Only 40 percent of the arable land is under cultivation, with 60% lying fallow. A sizeable percentage of the able and qualified labour force is unemployed or underemployed. Much of the natural resources---- oil, gas, bitumen, limestone, iron ore, columbite, gold, coal, gypsum, etc. remain untapped. To remind us, Nigeria has the 6th largest deposit of natural gas in the world, and in the next few years, income from gas will surpass earnings from oil. There is still a large dozen of inefficiencies in the economy, with significant capacity underutilization in industry as well as waste of public spending. Especially at the lower tiers of government (state and local government), the value-for-money of public spending is estimated to be low in many states, thus raising the prospects of higher growth impact if such inefficiencies are reduced or eliminated. All these idle capacities demonstrate that with further basic reforms that provide basic infrastructure, finance, and legal- institutional infrastructure, the growth momentum can surprise everyone. Another growth reserve that could catalyze Nigeria’s growth process is its reserve of resourceful, youthful population. More than 50 percent of Nigeria’s population are under 18 years of age, and the annual growth rate is about 2.8 percent. This is in contrast to China’s ageing population, and declining population growth rate especially since the one child per family policy. For Nigeria, its youthful population provides the potential of a sound bridge to the future such applies to other African nations. With the right education for all the citizens, the large and expanding youthful population could provide the continuing growth dynamite, and even export labour to the ageing Western world. The demographics also provide potentials for the creation of a large and vibrant mid-aged, middle class whose consumption and skills would help to fuel and sustain the growth momentum. Related to the population and labour potentials is the issue of Nigerians in Diaspora and Nigeria’s wealth stashed abroad waiting for opportunities to return. It is estimated that about 17 million Nigerians are in Diaspora, and currently remit about US$4 billion in remittances per annum. It is also estimated that there are tens of billions of dollars of Nigerians’ wealth abroad”. If we recall that about 50 percent of the FDI inflows into China in the last two decades was actually from ethnic Chinese in Diaspora, it could be appreciated what the potentials hold for Nigeria and Africa at large. The stock of African skills abroad is also a huge potential for growth. It is estimated that there are over 26,000 Nigerian medical doctors in the United States alone. The nurses are more in number. With the reforms gaining momentum and the enabling environment strengthening, it is only a matter of time before the huge brain drain of the 1980s and 1990s turns into a massive ‘brain gain’, with the successive sets of returnees contributing to the pool of skills to accelerate the momentum of growth. Already many African professionals are returning home and this trend is likely to intensify in years to come.  Indeed, if the above growth reserves are effectively mobilized in the next few years, and the trend of these professionals returning to contribute  their quota, Africa countries may fast track China’s growth performance.


To mobilize Growth Potentials

Mobilizing Africa’s productive potentials and surpassing the growth projections by Goldman Sachs is a doable project. Many countries have done it. China is the kid on the block now. Singapore remains a clear example of a nation that moved from hopelessness to an example of modernity. Therefore, given adequate potentials Africa will emerge successful.

In another vein, in the 1980s and 1990s, Nigeria was rated among the 10 most volatile macroeconomic environments among a set of 110 developing countries. Exchange rate volatility, high and variable inflation, interest rates and growth were the key determinants. The standard deviation on exchange rate was as high as 64---- among the top five worst in the world. Not anymore! Relative macro stability has returned especially since 2003, and since 2004 the exchange rate has not only remained stable but has started to appreciate--- thus reversing a twenty year old spiral of depreciation.Furthermore, for the first time in 20 years, there is a convergence between the parallel and official exchange rates. Inflation in 2006 has been at single digit for some months, and interest rates have started falling. The challenge is to sustain the momentum. To sustain macroeconomic stability, we need to keep price inflation at single digit, and keep exchange rate competitive but stable.

