28 Aug

“Those who eat up riba shall only stand as would one who has been touched by Satan. That is because they say ‘Trading is just like riba.’ Allah has permitted trading and has forbidden riba.”Quran 2:275

“Gaining through riba is not profitable with God, but giving out zakat for the sake of God is.” – Quran 30:39

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa by Howard W. French is recommended reading for anyone remotely serious about growth, development and industrialisation/urbanisation in Africa. This fantastic book written in lucid prose is a 2014 publication by Alfred A. Knopf, and as I have come to find myself, it also has quite an impressive jacket design, with a map of Africa sitting imposingly on a conspicuously white background.

Also distinguishable, scattered even if sparsely across the pitch black map are grey spots that try to depict some individual nation states – or maybe not entirely – even though it’s not clear on what terms. In any case the map of Nigeria is almost wholly recognisable. As though, like some kind of forewarning, both the author’s name and the title appear in crimson red, with the former just hovering above. There is an inescapable sense in which the book may serve as a rude awakening, a call to duty or an invitation for Africa to search her moral conscience.

Howard French’s new book is divided into three parts which span ten chapters detailing Sino – African engagement in country specific nation states, there are sub-titles such as “Manifest Destiny,” “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and “Happy Family” but it is also a beautiful account of the writers own engagement with “Chinese newcomers” from “every conceivable walk of life” across fifteen sub-Saharan African states which form the crux of his contribution to a very “lively if often sterile debate about whether China’s growing engagement will fundamentally help rebuild Africa, placing it on a path to prosperity, or will result instead in a rapacious re-colonisation in all but name.”

Perhaps not in same exact order, his journey takes him from Mozambique – Zambia – Tanzania – Congo – Senegal – Liberia – Mali – Ghana – Namibia – Guinea – & Sierra Leone. For its part, the chapters jump off the pages in chronological order under headers like “Mozambique”, “Behold the Future”, “Friendly Gestures”, “Small Fates”, “Late to the Banquet”, “Instruments of Magic”, “Why Mali”, “Habits of Democracy”, “Saints of the Household” and “Fat of the Land.”

The breakdown and layout of the book is necessary for a textured as well as nuanced reading of this landmark book, but before one attempts to explain why it is important to pin point that, the book with flourish opens up with two poems, “TO THE DIASPORA” by Gwendolyn Brooks and the second “JOURNEY UPON JOURNEY” by an unknown author of the Han Dynasty, translated by Qiu Xiaolong.

Fresh after reading this book, I was taken aback recently when I stumbled upon a review of it by “The Economist” titled “China in Africa: Empire of the Sums.” The article purports that ‘Ni hao’ and ‘Chi ku’ are perhaps ‘the two commonest phrases in this riveting worm’s-eye account of Chinese in Africa,’ it goes on further to explain that the writer uses the former, which invariably means ‘hello’ extensively throughout his travels, ‘enabling him to converse with an array of Chinese people in Africa, from rugged bricklayers in Zambia and brothel madams in Liberia, to engineers in Mali and farmers in Mozambique.’

The latter, it says, which loosely translated connotes ‘eat bitter’ is deployed mostly ‘by many of Africa’s new Chinese Diaspora to denote their ability to live rough in remote and inhospitable places and to work staggeringly hard, qualities that the continent’s previous roaming visitors, principally from Britain, France and America, seem to have lost, at least in Chinese eyes.’

I am still trying to resolve why the article would seek to describe Chinese migrants in Africa as “Africa’s new Chinese Diaspora” – does ‘Diaspora’ take on a bifurcation of meaning? – but even worse I am miffed by the deployment of the phrase “eat bitter”, which devoid of all its historical underpinning is framed as a Chinese hyper-competitiveness.

By and large this solipsistic telling of the Sino – African narrative even marginally within the body of its first paragraph begins to give the impression of a Chinese agenda primed as a show of superiority and thus the conversation is spruced up by a language of rivalry and domination.

Yes I am enraged, as countervailing data suggests that for the year 2014, the Chinese already account for 85% of recipients for the immigrant-investor visas, which is on course this fiscal year to run out for the first time ever. Started 24 years ago, the EB-5 program allots 10,000 visas annually to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in US development projects, from dairy farms and ski-resorts to hotels and bridges. We could do the sums too you know as I am pretty certain it adds up to $4,250,000,000 from just the Chinese alone.

Not to worry, it is all a very deliberate and calculated plot, whose aim becomes most visible by the second paragraph, where almost without prompting the tables turn altogether, and focus shifts methodically from these migrants to the Chinese Communist party, so that by the end of same chapter we already learn that the Chinese parliament “debated a proposal, even if ‘admittedly fanciful’, to deploy as many as 100 million people in Africa.”

And yes, for the undiscerning reader a shadow of doubt is already cast, even before we are reminded for good measure that the author says, “the rumour circulating widely in Africa that many of the more roughneck types of Chinese incomer are prison labourers” is “entirely baseless.”

By the third paragraph with the havoc almost fully wrecked, we are treated, on account of sources used by Mr French to an assortment of statistical data representing hard to verify “trade and investment figures” to the effect that “African countries” received from China’s Export– Import Bank ($62.7 billion) and the World Bank ($12.5 billion) between 2001 – 2010, which in all but nine lines reach the conclusion that “what is clear, at any rate, is that Chinese people and money have flooded into Africa in the past decade, chiefly to buy raw materials to fuel China’s roaring economy.”

