What should China learn from Africa?

Liu Tao is a Ph. D candidate of the Institute for World Society Studies of Bielefeld University.  He has been writing a series of posts on the rise of China, making his advices on China’s economic, political, and foreign policies.  His series consistently attract lots of attention from Chinese readers.  A reader, in responding to one of his post, even offers to publish his series. 

Recently, Liu Tao wrote a post, Tortuous path of Africa’s modernization – a revelation to the rise of China.

In this post, Liu Tao selects African continent as a reference, talking about what China can learn from other Third World countries’ modernization process.

Liu Tao comes up with his own theory of modernization. He believes that any country in the world has to go through three stages on the road to modernization.

In general, the three stages are,

1. The establishment of a modern nation-state. Form an effective modern nation-state through wars, revolutions and mobilization of the entire country.

2. Economic development and industrialization. Adopt a market economy, use the state’s power to develop national industry and achieve a rapid modernization.

3. The establishment of a society with functional divisions. Legal definition of the state, the market and the basic functions of all social elements’ relations.

A country is required to complete the missions of one stage before it going to the next. All countries have to go through these three basic stages before reaching modernization.

The process of the first stage, the establishment of a modern nation-state, is usually sanguinary, involving wars or revolutions, killings or genocides, just like what happened when Napoleon created new Europe and Bismarck unified German. We should not use today’s standard of human rights to measure this progress.

A modern nation-state with a powerful central government is the foundation for effective governance. Without such government, it is basically impossible to build the market economy which requires an integrated domestic market and mass production, let alone to establish civic awareness.

When a true nation-state is established, it enters into the next course, an economy-oriented stage. In this stage, a late-developed country must mobilize national power and national resources to establish effective governance, encourage the development of the market economy and foster an integrated domestic market. The country should focus on building modern industry to achieve industrialization and economy development beyond the conventional speed. The international capital flows and international trading can bring enormous risks, so a late-developed country should maintain strong controls and regulations on economic activities.

A country enters the third stage when its economy and market become mature.  To establish a society with functional divisions, it is necessary to legally protect property rights and people’s other essential rights.

Based on this three-stage theory, Liu Tao points out that Africa’s problems in developing are because many African countries have not finished stage 1 of the process.  They are not truly nation-states. That’s why they are still experiencing so much pain and violence now.

Quoting data from Gero Erdmann’s Apokalyptische Trias: Staatsversagen, Staatsverfall und Staatszerfall – strukturelle Probleme der Demokratie in Afrika (Apocalyptic three: State failure, state purge and state decay – structural problems of the democracy in Africa), Liu Tao raises up the question why the Africa continent experiences more serious state failure, state purge and state decay than many other places.  Besides other well-known factors such as tribal problems and colonial histories, he believes neo-liberalism, originating in the US, and the Washington Consensus have been disastrous for Africa.

Neo-liberalism advocates removing trade barriers, cutting taxes, and cutting welfare spending which in turn reduce the capacity and effectiveness of a country. What neo-liberalism advocates is actually the rules of game for developed countries (i.e., post-stage 3 countries) like the US, Europe and Japan. These rules are not suitable for those countries in stage 1 or 2. Neo-liberalism can only make countries of stage 1 or 2 lose their basic economic sovereignty.

Advocating liberalism is a conspiracy of the West. Beware of this conspiracy and don’t falling into this trap.  This is Liu Tao’s advice to China.

Note: Jennifer Brea has helped edit this post.

2 thoughts on “What should China learn from Africa?”

  1. We should not use today’s standard of human rights to measure this progress.

    When will man ever learn from history…?

    Considering the wider picture, it seems to me that China’s Big Economic Experiment is quite unique. How many other countries have thrown off communism by becoming rampant capitalists?





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