Ndii’s analysis of Asian Tigers wrong
David Ndii’s article ‘Lessons from Asian tigers that you won’t hear from political leaders’ (Saturday Nation, August 13), focused on, among other issues, the viability of the Standard Gauge Railway, the location of Kenya’s textile industries, and the mechanics behind the rise of the Asian Tigers.
His analysis on all the three was incorrect when put on a historical and developmental pedestal.
We are always reminded by our leaders about how Kenya’s economy was at par with South Korea’s at independence, but thanks to their visionary leadership they are now ranked among the best economies in the world while Kenya lags far behind.
Even though it is true that Kenya’s prosperity has been delayed by poor leadership, it is important to put the growth of the Asian Tigers into proper perspective.
The economic growth of the Asian Tigers majorly resulted from historical external support from the US and not from their own internal dynamics.
For example, the US sent more than $4 billion to Taiwan between 1950 and 1965 and compensated for nearly 80 pc of its trade deficit, and it alongside financial aid, helped South Korea develop its market by subsidizing 70 percent of all South Korean exports and at the same time financing over 60 percent of all its imports.
Between 1946 and 1978, the financial aid from the US to South Korea alone almost equalled its total aid to the whole of Africa in the same period.
Singapore has also benefited from US imperialism in addition to its strategic geographical location and its very small area.
This economic (and military) support to these Asian countries arose from the geopolitical interests that the US had in the region so as to curb the communist expansion from the USSR, China and North Korea. Without understanding this historical background, our analysis of the success of the Asian countries would be erroneous.
EXPORT ORIENTED ECONOMY
That is why Ndii’s proposal of building an export oriented economy where he suggests that Kenya’s textile industries should be built at the port cities is also erroneous. The foundation of any sound economy is principally built on local production, distribution and consumption. The development of a textile industry in Kenya, like any other industry, should first be geared towards satisfying local needs and there after export markets.
Today, Kenyans spend millions on mitumba clothes while brand new high quality clothes are being exported to the US through the AGOA platform. This has meant that our textile industries are performing way below capacity,
Focusing on local production and consumption will spur national economic growth that will benefit farmers, researchers, extension officers, technicians, engineers, transporters, traders, etc.
Textile industries should also be concentrated in the regions where cotton is grown. Before the implementation of the structural adjustment programmes in Kenya, cotton farming thrived throughout the country.
The idea that railway lines should be constructed for the sake of exporting Kenya’s agricultural and industrial products is a colonial way of thinking that must be discarded. In any case, it would be easier and more economical to transport finished cloth to the port cities for export than it would be to transport bulky cotton to the proposed port industries.
What should be questioned about the SGR construction is not its viability, but its cost arising from gross corruption by government officials. The budget for the SGR line is enough to construct a two-way SGR line, even with the questionable compensations for land along the railway.
It is also unfortunate that the Jubilee regime has pushed the LAPSSET project into the background yet it has much more long-term human and economic development potential than the SGR project.
Finally, economic development at the expense of freedom, democracy and human rights is not what Kenya should learn from Asian Tigers. On the contrary, the goal of development should be to increase the realisation of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Mr Wachira is Secretary General, Social Democratic Party of Kenya. [email protected] www.sdpkenya.org