If you believe this well disguised lie, it is safe bet you’ll believe almost anything. For sake of emphasis, it must be stated that while the above assertion is debatable, it is as clear as crystal that Africa is not a country, not especially since Harry Garuba reminds us that ‘there is a lie in every line that rhymes/a line in every rhyme that lies.’

The Economist is clever as they usually are, alas, as we race through the fourth paragraph not content with outdoing itself, these guys reach over and above themselves and set their own flimsy agenda in stone, as it alludes to unsubstantiated claims saying, ‘what is tantalisingly unclear is whether the Chinese economic onslaught is the result of a methodical policy fashioned in Beijing as part of an imperialist venture to promote “Chinese values” and dominate the continent as Europeans did a century ago or whether it has become a self generating process fired up by individual Chinese who are simply keen to enrich themselves without the slightest intention of kowtowing to authorities back home’ only so to ‘dog tag’ the conversation. This basically is the stuff of spin masters, as the foregoing doesn’t bother to give examples of “Chinese values” but proceeds to compare baseless claims of an alleged attempt of an imperialist venture with that which was carried out by the Europeans a century ago.

Going forward, the fifth paragraph whilst purporting to pursue the author’s second thesis on the strength of his recorded conversations in a dozen of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries, doubles back, only so to draw parallels with “pioneers from Europe” linking up the conditions that prompt Chinese migration – a need to start new lives far away precisely to breathe fresher air – with the first thesis of a methodical policy fashioned in Beijing as part of an imperialist venture, and thus sums up the rationale as largely driven by a need to seek freer climate in Africa which they mostly observe as “a lot less corrupt by comparison.” It takes very little imagination to see that by the end of the fifth chapter “Chinese values” is already being used interchangeably with “corruption” as presumably perceived by “Africa’s new Chinese Diaspora.”

That been said, at the turn of the sixth paragraph the conversation has already gone downhill by which time I am left wondering if this is a review of the same book I had just recently finished reading, and so as a mark of protestation I feel duty bound to call “The Economist” out on its own hypocrisy. It would do the reader a world of good to pay attention to these racist views as expressed in the self same article:

“At the same time, many Chinese in Africa have intensely nationalist feelings, often expressed in crudely racist terms. They tend to stick together, perhaps even more tightly than other incomers in the past. They are wary of joint enterprises with Africans, except at the highest level, where presidents and generals come into play.”

To put it mildly, this is sloppy journalism that borders on sadism, for as far as I can recall nothing in Howard French’s book validates this line of reasoning, and clearly none of these charges can stick on in the mind of informed readers. For anyone who has observed the Chinese in foreign countries will come to realise that they stick together largely because of reasons owing to language and culture barriers.

Altogether, asides a single conversation with a Chinese hotelier in Liberia which was at best anecdotal, nowhere else throughout my reading of the book did I read of nationalist feelings expressed very strongly let alone where it was done in crudely racist terms. There is no gainsaying many Nigerian Igbo traders will laugh off the thinking that the Chinese are wary of joint enterprises with Africans just as I am sure most other ethnic African trading groups will do.

In the concluding paragraphs, we are told, as if as some kind of admonition, that “far from embracing Chinese values, many Africans have become wary of them.” The article actually moves along, quoting Mr French out of context, giving examples with Guinea and Namibia, how in my opinion this “conflict of values” is the cause of “mounting  resentment over the way China was seen to be . . . despoiling the environment, dispossessing powerless landholders or flouting local laws, fuelling corruption, and, most of all, empowering awful governments” deliberately ignoring that this thread of the writers conversation with Aziz Diop in Conakry loops back into a very different argument from the one being pushed.

Unlike “The Economist” which claims to push the conversation propped up on the idea of the author’s second thesis, Aziz on his part, responding to the fact that China had just struck a controversial deal in Congo negotiated on the basis of ‘a mammoth resources-for-infrastructure’ and valued at $6 billion, in exchange of guaranteed supply of copper and cobalt over a twenty year period, was of the viewpoint that attracting Chinese surplus capital was easy especially since he doesn’t separate state owned enterprises (SOE) from the Chinese Communist party (CCP).

To make sure this mismatch of values would be detrimental to the Sino – Africa relationship, the article picks up a line of argument that reminds one of a Financial Times article written by the erstwhile Nigerian Central Bank Governor, regardless, it posits arguably that “the dumping of cheap and shoddy goods is another source of complaint, and poor safety standards at work yet another. In Namibia, a local activist says Chinese businessmen often pay their labour a third of the official rate. Illegal fishing, ivory-smuggling and logging by Chinese operators are rife, African worries about such activities and behaviour is gaining ground across the continent.”

At this point, it is quite glaring that The Economist is hell bent on dipping its hand in the till, because while it is true there is growing resentment in quite a number of African nation states, it is also the case that they exist because Africans and their Chinese counterparts, both at a governmental or people level embrace corruption.

It is precisely because of this chicken and egg framing, that it isn’t quite surprising the sort of conclusion the article draws, which is why for my own part I have offered these two Quranic verses to serve as epigraph, seeing as we must all seek to raise the bar of conversations that have to do with the Sino – African engagement in line with Africa’s historical trade and barter system.

