East Asia’s Lessons for Africa

NEW YORK – On June 1-3, Japan is hosting the fifth meeting of TICAD, the Tokyo International Cooperation on African Development. The meeting is a reminder that, while the rest of the world obsesses over Europe’s economic travails, America’s political paralysis, and the growth slowdown in China and other emerging markets, there remains a region – Sub-Saharan Africa – where poverty is almost the rule, not the exception.

From 1990 to 2010, the number of people living in poverty ($1.25 per day) across Sub-Saharan Africa rose from less than 300 million to nearly 425 million, while the number living on less than $2 a day grew from about 390 million to almost 600 million. Still, the proportion of those living in poverty declined from 57% to 49% in this period. [See graph below.]

Developed countries have repeatedly broken their promises of aid or trade. Yet Japan, still suffering from two decades of economic malaise, has somehow managed to remain actively engaged – not because of its strategic interests, but in order to meet a genuine moral imperative, namely that those who are better off should help those in need.

Africa today presents a mixed picture. There are some notable successes – from 2007 to 2011, five of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries with a population of more than 10 million were in Africa. And their progress has not been based solely on natural resources.