Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why are they poor? (cont.)

Last week, I published an essay which explored the different development paths of Asia and Africa. I invited readers to present their theories as to why these two continents fared so different following the end of colonialism.

Reader Rufus Arthur Wilderson wrote:

I think there's another big factor that's put Southeast Asian ex-colonies ahead of Sub-Saharan African ex-colonies; prexisting infrastructure.

Recall that the European powers colonized Asia first. They fought for it too, against the native people there and against each other. Part of the reason for the Berlin conference was to prevent colonial proxy wars between the European powers by having a mutally agreed-upon set of borders (arbitrary though they were).

The Colonial powers went after Asia first because, from a European perspective, it's a much more lucretive place to colonize. Instead of having to chase down and subue multiple tribes, power can be seized in Asia after sailing a few gunboats up a few rivers and taking the capitols. The government already there can be left in place.

That last part I think is key. When the Europeans left Asia, there was already some sort of power structure (albeit often corrupt and brutal), and usually a fairly diversified economy with lots of room for growth. When the Europeans left Africa, they left behind minimal infrastructure, almost no industrialization, and a power structure based on artificial elevation of minority groups for European proxy rule. The economies in Africa were usually built around a single cash crop or resource, and at that only the production of that resource, as the processing usually happened in Europe. Clearly, the Asians were somewhat better off at the starting line.


(reprinted with permission)

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