Chalk and cheese? South East Asia and the conundrum of African development

Seminar date: 
24 April 2008
Speaker(s): Dr David Henley

Dr David Henley, a geographer with a PhD from the Australian National University, has worked at the KITLV since 1993 and is currently the South East Asia coordinator for Tracking Development, a multilateral, international research project on the comparative development trajectories of South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. He is also the coordinator of the KITLV's Credit, Risk and the Economy of Debt: Indonesian Trajectories project on credit and debt relations in Indonesian history. His other research interests include the institutional dynamics of colonial expansion.

Jan Kees van Donge, a senior researcher at the African Studies Centre, will give an introduction about the Tracking Development project.

Economic growth is returning to Sub-Saharan Africa and in the last decade there has been more macroeconomic stability, poverty is decreasing and a new middle class is emerging. Africa has never before received as much direct foreign investment as it does today but growth is concentrated in the extractive industries and tourism and this is leading to an enclave economy and limiting the multiplier effects in the wider economy. Economic inequality is increasing, incidences of deep poverty are not declining and there is stagnation with respect to food production and traditional export crops associated with rapid urbanization. In some urban areas poverty is even on the increase. A comparison with South East Asia could reveal why the return of economic growth has not led to development in a wider sense. The World Bank's 1993 report The East Asian Miracle prompted a wave of comparative research aimed at extracting practical lessons for Africa from the rapid and relatively equitable development in large parts of Asia in the late 20th century. While some have questioned the relevance of the Asian experience to the African predicament, pointing to systematic contrasts with respect to geographical constraints and political cultures, others have argued that some of the South East Asian policy choices, notably on agriculture and rural development, are potentially replicable in Africa. This issue has a new urgency given the new warnings by the UN about food availability in the coming years.