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Can the Chinese economic model work in Kenya?

By | October 25th 2011

By XN Iraki

All roads lead to China.

It was refreshing to spend five days in Shanghai, China’s leading city by the Yellow Sea to try and understand the secret behind her phenomenal economic growth averaging more than 10 per cent for several years.

Many theories have been advanced to explain China’s rise.

The leading one is that foreign direct investment has fueled her economy.

That was evident from high-rise buildings that bear leading logos from Citibank to Hyatt Hotel.

The secret lies much deeper, in Chinese thinking.

Some argue the difficult language written in ancient Chinese characters makes her people focused and attentive to details.

The fact that China has been a civilisation for thousands of years gives her the culture anchor as she interacts with the rest of the world.

That is what we miss in Kenya.

China has repackaged that past through dances, myths and karate which they show case to tourists. Her long past seems to be a source of great pride and optimism.

There is another secret, less understood. The Chinese leaders long realised that it is the economy that mattered most.

We seem to have decided politics matter most. As the Cold War ended with nations disintegrating the Chinese took that opportunity to modernise their economy and open up to the outside world.

Attracted by her large population, investors poured in. There was no political instability to disrupt the rising economy.

The Communist party had no challenge to power, as they demonstrated at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Incidentally, China was not unique in her approach. The Asian Tigers had leapfrogged economically courtesy of "strong men".

Once the economies were in order, democracy flowered. The same could happen in China soon.

I guess we would be in the same situation if Kanu had used her immense power since Uhuru for the good of the country.

China‘s success was long coming; Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 reforms based on "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" was nothing but modern market system.

A visit to a Chinese "Gikomba" left no doubt that capitalism is thriving and alive in China. Digression; a calculator is great bargaining tool when language is a barrier, the buyer and seller keep keying in their prices till there is a consensus…

On the political front, the handing over of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 and Macau in 1999 were watershed moments; they signaled to the world that China has come of age and was a global player. Today she is wiling to help Europe out of her economic crisis.

Lessons for Kenya

First, democracy is good, but a vibrant economy is better.

A good constitution is not enough if joblessness and hunger stalks the country.

Stimulating the economy to growth is harder than voting for a new constitution.

Chinese leaders confronted economic issues head on. We need to do the same.

Economic growth often starts with getting markets for goods and services. What can we sell to the world and ourselves and create jobs?

Why do we sell raw tea and coffee? When shall we package our traditions and sell them to the world? When shall we turn the "Happy Valley" into Silicon Valley?

Can we spawn the next big thing after Facebook? Without minerals, our future lies in innovations.

Two, we need to attract investors by making it easier to do business and simplifying bureaucracy.

Both our physical and mental infrastructure needs reforms to attract investors.

Three, discipline, single purposeness and national pride can be great economic stimulus. We are not that disciplined enough to take personal responsibility.

We love blaming each other, nature and looking for excuses. Chinese decided their destiny lies in their hands and economic growth is their responsibility. Even on streets you see discipline, no litter, no noise, no graphiti, people give you way.

We often behave as if the world would be better off if we are left all alone. Four, we must think globally.

China and other emerging economics have looked beyond their borders; they see the world as their market.

Our focus now is counties, not the world, a market with 6 billion people, customers. Great economic and political empires have always been global.

China has been investing abroad with leading brands such as Huawei and Haier.

Five, Chinese economic boom is driven by rise in productivity. Zuliu Hu and Mohsin S. Khan while working for IMF concluded in 1997 that "China’s strong productivity growth, spurred by the 1978 market-oriented reforms, is the leading cause of China’s unprecedented economic performance" Our productivity is wanting and rarely a focus of our policies.

The two experts have some good news for Kenya; they assert: "For countries with a large segment of the population underemployed in agriculture, the Chinese example may be particularly instructive.

By encouraging the growth of rural enterprises and not focusing exclusively on the urban industrial sector, China has successfully moved millions of workers off farms and into factories without creating an urban crisis" Can devolution do this trick?

We should not just import Chinese goods but adopt some of their economic ideas and adapt them to the Kenyan context.

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