The High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Four (catchy eh?) begins today in Busan, Seoul. The likes of Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton will grace the stage in front of 2,000 delegates with soju hangovers. This barbecue feast will involve earnest nodding from some and much frustration from others. Its remit is to come up with plans to improve the aid system which has been remarkably successful in its failure to help Africa.
South Korea is of course an example of a state, like post-war Europe that came from desperate poverty to its present first-world position. Its not to say everything is fine in Korea. I’ve lived there and the wealth isn’t spread so generously and the education and health systems are starting to buckle. But it has come a long way from post-war 1953.
I’ve written papers on South Korea, Taiwan in comparison with the South East Asian states and then African states. The reason for Asia’s spectacular development aren’t unique but they are difficult to replicate. A clear difference with African states is the promotion of education and health, the fact that wealth from resources were kept in the country, a development regime based on the Japanese model (labour intensive –> high-end tech), planned investments and control over capital, a use of strategic aid, rampant theft of technology, a cohesive tight labour laws and a fairly benevolent dictator.
Writers like Park tend to overlook the let’s say ‘cheeky side’ of SK’s growth but in the end, its a far better model than the African development model. The reasons are strong governance and a West that cared for strategic reasons.
This Busan talking shop won’t help much. Trying to find common ground amongst actors national actors with only national interest at heart is impossible. The Millennium Development Goals The days of major investment from the West are gone as aid is less and less tied to the purchase of Western goods. China will continue to link aid to infrastructure projects and often rightly so. At least something is happening.
The Western call for a focus on health masks the fact there are issues of poverty and unemployment to be dealt with. Africa is going to be exposed to the new neo-lib, human rights based agenda, lambasted and criticised for its poor governance and low capacity. And the poor will get poorer in relative and absolute terms.