Transcends the Shackle of Natural Resources

It is estimated by the World Bank that most African countries especially, Nigeria’s wealth (which on a per capita basis is one of the lowest in Africa) is based mostly on natural resources, and not much on produced or intangible wealth. Intangible capital is defined as human and social capital and institutions. Whereas the intangible wealth constitutes about 80 percent of the national wealth of Mauritius, South Africa and Ghana, it contributes a negative 71 percent for Nigeria. The negative contribution of the intangible wealth means that investment is inefficient. With an inefficient investment, it means that we are depleting and consuming our natural resources without savings or investing it well enough to produce capacities in the future. While the methodology for the computations by the World Bank may be debatable, it is nevertheless a wakeup call for us to reflect on a number of issues related to our natural resource endowments Are we getting adequate value for our resources, and are we spending the earnings well enough such that the natural resources augment and accelerate the growth of other sectors? Are we saving enough of the earnings to ensure future streams of income even when the resources are gone? These are difficult questions. This is more so because growth that is temporarily driven by natural resource extraction could be a phony growth more extractions leading to higher income (GDP), but unless the income is invested well to create other capacities in the economy, the growth may not be sustainable. That is why many resource dependent countries are susceptible to the boom and burst cycles in the growth process. If not invested well, the country could actually be getting poorer: first the oil wealth once extracted from the ground is gone; second, environmental degradation occurs leaving communities worse-off; and third, the struggle for the oil rents could spur conflicts and armed struggle thereby worsening the insecurity of lives and property and threatening investment in other sectors. There is also the threat that the country may not be getting the best value for its resources. Stiglitz (2006: 150) argues that “the major responsibility for getting as much value as possible from their natural resources and using it well resides with the countries themselves. The first priority should be to set up institutions that will reduce the scope for corruption and ensure that the money derived from oil and other natural resources is invested, and invested well. It may be desirable to have some hard and fast rules for that investment a certain fraction devoted to expenditures on health, a certain fraction to education, a certain fraction to infrastructure. Procedures need to be put into place for independent evaluations of the returns on investments. Stabilization funds are essential…” A lot of work is needed in this area. It will call for a re-examination of the fiscal federalism and constitutional provisions that mandates the automatic sharing of the revenues and each tier of government armed with the statutory right to spend irrespective of the size, mix and efficiency of the spending. This would need to be addressed for Nigeria is to escape the natural resource bind. Luckily as Stiglitz added, “natural resource curse is not fate; it is choice”.

The urgent need for Security and Infrastructural Amenities.

These are self-evident, and require no further elaboration. There is a broad consensus that we need these as part of the building blocks for the new Africa. The challenge however is how African countries can go about it. For example in spite of some notable reforms in the police force of South Africa and Nigeria, increased expenditure and reforms, Nigerians still rank insecurity as one of their highest concerns, is also the case in South Africa in which there is alarming insecurity of lives and properties. Infrastructure deficiency is still a big challenge. The huge investment in power is expected to yield 10,000 MW of electricity by end of 2007 still a far cry from what we need. Analysts believe we need about 50,000 MW to ensure uninterrupted power supply. Given the growing population and urbanization, the challenge of infrastructure is likely to intensify. The good news is that this has been recognized and being addressed subject to the financing constraints. Recall that for about 20 years (1979- 99) Nigeria as the said giant of Africa did not make any investment in power. With the huge investment by government and several independent power plants being constructed, it is only a matter of time before Nigeria conquers the problem of poor power supply. On security, Africans need to brainstorm on alternative and complementary models for policing the continent. What other reforms of the force are needed, and can the Government fund the effective policing of their respective countries? Can the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ in policing work in countries like South Africa and Nigeria? These are issues that need to be resolved.

How far  has Africa thrive in Trade, Technological Networking and Partnership ?

