“East Asia’s Development Models Offer Unique Lessons for Africa”

At a JICA-ACET Industrial Policy Dialogue, experts urge African leaders  to look to East Asia for inspiration and lessons of “what works”.
Successful East Asian countries may represent better models of economic development for Africa to learn from because they have had “the dual experiences” of being both recipients and donors of aid, and can identify with many of the challenges which lie ahead of African economies.

Professors Kenichi Ohno and Izumi Ohno of the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Japan made the point at a recent industrial policy dialogue jointly organised by JICA and the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) in Accra.

In addition to the benefits of being both recipients and donors of aid, these countries also have “latecomer perspectives, based on their own catch-up experiences”. This, they argue, makes a difference as it enables such countries identify with and empathize with the unique struggles of other latecomers like Africa.

The JICA team was at ACET to share knowledge on areas of research, particularly industrial policy and industrial development, and for the two organizations to build a network for potential collaboration. The JICA team presented their work on policy dialogues on industrial development in Ethiopia as well as their Quality and Productivity Improvement (KAIZEN) Project, currently underway in a number of countries.  In what turned out to be an engaging forum, the two teams dialogued extensively on some of the central topics at the heart of industrial development and productivity improvement on the continent.

“Wanting to learn good practice instead of debating theories forever”

In a key presentation, Prof. Kenichi Ohno argued that while there is still a lot of disagreement over industrial policy among academic experts, governments in Africa need to focus on “what works,” as the urgency of development cannot wait for academic consensus.  The validity of industrial policy arguments “depends on actual successes on the ground; and for industrial policy makers pragmatic and detailed guidance is needed, not theoretical justification of industrial policy.”

One of the best lessons from East Asia, he stressed, is that “how” (design and implementation) is more difficult than “what” (knowing desirable policies). That is why Japan, the Asian Tigers, and China all industrialized “through self-study, learning from neighbors, and trial-and-error” and not because there was certainty over what works.

For African countries this approach may be unavoidable, given the complexity of current international competition. Even more important, today’s latecomers especially in Africa, “face random and fragmented advice.” They either adopt foreign models too easily without deep thinking, or reject them because they believe their countries to be unique.

Kenichi Ohno advised that in order to navigate this complex landscape and find a clear path forward, industrial development policies in Africa need to (among other things) take the following seriously:

  • Strong country ownership
  • A policy package tailored to each country
  • Policy learning and gradual expansion of policy space
  • A broad policy menu to choose from, based on analysis of best international policy practices
  • Policy dialogue with advanced country experts.

Chief economist of ACET Dr. Yaw Ansu spoke about ACET’s research and advisory work on industrial policy and industrial development. ACET, he said, was exploring the theme in its ongoing Africa transformation studies, which have a heavy emphasis on how African countries could utilize agro-processing and light manufacturing as pathways to industrialization and economic diversification. The findings of these studies, he added, will be accessible through the Africa Transformation Report, to be published by ACET in early 2013.

Dr. Ansu commended JICA’s initiative on sharing experiences with African policymakers. He added that the involvement of African policy institutions like ACET in these exchanges could add value to the process.

As part of its Knowledge Exchange Program ACET regularly organizes high level dialogues designed to broker knowledge between African governments, businesses, and academics and their counterparts in countries that have made major progress in transforming their economies.

You can read more about presentations at the dialogue at the following links.