Development, China Style

Angola's Presidential Ballot

Angola’s Presidential Ballot

Angolans are voting in the country’s second national election since the end of a 27 year civil war a decade ago. Incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos, whose ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has governed the country since 1979, is expended to soundly win reelection.

Angola today is a far cry from the country ravaged by a 27 year war involving three separate liberation movements and external intervention by the former Soviet Union, Cuba, the United States, and apartheid South Africa. That war, which resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 Angolans, left deep scars on the country. But today, Angola is growing rapidly. Angola is home to extensive oil reserves, and has experienced rapid, double-digit economic growth since the 1990s. Between 2001 and 2010, Angola experienced the highest rate of economic growth in eh world, averaging 11.1 percent per year.

But Angola’s development has not been without its shortcomings. Despite its rapid economic growth, most Angolans remain desperately poor. Life expectancy and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world. And economic inequality has increased, as a relatively privileged few benefit from the country’s newfound wealth while most continue to live in poverty.

As the New York Time notes,

Angola is one of several African countries that have molded their governments, in an unspoken fashion, on what is widely known as the Chinese model. Leaders who have been in power for decades in countries like Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda have delivered considerable economic growth and, by some measures, improvements in health, education and development.

Leaders of these nations, all of them scarred by internal conflict, have offered their citizens an implicit bargain of development and stability in exchange for robust democracy.

An election poster of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda

An election poster of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda

The exact nature of the “Chinese model of development” is contested. Nevertheless, at its core, Chinese development was defined by a combination of selective economic liberalization combined with continued political control. China’s economic opening was the result of specific and selective political decisions made by the Chinese Communist Party. Further, Chinese development brought into question the link between democracy and capitalism that hand long been assumed in the development literature. Angola, like many other developing countries, appears to be moving towards that model, encouraging economic liberalization while restricting political liberalization and democratization.

Certainly there is historical reason to question the connection between democracy and development. South Korea, for example, experienced rapid economic growth by selectively liberalizing the economy (in the context of extensive state regulations, much like China) but simultaneously maintained a repressive and undemocratic government. Indeed, South Korean economic development, which averaged an impressive 9.2 percent per year from 1961 to 1979, occurred largely while the country was a military dictatorship. Clearly the relationship between democracy and development is not clear cut.

What do you think? Does China present an alternative model for economic development in Africa? How does Chinese development differ from the historical patterns of industrialization and development experienced in the West? And perhaps most importantly, how are democracy and development connected?

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