The offensive article throws up Angola and Zimbabwe (countries the book doesn’t really engage) as sites for the interrogation of the sort of fate that will ultimately befall our beloved continent. It concludes by stating categorically that “some African leaders” quite apart from their people “by contrast, plainly like the Chinese approach to government and big business, which puts human rights and transparency totally to one side, while ritually uttering the official mantra of ‘win-win’: Africans and Chinese benefit equally.”

In a nutshell, what is been said suggests that clearly, using indicators such as Angola and Zimbabwe for the purpose of peer review, the outcome of the Sino-African engagement is destined to produce a negative outcome, especially since ‘if Western donors or investors try to lay down conditions on such matters, African leaders have become adept at threatening to “go east”.’

Well, I am struggling to see why anyone let alone The Economist would want to put such a spin on a book that even if unwittingly, frames the narrative in ways that allow for an un-textured reading, doesn’t in any way come off as pushing an argument to the effect that “as a massive transactional process, China’s entry into Africa has been a dramatic success, and many of those roads and bridges are useful. But as an ideological and cultural undertaking, Mr French’s masterly account suggests that it is going nowhere.”

Truth be told, I have had to go back to re-reading both the book’s introduction and epilogue a couple of times since I had the particular misfortune of encountering the repulsive article, and I find also that the writer himself in addition to making implicit value judgements commits the ultimate crime of a Freudian slip, when in citing another impressive work about Africa, he “mistakenly” refers to Martin Meredith’s “The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence” as “The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence.”

Obviously, while this can always be put down to bad editing, it is really not the case as we shall explore in the last part of this piece which is intended as a second blog post the nexus of his theory, how this ‘error’ has unwittingly aided the books author in the construction of an altogether tricky hypothesis. Howard French concedes and perhaps rightly so, that in writing its own rules, and reinventing globalisation in its own image, Chinese banks, construction companies, and other enterprises in ever growing variety conspicuously roam the planet nowadays in search of outlets for their money.

He also notes that so far, “Beijing has achieved this, in part, by engineering a kind of modern-day barter system in which developing countries pay for new railroads, highways, and airports through the guaranteed, long term supply of hydrocarbons or minerals, thus helping Chinese companies win massive new contracts. In hundreds of other deals, China’s Export-Import Bank and other big, state-controlled ‘policy bank’ counterparts have teamed up to offer attractive project financing that is usually tied to the use of Chinese companies, Chinese materials, and Chinese workers. It is from this standpoint that we must in the concluding series of this essay interrogate the irony of half-truths and outright lies foisted upon us by “The Economist.”


The Curious Case of the Bespectacled Bean Counter

22 Jul

By Adebiyi Olusolape

The Crime

In my day job as a research analyst in an organisation that strives to bring the benefits of ICT to Nigeria’s development sector and in my concurrent, part-time role as Managing Editor of a media outfit that focuses on development in Africa, I am required to apply certain standards to what everyday people, researchers, scholars, intellectuals and journalists say about development.

As part of a conversation on Twitter, on 6 July, I tweeted, ‘I agree. My 2-part article, the 1sy [sic] of which I just shared with u, is about how education being [sic] at the core of devt’.

I hope you can forgive the grammar. My claim, education is at the core of development. In response to that claim, a certain Feyi Fawehinmi said:

Not true. Education comes after development not before. At least this was what happened in Asia

It’s a fact, not my opinion. S Korea was around 65% illiterate when industrialisation and development kicked off

Heh? 60 years ago, the majority of South Koreans were illiterate. All the education gains came after they developed

I suppose if you are a bespectacled bean counter ‘being at the core’ might strike you as comes before. It is however clear that they are not the same thing.

Now, let me quote you Jwa Sung-hee, who in 2001 was the president of the Korea Economic Research Institute, ‘The turning point in Korean economic development came in 1961 when President Park Chung-hee began instituting a series of major changes in economic policy’, is what Sung-hee said.

There is something of ideological importance to note here. Sung-hee describes his views in these words: ‘My longer-than-a-decade experiences of policy research for the strong interventionist government has had a very profound effect on the nature and direction of my own research pursuits along the lines of a free-market oriented philosophy’.

Let me quote you someone who is not Korean, a well-known Marxist, former editor of New Left Review, Perry Anderson.

According to Anderson: ‘The military dictatorship installed by Park Chung Hi in 1961, whose underlying structure lasted for some three decades, forged the most effective developmental state of the epoch’.

Irrespective of ideology, it is clear there is some agreement on South Korea, as to ‘when industrialisation and development kicked off’, to use Fawehinmi’s own words. It wasn’t before 1961.

Now, let me provide you with the results of some statistical analysis from a study that sought to account for the role of education in development. Fawehinmi also shared a working paper on Europe, England and France in the 18th and 19th centuries, ostensibly in support of his arguments about Asia and South Korea in the last 60 years.

I, for my part, will rely on The East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy, published by the World Bank in 1993. ‘The study attempts to explain East Asia’s success and to develop a model of rapid growth with equity’, so the World Bank claims.

  1. For the dependent variable Average rate of real per capita income growth from 1960–1985, the independent variables Primary school enrolment in 1960 and Secondary school enrolment in 1960 were found to be statistically significant at the 0.01 level.
  2. For the dependent variable Per capita GDP growth from 1960–1985, the independent variables Primary school enrolment in 1960 and Secondary school enrolment in 1960 were found to be statistically significant at the 0.01 level.

Under ‘frequentist’ inference, the 0.01 level is the highest level of statistical significance, but what Fawehinmi might need someone to explain to him is that 1960 comes before 1961.

