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Why Asia's Industrialization Model Won't Work For Africa

Africa must not be industrialized like the Asian dragons. Instead, the continent must invest in a high-quality educational system to adapt to a new global labor market.

African countries are looking at Asia for their development
African countries are looking at Asia for their development
Yann Gwet

PARIS African governments and development agencies want nothing more than to see the continent industrialize. In the search for ideas about how to make that happen, Asia is an obvious place to look, as Adesina Akinwumi, president of the multilateral African Development Bank (AfDB), pointed out at a conference this summer called "Accelerate Africa's industrialization" hosted in Busan, South Korea.

Akinwumi's is a seductive idea. The development of the dragons of the Far East has indeed been spectacular. The host nation of the latest AfDB gathering is a prime example. In 1962, less than a decade after the devastating war, South Korea had a per capita GNP of roughly $120 (compared to $160 in Liberia), according to the World Bank. By 2016, per capita GDP had risen to $27,690, extreme poverty was completely eradicated, and the unemployment rate stood at just 4.5%.

This economic miracle was made possible partially due to a robust industrial policy. Between 1962 and 1994, the country's exports grew approximately 20% per year, while the volume of savings and investments exceeded 30% of GDP.

Busan, South Korea

View overlooking Busan, South Korea — Photo: Gregory Foster

Nevertheless, there is little possibility that African countries can follow the South Korean example. The industrialization of the latter rested on the mobilization of labor force that was abundant and cheap. But the world that is coming must shake up this paradigm. In the recent report devoted to the transformation of work caused by artificial intelligence and automation progress, the consulting firm McKinsey analyzed more than 2,000 functions covering some 800 professions. Unsurprisingly, the activities most susceptible to automation are those classified as "physical" in nature. In this new world, physical and manual competences depreciate in value, according to McKinsey, while social, emotional and cognitive capacities will continue to rise in value.

How many Africans will be hired by Google's Artificial Intelligence research center?

Clearly, if the predictions of McKinsey are verified, the strategy of Africa's industrialization by means of the exploitation of its young and abundant labor force will fail. Henceforward, machines make clothes and shoes, robots plant, water and gather agricultural products. In the future, what will be left for manual African workers to do?

Therefore, in this era of constant shocks, Africa should invest massively in education. The objective must be to create a high-quality educational system that is accessible to a larger number of people; to provide education that gives high-level fundamental knowledge, but that is also capable of responding to the needs of a labor market that is experiencing constant change. For example, how many Africans who were educated locally will be hired by Google's Artificial Intelligence research center slated to open in Ghana?

In this and other respects, the challenges are considerable: a recent UNESCO report says that in Sub-Saharan Africa, each fifth child aged 6-11 did not go to school in 2017, against a third of children aged 12-14, and 60% of young people aged 15-17. The World Bank meanwhile reports that in Sub-Saharan Africa fewer than 7% of pupils in primary school read fluently (the level of mathematics knowledge is hardly better).

The African partisans of the Asian model should embrace this strategy. A quick look at the ratings PISA that evaluates the level of pupils aged 15 in the OECD countries, reveals that the development strategy by education is in no respect original and is not incompatible with the industrialization strategy. In 2016 Singapore was rated first in the field of science, in front of Japan (second), Taiwan (fourth), China (tenth), and South Korea (eleventh). Even if they are not followed, all economic models offer useful lessons.

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Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

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