China-Africa Learning: Take-away lessons

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ImageLast week I posted some reflections from the field visit portion of last month’s Experience-Sharing Program on Development between China and Africa.  The program covered key aspects of China’s development experience including agricultural and rural reforms, infrastructure development, the process of opening-up the economy through trade and foreign direct investment, and China’s growing engagement with Africa.  David Dollar has also posted some thoughts about the program.

Following the field visits, the African officials came back to Beijing for a wrap-up session during which they reflected on what they had seen and learned. Common themes that emerged from their comments included the importance of strong leadership, commitment to development, ownership, and adaptation as being critical elements of successful reform.  They also noted the strong emphasis that China has put on developing good infrastructure and on orderly rural-urban migration.  Participants were also struck by the generally positive attitude they encountered toward Africa.  One noted that “Western donors and investors see Africa as a land of problems. The Chinese see it as a land of opportunity”. 

On the question of China as a possible role model for Africa, several of the Chinese officials who spoke at the workshop stressed the need for every country to chart its own course, and to not be overly influenced by advice from others.  One official noted “In our development we received a lot of advice from the World Bank, the IMF, and other outside experts; we listened to what they told us, but then we made our own choices, adapting their advice to our conditions.  African countries can perhaps learn some lessons from us, but please do not try to copy us.  You need to find you own way to develop your economies. We can help you, but you need to be in the drivers’ seat”

This advice was clearly not lost, as one of the African officials summed up his take-away from the program as follows.  “What I conclude from this visit is that our path to development is not a question of choosing between the Washington consensus and the Beijing consensus.  Rather, it's about developing our own African consensus, wherein we can draw on the lessons of both the West and China.  Both have some useful advice to offer, but both have also made mistakes.  We need to draw on the best of both models, but also to keep our eyes open and to avoid the mistakes that they have made.”  

Let’s hear your thoughts.  What do you see as the main lessons that Africa can learn from China?  And what about the other direction;  are there some lessons that China might learn from Africa?


Philip E. Karp

Lead Knowledge Management Officer, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice

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