The regression for which the World Bank provides those results is based on 113 economies, and the study states: ‘Primary education is by far the largest single contributor to the [high-performing Asian economies’] predicted growth rates. Between 58 percent (Japan) and 87 percent (Thailand) of predicted growth is due to primary school enrolment.

Physical investment comes second (between 35 and 49 percent), followed by secondary school enrolment. Japan’s high secondary school enrolment in 1960 makes a particularly strong contribution to its growth (41 percent), more than investment’.

Concerning Japan, I had informed Fawehinmi that the institution of the policy of ‘Universal compulsory [primary] education in Japan dates to 1872, that obviously precedes stellar performance in 20th century’, his response was ‘Are you saying Japan developed after 1872?’ I continue to struggle to make sense of that question. By 1907, primary school enrolment in Japan was already at 90 percent.

In summary, the World Bank’s The East Asian Miracle found that for development: ‘First, it is essential to get the fundamentals right. High levels of domestic saving, broad based human capital, good macroeconomic management, and limited price distortions provide the basis for growth. Second, careful policy interventions to accelerate growth produces very rapid growth’.

Human capital, of course, refers to human capacities including education, health, skills and abilities.

Actually, I had tweeted, ‘No, and no that’s not what happened in Asia’, in response to Fawehinmi’s tweet, ‘Not true. Education comes after development not before. At least this was what happened in Asia’.

I tweeted an emphatic no because amongst many other things on Asia, I’d read The East Asian Miracle a long time ago. I vaguely remembered this statement from The East Asian Miracle: ‘But the [high-performing Asian] economies’ enrolment rates have tended to be higher than predicted for their level of income. At the primary level, this was most obvious in 1965, when Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore had already achieved universal primary education, well ahead of other developing economies, and even Indonesia with its vast population had a primary enrolment rate above 70 percent’.

When I told Fawehinmi that by the 1960s, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore already had universal primary education. His reply was, ‘You didn’t give anything. What you said for S Korea is FALSE’.

Alright. I have never seen anyone try to put the kind of spin on what is known about Asia’s development as Fawehinmi tried to. For whatever reason, he felt a need to impose a chicken-and-egg construct on what was before him. Did it help him in any way?

Even the working paper he believed clinched his argument begins: ‘While human capital is a strong predictor of economic development today, its importance for the Industrial Revolution is typically assessed as minor’.

The explicit aims of Mara P. Squicciarini and Nico Voigtländer, who wrote the paper that Fawehinmi shared, was to show that assessments which conclude that human capital is unimportant ‘are based on education or literacy as skill measures of the average worker’, and that such approaches ‘may veil the role of scientifically savvy engineers and entrepreneurs at the top of the skill distribution’.

Therefore, Squicciarini and Voigtländer try to account for ‘the role of scientifically savvy engineers and entrepreneurs at the top of the skill distribution’ separate from the role ‘of the average worker’. On that score they quote ‘Mokyr and Voth’ who ‘conclude that “the Industrial Revolution was carried not by the skills of the average or modal worker, but by the ingenuity and technical ability of a minority”’.

It is an interesting and careful paper, which accords well with the arguments of Bernard Stiegler, that the industrial revolution fused science and technology, episteme and techne. Only the crassest of readings would reduce that paper to a dusting cloth as Fawehinmi sought to do.

Fawehinmi’s nonsense is quite much. Here is someone who claims that ‘S Korea was around 65% illiterate when industrialisation and development kicked off’. Even if that were true, is it Fawehinmi’s argument that the 35% literate played no role in the kick-off of industrialisation and development? Or is it just that Fawehinmi can’t subtract 65 from 100?

Unlike Fawehinmi who ignores the 35%, the entire argument of the paper by Squicciarini and Voigtländer is analogous to saying: those with only basic education, among the 35%, were necessarily the more productive workers at the beginning of industrialisation, and they had the better wages to show for it. Furthermore, those among the 35% who in addition to basic education had upper tail knowledge were critical for growth after industrialisation kicked off in 1750.

Does that mean you might as well not have the 35% before industrialisation kicks off in 1750? Squicciarini and Voigtländer respond by saying: ‘When interpreting our results, we do not argue that the encyclopedia caused scientific knowledge at the local level. In fact, knowledge elites were present prior to 1750, and their spatial distribution was stable over time’.

It goes without saying that the average workers, too, were present prior to 1750. Or did they acquire their basic education in the womb so that they could be born Benjamin Buttons, on that very day in 1750 when industrialisation started?

There was no particular minute, hour, day, week, month or year when industrialisation began. What we had was ‘emergence’, a complex chain of events before, during and after 1750. 1750 – and 1961 and 1872 and all those dates – is merely a device useful for analysis, and dates are readings on an interval scale. An interval scale being that which lacks an absolute zero point. Only bean counters employ a chicken-and-egg framework when thinking about these matters.

You would have the 65% – spectators, supporters, officials – present in the stadium before kick-off. You need the team of 35% on the pitch before kick-off: those who only have basic education will be the ones who put the ball in play after the referee’s first blast on the whistle, and you had better have a knowledge elite to whom they immediately pass the ball if your team of 35% is going to win the match industrialisation.

