At the time Ghana secured independence from Britain in 1957, its per income was equal to that of South Korea. Thirty years thereafter, South Korea’s per capita income was said to be 20 times that of Ghana.
Other East Asian countries – Taiwan, Mainland China, Honk Kong, Malaysia and Singapore – equally outperformed most African countries, especially Malawi. Just what is the reason for African lacklustre performance compared with the Tigers of the Far East. Is it because Asian governments are being run by better educated leaders than African governments? How can this be? African intellectuals include graduates of top world universities: Oxford, Harvard, Sorbonne, Moscow, you mention it?
The superior performance of the East Asians has its roots in their work ethic and culture.
In his book Global Shift, Professor Peter Dicken of the School of Geography, University of Manchester lists the following traits of East Asian culture.
First, Eat Asians believe in strong families. They believe that the family is the building block of society.
Most Africans do share this belief. But how do they make use of it in the field of economic activities? At the time we achieved independence, suddenly some Africans started to occupy positions in the civil services and politics formerly occupied by the departing colonials. Some people would flock to towns tikadye naye m’bale wathu (let us partake of the wealth of our brother or cousin). Their relatives could not save much out of their earnings.
Second, East Asians revere education. This is a value held by all strata of society. There are differences in the attitudes Africans have towards education. Some ethnic groups even in a small country like Malawi have hardly appreciated the advantages of education. Girls in particular have lagged behind.
Third, East Asians consider hard work a virtue and this is the chief reason this region is outperforming Europe.
When the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda visited Taiwan in the 1960s, he came back expressing wonder at the work ethic of the Chinese.
He told the German ambassador: “I always thought the Germans the hardest working people in the world. Now I realise in the Chinese you have great rivals.”
Are we Africans a hardworking people? By international standards, not quite. Too much time is assigned to leisure activities. If we are to develop Malawi, we must work harder than we do at present.
Fourth, East Asians believe in the virtue of saving and frugality. They want individual families and government to lead frugal habits.
Neither individual Africans nor their governments can boast of thrifty habits. The moto is chukua chako mapema or dyeratu (seize your portion at once and enjoy yourself). Where such habits prevail, economic development slows down.
Fifth, East Asians do not believe in extreme forms of individualism. Every individual is a member of a nuclear and extended family, clan neighbourhood community, nation and state.
We Africans are by no means deficient in this trait but do we put it to good use? The Asians have shown that it is possible to adopt western technology without being over-westernised.
There is an As ian version of a social contract between the people and the state. Governments have an obligation to treat their people with fairness and humanity. Citizens are expected to be law abiding to respect those in authority, work hard, save and motivate children to learn to be self-reliant.
This type of relationship ought to be emulated by African governments and citizens. Civil wars that have erupted here and there in Africa are due to some governments pursuing discriminatory policies.
Sixth, East Asians want their government to maintain a morally wholesome environment in which to bring up their children.
Most Africans have told their governments not to authorise gay marriages.
Seventh, in some Asian countries, governments have sought every citizen a stakeholder in the country.
One would wish an illustration of this before commenting.
Eighth, good governments in Asia want a free press. They do not believe that such a freedom is an absolute right; the press must act responsibly.
This is the ideal African governments and owners of the media should strive to achieve.
Ninth, East Asians practise national treatment. Government business and employees work together for the good of the country.
This is very important. In Malawi, occasions of work slippage are too recurrent resulting in wasted hours for working.
This is about Asians. What do outsiders say about us Africans?