To spur and sustain the momentum of growth, Africa would need the partnership of the rest of the world, and very importantly, its Diaspora population. First, Africa needs to fully exploit all the opportunities presented by the world trading system. In the past, Africa countries as a whole never fully exploited the gamut of preferences granted to it and many other developing countries under the WTO; various LOME conventions and recently the Cotonou agreement; the US- AGOA; etc. As a small, open economy aggressive export-orientation must be a key strategy for sustained prosperity. To create jobs at home, Africa ’s productive sector must produce more than can be consumed domestically and then export. Africa may consider some radical approaches to trade policy. For example, the ports and customs reforms could be fast tracked and a benchmark set that all goods into the continent must be cleared within 24 hours. Norway is said to clear customs in 15 minutes, and many countries now target two hours. The efficiency from this reform is huge for the productive sector. Furthermore, a healthy debate could commence on the possibility of negotiating a Free Trade Arrangement with the United States and the European Union. By Nigeria’s current GDP of $113 billion, it is about 80 percent of ECOWAS, and as potential economic tiger, it will be a great proposal to both the EU and the US. This  agreement could also send a powerful signal to the rest of the world and the second scramble for Africa--- this time a scramble by foreign investors for a piece of the pie in Nigeria --- could be jump started. The EU is billed to negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement with ECOWAS as a succession programme to the Cotonou agreement. It is an opportunity for Nigeria to negotiate itself into a self-sustaining growth spiral. Related to trade is the issue of plugging into the global technology pool. As Lee Kuan Yew noted in the case of Singapore, one of the critical success factors in today’s world is for a country to be at the cutting edge of technological adaptation. Nigeria one of the leading countries in Africa is reaping the productivity gains of the telecommunications revolution (from 400,000 telephone lines in 1999 to over 22 million today--- the fastest growing in Africa and one of the fastest in the world). Most people now agree with Lester Thurow (former Dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management) that in the 21st Century, there will be historic movement in wealth away from nations with natural resources and capital. According to him, “In the twenty-first century, brainpower and imagination, invention, and organization of new technologies are the key strategic ingredients”.  Many nations which are richly endowed with natural resources will find their wealth greatly diminished because, in the market place of the future, commodities will be cheap, trade will be global, and markets will be linked electronically. On the contrary, many nations which are barren of natural resources will flourish because they place a premium on those technologies which can give them a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

To Rejuvenates Educational Sector

In the knowledge driven 21st century, education must be the key driver of socioeconomic transformation. If there is one thing most Africans agree on, it is the fact that our educational system is in a crisis. The system is creating dynasties of poverty whereby the children of the poor have a likelihood of remaining poor. Our system has created three classes of Africans a minority that is well educated, a majority that is either miseducated or poorly educated and those without any education at all. Socially and economically, this is not sustainable. Beside education as a tool to break the social boundaries, it is the key to the competitiveness of the economy and sustenance of growth in the years ahead. Narrowing the gaps between us and the advances in other emerging market economies requires extraordinary efforts. Science and technology is the master key in today’s economy. Major reforms have begun in the sector. There is still room for continuing brainstorming on the next reforms and revolutions in the sector that holds the key Africa's future.

This is a clarion call for alll and sundry to salvage this sector by concerted efforts.African leaders should have the political will to make education a priority and  gear towards  the success and implementation of virile education policies, it is indubitable that the continent has resources and skills, but lacks the will power to sustain and develop education . African countries need to inject massive investment in all segments of education. Some afriican countries like  South Africa, has a vibrant educational sector, with more than a million students enrolled in institution of higher learning. Virtually all the universities in South Africa are autonomous, reporting to their own councils rather than government. China and other east asian countries recorded success in their educational policy, this is a notable lesson for Africa. Learning from this lesson will confirm that no macroeconomic policy can work without education and training.



Given this resounding characteristics of China’s reform strategy, there are many challenges which lie ahead though. African economy can skyrockets to such magnitude with the opening of their economy to global trade which will brilliantly provides possible ways for growth, by emulating China strategy. However, the successful transformation of China has contributed in its own fashion to the emergence of a truly global market economy in the 21st century. Africa should engage with global market particularly in trade and investment, it will be unprecedented in both its intensity and its breadth. China is undoubtedly going global and African countries notable among them, Nigeria, South Africa etc. can follow suits. The main thrusts of China’s global ambitions have been facilitated by and are predicated upon the transformation of China from an isolated nation to a globalized state. Thus, the future is bright for African countries only if the right steps is on the right track,this will help in no small measure to rank them among China and others.







Actual data from Global Insight Fourth Quarter 2009 projection from IMF.


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Goldman Sachs Economic Research Group. passes Germany in economic rankings CNN's John Vause and Judy Kwon contributed to this report.

Lee Kuan Yew. (2000). From Third World to First: The Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: The Time Media PTE. LTd.


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Qian, Yingyi and Chenggang Xu, (1993). “The M-form Hierarchy and China's Economic

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Stiglitz, Joseph (2009), “Wall Street’s Toxic Message”, Vanity Fair, July. Online, [Available]: (Accessed June 2009)


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Yueh, Linda Y., (2003). “China’s New Economic Policy? China’s Economic Direction in the New Global Economy,” Harvard China Review, forthcoming.


Posted: 16 April 2010

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