I can understand why Fawehinmi misreads a paper which submits that: ‘In sum, the historical evidence in combination with our empirical findings renders it difficult to imagine that (upper tail) human capital did not play a major role during industrialisation’. If Fawehinmi can’t subtract 65% from 100, it may not be unlikely that his powers of reading comprehension are weak.

The paper Fawehinmi provides as supporting his position claims to show: ‘that basic education was related to economic development in the cross-section, but – in contrast to upper tail knowledge – not to growth’. I think all these buttress the claim that education is at the core of development.

The Clues

The case for education being at the core of development can be found in good primers on economic development. One such is the aptly titled Economic Development, by Michael P. Todaro and Stephen Smith, which is now in its 12th edition. I read the 8th edition a couple of years ago.

Economic Development, which is described by its publishers as ‘the leading textbook in this field’, defines development as, ‘The process of improving the quality of all human lives and capabilities by raising people’s levels of living, self-esteem, and freedom’.

In ch.8 of Economic Development, Todaro and Smith argue convincingly that: ‘Education and health are basic objectives of development; they are important ends in themselves. [B]oth health and education can also be seen as vital components of growth and development – as inputs to the aggregate production function. Their dual role as both inputs and outputs gives health and education their central importance in economic development’.

Something else that is important to dwell on is the equivocation in the use of ‘development’ and ‘industrialisation’. Whether I like it or don’t, not a few people equate development with industrialisation. I will not argue too much with that viewpoint. In fact, I largely adopt that point of view, so as to show that even on his own turf, Fawehinmi doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Nevertheless, it is important to me to note here and now that there is an easily understood relationship between these concepts:

  1. A journey
  2. The destination
  3. Means of transportation

Development is a journey, a process. The destination might be the mythical caliphate or the illusory ‘promised land’ or the problematic socialist ‘Utopia’ or the capitalist, anticlimactic terminus of membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but development is a journey.

In the way a person could make a journey on foot, on horseback, by rail, steamship, canoe, a sports utility vehicle etc. so has humankind over the course of its history used trade, hunting and gathering, agriculture, gifts, industrialisation as vehicles to convey itself to different destinations, on various journeys of development.

Although closely related, the means of transportation is not the journey. Industrialisation is not development, and despite how far industrialisation has gone in the last 300 years, it is a vehicle that functions by degrading the environment for energy and raw materials, which are fed into a system of overproduction, waste and pollution, all of which is lubricated by expanding public and private debt as well as consumerism.

I do not think this is sustainable, certainly not in terms of human dignity or the dignity of the planet, and the challenge of humankind is to discover/create an alternative.

We have record of human development and economic growth from all over the world before the industrial revolution in the 18th century. No matter how spectacular, relatively, the outcomes delivered by industrialisation are, it does not contradict human knowledge of development and economic growth as ends achievable by other means.

The future of humankind depends on Africa’s trials, our successes and failures, at discovering/creating alternative vehicles for development that are no less effective than industrialisation but which are sustainable. Conflating development and industrialisation will not be helpful on such a quest.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Let me return to Sung-hee, Anderson, industrialised development and South Korea.

Sung-hee wrote in 2001 – and I have been quoting from A New Paradigm for Korea’s Economic Development: From Government Control to Market Economy – ‘The last thirty years have seen the Korean economy achieve growth of remarkable proportions, thanks mainly due to the successful combination of a number of factors, both domestic and foreign. A skilled and educated workforce, vigorous entrepreneurship, a high savings rate, greater foreign investment and growth in export markets in general have all contributed to Korea’s recent spurt in growth’.

Forgive me for being so pedantic but here is what that looks like in outline:

  1. Skilled and educated workforce
  2. Vigorous entrepreneurship
  3. High savings rate
  4. Greater foreign investment
  5. Growth in export markets

For those who might need some background for contextualising South Korea’s industrialisation trajectory beginning in the 1950s (I will come to the period of Japanese colonisation, 1910–1945, later), let me offer in the broadest of outlines:

1950s: post-war reconstruction and import substitution strategy

1960s: export-led development strategy

1970s: capital-intensive heavy chemical industry (HCI) strategy

1980s: economic stabilisation and favourable trade conditions support competitiveness in HCI

By 1996, all that, and other factors, culminated in South Korea joining the OECD.

Now, let’s focus on the period of Fawehinmi’s ‘industrialisation and development’ kick-off. Sung-hee wrote: ‘The primary goal of industrial policy in the 1960s was to promote exports. This was an important shift in strategy from the import substitution policy undertaken in the 1950s. The export-drive policy was focused on the labour-intensive industries, utilising the relatively well-educated and abundant labour force’.

I think that last statement bears repeating, ‘The export-drive policy was focused on the labour-intensive industries, utilising the relatively well-educated and abundant labour force’. I suppose it is Fawehinmi’s opinion against Sung-hee’s.

Now, let us backtrack a bit. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea, which was the beginning of a period colonisation in Korea. Colonisation only ended with Japan’s WWII surrender, in 1945. Let me serve you an assortment of quotes by commentators on Korea’s history, on the period from 1910–1945 and the period from after 1950.

Talking of Korea at the end of Japanese colonisation, Anderson wrote, ‘Japanese colonialism left behind a transport network and levels of literacy far above the regional average’. I suppose Fawehinmi might have had some more slack in his rope if he had chosen some country other than South Korea to make his non-point.

Talking of the progress South Korea made, starting in the 1960s, Anderson wrote: ‘This massive financial and technological dirigisme was accompanied by an extraordinary educational drive, absorbing a fifth of the budget’. I suppose it is Fawehinmi’s opinion against Anderson’s, too.

I deliberately juxtapose Fawehinmi’s position with Sung-hee’s and Anderson’s, so we don’t get distracted by issues of ideology. Let me now offer you some quotes from passages which are unconcerned with education, as they mainly seek to illumine the Korean experience.

Jon Halliday, a historian specialising in modern Asia, wrote in 1992 that: ‘Over the past year evidence has been emerging that the Japanese kidnapped more than 200,000 young women into sex slavery during their occupation of East Asia. Those so enslaved were termed “comfort women”, about 80 percent of whom were Korean. Some were as young as 12, hauled out of their schools, often under a quota system, and carted off to army barracks and outposts all the way from Manchuria to the South Pacific’.

That would undoubtedly remind many who read this piece of the peril of our own Chibok schoolgirls.

While still on the topic of schoolgirls, one other lesson from The East Asian Miracle is summed up in this quote, ‘Nearly all societies have historically provided educational opportunities to boys and only later girls. [The high-performing Asian economies] narrowed the gender gap much more quickly than other developing economies’.

Let’s be wary of people who work hard, send their daughters to the best schools they can afford but hold the view that education is not at the core of development.

Here’s another parallel, the period after a civil war. Paul Blustein, in The Chastening wrote: ‘At the end of the Korean War in 1953, the population of South Korea consisted mainly of peasants living in thatched-roof huts. International food aid in the form of milk powder was handed out every few days in schools, and nobody saw much promise in the war-torn economy’.

I hope you noted the word ‘schools’ in those two quotes from Halliday and Blustein. South Korea has always struck me as a country where even when the subject is not education, schools are loci of historical happenings. Indeed, South Korea’s political history tells a story of influential student uprisings.

Anderson wrote, ‘In April 1960, after marching on the Presidential Palace in Seoul and suffering heavy casualties from police fire, students triggered the fall of Syngman Rhee’.

Again, ‘In October 1979 student demonstrations in Pusan, which included attacks on police stations, set off riots by local workers and residents’.

In the same place, ‘In June 1987, after an activist at Seoul National University had been tortured to death, huge student protests paralysed the centre of the city’.

And, still on the political history of Korea, and going back much further in time, Anderson wrote: ‘Historically Korea, whose political culture is older than that of Japan, faced towards China as the centre of civilisation and imperial suzerain. Down to the mid-19th century, most of its literature was written in classical Chinese’.

In the same piece, in the London Review of Books of 17 October 1996, he wrote: ‘This is the country that saw the first use of movable type, in the 13th century, and where the only indexical alphabet – in Peircean terms: letters reproducing the movements of vocalisation – was designed in the 15th century’.

Let me bore you with some ancient history. Kindly indulge me. I volunteer as Poetry Editor for a literary magazine, and from 2009 when one of my mentors won the Delphic Laurel for Poetry in Jeju, South Korea, I have nurtured a curiosity about Korean literature.

In A History of Korean Literature, edited by Peter H. Lee, one reads that:

‘In 682, the Silla dynasty (57 BC–AD 935) established a royal Confucian academy. Its core curriculum consisted of the Analects and Book of Filial Piety as well as specialisation in one of the following: the Book of Songs, Book of Documents, Record of Rites, Zuo Commentary, and Selections of Refined Literature. Students ranged in age from fifteen to thirty and studied for nine years. In 788, a state examination system was instituted whereby students were categorised into three classes, but the system lasted only briefly.

Under the Kory˘o dynasty (918–1392), the civil service examination system began in 958, and the fixed number of 300 students was enrolled in the national academy (Kukchagam) from 992. The students studied the Confucian canonical texts for from a minimum of three to as many as nine years. The qualifying examination for entrance to the national academy included composition in poetry (shi) and rhymeprose (fu). The biennial final examination in literary composition, consisting of three sessions, tested students in the classics, poetry (old-style poetry, quatrain, regulated verse, and regulated couplets [pail¨u]) and rhymeprose, and a problem essay. The classics examination, again in three sessions, tested them on from five to nine classics. The literary composition examination was considered more prestigious, however, and the classics examination was held less frequently.

In 425 years of Kory˘o history, some 251 examinations were held with 6,671 graduates in literary composition and 415 in the classics’.

In a copy of Robert Leckie’s Conflict: The History of the Korean War (1950–1953), which came into my possession early in my university days, I read: ‘Under the Yi dynasty which ruled in Korea from 1392 until the Japanese annexation of the country in 1910, the people lived under conditions generally prosperous for those times, while a high intellectual and cultural society flourished’.

I provide the potted history of Korea, from 682–1987 AD, for a reason:

  1. To use Korean history to illustrate the point that no society begins with zero education

Whether you go back 60 years as Fawehinmi suggested, or 100 years or 1000 years, you won’t find a start point that provides warrant for such a claim as, ‘All I’m saying is “education” is NOT a precondition for development’.

The central issues of concern here are socio-economic, but I would like to offer you some food for thought which although psychological is connected with education and zero points. Why are educational variables, like reading comprehension, intelligence quotient, measured using interval scales? An interval scale being that which lacks an absolute zero point.

The ‘precondition’ argument is chicken-and-egg – circular. What is important is to note that defining education, which is necessarily broad, in the very narrow sense of comparability to Western formal education – using Western formal education as the standard for deciding what’s education and what’s not – is what bean counters do. Education is at the core of development.


27 Jun

 By Biyi Olusolape.

I have been soaking in the outpouring that has followed in the wake of the Ekiti elections. Here is what all the facts, all the theories, all the opinions, all the debates – taken together – keep pointing me to:

  1. The outcome of the elections in Ekiti is the most positive thing to have happened to Nigerian democracy in a long time.


If nothing at all, Ekiti offers us a site for excavating the history of the Nigerian democratic experience since 2003.


  1. A four-year one term limit for gubernatorial service is more than enough if not too much.


  1. One other area in which it might be useful to make room for the whimsy is to challenge the assumption that the questions of what constitutes development and how it can be delivered have been definitively answered.


That assumption has led to very little emphasis being placed on persuasion, co-created solutions, and to condescension on the part of self-appointed, altruistic, know-it-all progressives and resentment on the part of the supposed beneficiaries of long term developmental policies.


  1. The challenge of good governance in Nigeria is not the decoupling of the petro – state from the national system or the dismantling of the apparatus of rent distribution or the replacement of PDP patronage networks with APC’s or vice versa.


This is why people who have been tainted by serious allegations of corruption, who have no track record of or evince no inclination towards prudent management of affairs, get significant votes in relatively free and fair elections.


  1. The challenge of good governance in Nigeria is not the building of long – lasting infrastructure.


This is why people who have done little more than embezzle state funds, award contracts to family members and cronies plus leave a trail of abandoned projects or shoddily completed ones in their wake are credible candidates for re-election or election to other public offices.


What then is the challenge of good governance in Nigeria? The challenge of good governance in Nigeria is one of thoroughgoing public engagement and civic education. There might come a time when the challenge of good governance in Nigeria evolves to the point where other needs are paramount, but for now the job calls for public engagement and campaigns of persuasion on an unprecedented scale.


Now is not the time to bother about introducing, building and maintaining transport infrastructure or good healthcare systems or stable power supply or transparent processes of delivering those. All that is required is the stimulation of debate and the discussion at the grassroots on the need for, costs of and mode of delivery of transport infrastructure, good healthcare systems and stable power supply. This is what the state ministry of information, the TV and radio facilities are for.


Governors should be seen in bars (Biyi knows what’s up), should be seen sharing a snack of roast yam on roadsides, should be seen in town hall meetings making a case for progressive development. Commissioning of projects (which won’t be completed) and cutting of tape for completed projects (for which contractors are overpaid) are not as important in their relation to the delivery of infrastructure as in being fora for public enlightenment on the benefits of horizontal development.


This is not a time to introduce BRT or light rail or good drains but to use the Mecca and Jerusalem pilgrimage board models for selecting people from NURTW park, RTEAN chapter, ACOMORAN ‘garage’, and commuters from every LGA and interpreters for study trips to the Americas and Eurasia. Don’t use state power from the civil service or retrain teachers or those kinds of things. What is required is sustained dialogue in different fora with the unions on their production of strategic plans for building the capacity of their members, retraining schemes and right-sizing of the workforce.


The money required for engaging people in the discussion of long term capital projects and the institutionalization of social welfare is probably less than the funds required for the actual implementation of long term capital projects and the institutionalization of social welfare – it is therefore clear how to judiciously use the content of state coffers. Having done the four-year bid, the good governor should retire to Dalmatia and plant cabbages or whatever it is that Ex-governors do.


In short, what Nigeria needs right now is not the mythical philosopher king or the more humdrum servant leader but a skilled interlocutor. Isn’t it true that Nigerians do nothing but talk? Well freedom of expression is the foundation of progressive democracies.

USi » Boko Haram: The Changing Mask of Fear

23 May


31 Mar


Dear Professor Jeyifo,

How are you? Hopefully the weather is a bit more clement, and you haven’t been slipping and falling as was the case early on in the year.

My name is Emeka Ugwu, but I am almost certain you will not remember me; all the same our paths crossed briefly on the occasion of J. P. Clark’s 80th birthday celebrations.

That been said, I’m moved to write you this letter in mild protestation, following my reading of your last series of essays in the Nation newspaper under the header, “The mode of surplus extraction changed and corruption became the glue that holds things together: notes for young compatriots,” especially since your three piece treatise was addressed to members of my generation.

Before I go on any further, to slay my own demons so to speak, let me quickly mention that the year of my birth, 1981, was a turbulent year for students, as the fracas in Ife had resulted in a handful of deaths, plus a megalomaniac and self proclaimed Jihadist Maitaisine, launched his Jihad attack against unbelievers, sweeping across the ancient city of Kano, leaving much of the city in rubbles pretty much. In any case, I belong to a generation of young adult Nigerians, whose first real encounter of civil disobedience, was only glimpsed as a result of the June 12 riots of 1993. We are simply put, children who were witnesses of military governments of brutal dictators.

At any rate, our first taste of the much touted “democracy” came with the “selection” of President Olusegun Obasanjo in May 1999, and so, much of this slow transition has been a learning curve somewhat. Full disclosure means that one has to concede that these are some of the thoughts that welled up in my mind, as I read the first and second parts of your essay, perhaps because it has become the tragedy of our times that lunatics must lead the blind. To get a firm handle on my own mental disposition, the epitaph you deployed for the third and concluding part of the series was most instructive, as it helped me locate my feelings of disenchantment.

The Earl of Gloucester puts it succinctly, when he responds to the Old man, in William Shakespeare’s King Lear saying, “As fly to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” With regards to our problem, which thanks to you we have discovered lies in the modes of surplus extraction that enthrone corruption, as the primary glue that holds the nation together, you did give an indication of what we might do or should begin to do about it. And in so doing you’ve hinted that; “the central challenge that we face is how to compel our elites to realise, perhaps through a baptism of fire, that even if the social surplus they are looting and wasting do not come primarily or predominantly from the labour of farmers and workers, that the wealth belongs to all of us and must be used to the benefit of all Nigerians of the present, living generations and those that will come long after we have gone.”

However, it is my belief that you haven’t told us your younger compatriots precisely “how” to go about this said “baptism of fire,” notwithstanding the fact that you have in very clear terms “formulated” the demands that need be made as a matter of urgency – how does the Nigerian youth dissolve this glue of corruption that has now become the means of wealth redistribution? Be that as it may, I also find it quite strange and indeed puzzling that all through your essays, there is little or no mention of the words “urban” or “urbanisation.” I think it was the great dialectician and immanent urban critic Henri Lefebvre, who asserted that “the urban phenomenon supplants industrialisation as the force of historical change and motor of capital accumulation,” do you not think that urbanisation is a viable means to redistribution of wealth?

What are the entry points for young people to engage with this systemic failure: considering Adewale Ajadi avers, that “the most profound and continuous change throughout the continent of Africa and over time in the history of Nigeria is the process of urbanisation. It will shape the future 50 years of Nigeria.” Personally, I find the underlying thread that runs through most of these pre- and post-civil war upheavals, spring directly from major ‘cities’ in our country. It is same for Aba (1929), Ibadan (1968-69), Sokoto (1980), Kano (1981) and Lagos (1993), as they are cities that have arisen through geographical and social concentration of surplus product. It is the recurring theme of dispossession whether political or economical, by and large in my opinion the older generation of Nigerians, were more assertive in claiming back the right of the city from the state.  Yet I am keen on understanding how they did this and why the ripple effect is not felt by my generation – the brain drain per chance? While I posit that urbanisation, which has always been a class phenomenon, since surplus extracted from somewhere and somebody is controlled and disbursed typically by a few hands, by what means or method do you think we can unhinge the imbalance?

The high rate of unemployment is also a big cause for concern for my generation; it has rendered us immobile in every sense of the word, which is why I think we can never pull off something akin to the Paris Commune of March 18, 1871. It was one of the greatest revolutionary episodes in capitalist urban history, wrought in part out of nostalgia for the world that had been destroyed, and the desire to take back the city on the part of those dispossessed. I’m curious to know if you think that we have the intellectual muscle to pull off what the 68ers and 89ers did across Europe. Do you think we can replicate a semblance of it, even if not in the same dimension?


31 Mar

Knowledge Team

See on Scoop.itBounded Rationality and Beyond


When Nassim Taleb talks about the limits of statistics, he becomes outraged. “My outrage,” he says, “is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to iatrogenics, the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk.” As a researcher in probability, he has some credibility. In 2006, using FNMA and bank risk managers as his prime perpetrators, he wrote the following:

The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events “unlikely.”

In the followingEdgeoriginal essay, Taleb continues his examination of Black Swans, the highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact.He claims that those who are putting society at risk are “no true statisticians”, merely…

View original post 182 more words


25 Nov

Ms Motilola Olufenwa Akinfemisoye’s article titled, “Challenging Hegemonic Media Practices: Of ‘alternative’ Media and Nigeria’s Democracy” hits a nerve in thought provocative manner, only because of the facts embedded therein. The reader is taken on a journey through the evolution of journalism in Nigeria, from the 19th century up until the 21st century. She interrogates new trends brought about by an age of social media consciousness. Her argument is broken down into nine sections, beginning with an abstract where she poses a very valid question: “Is journalism in Nigeria under threat and increasingly becoming a networked activity?” She then proceeds to interrogate same within the general body of her piece deploying the “Occupy Nigeria Protests” as foothold.

It is off the back of this ‘failed’ movement that she hinges her argument on a premise which suggests that: “The possibilities of Africa – and Nigeria in particular – tweet(ing) its way to democracy remains problematic. This is a topic that requires ongoing research.” Motilola goes on to furnish the reader with statistics of internet usage in Nigeria, which amounts to forty five million (28%) of the population as at December 2011, compared to two hundred thousand (0.16%) users in the year 2000. Given the available data, she practically shoots herself in the foot when she makes the claim that, the emergence of ‘alternate’ journalism in Nigeria stems from widespread adoption of information and technology (ICT) tools such as the internet, personal computers and mobile phones. She clearly confuses the reader.

Apparently these statistics refute the writers claim that the “Occupy Nigeria Protests” held in many cities in Nigeria. We are a nation of 160 million people, where only forty million citizens have access to internet usage, and the bulk of these users reside in only our major cities namely Abuja, Lagos and Port-Harcourt. Social media platforms like twitter are largely the exclusive preserve for the elite among us. The writer comes off as speaking at cross purposes. What becomes immediately obvious is that ‘alternate’ media in Nigeria clearly doesn’t have the outreach mainstream media possesses. While the writer reaches pretty much same conclusion, it is difficult to see how she arrives at such, seeing that her argument is based on weak assumptions which suggest a premeditated conclusion.