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Learning from China Inspires African Decisionmakers

July 3, 2008

July 3, 2008— China's economic growth over the past three decades has enabled over 400 million people to climb out of extreme poverty—a dramatic success story built around China's own development strategy. The country's experience offers practical lessons that can be used by other developing regions, and growing economic ties can pave the way for shared learning.

Sino-African trade has exploded from $2 billion in 1999 to $55.5 billion in 2006 and $73 billion in 2007, growing faster than Chinese trade with the rest of the world, and making a significant contribution to China's success. Building on the expanding relationship, the World Bank Institute and the Bank's Africa and East Asia and Pacific Regions supported the Chinese Government in organizing a unique South-South 'experience sharing' program last month.

On-the-Ground Learning

Over eight days, 32 decision-makers from 18 East- and Southern- African countries compared their own approaches to overcoming challenges to growth and human development with what they saw in China. The program—designed by China's Ministry of Finance with suggestions from Bank staff—focused on areas where China's experience was most relevant for Africa.

The first three days were devoted to a seminar in Beijing where Chinese and African participants discussed economic growth, foreign direct investment, trade, infrastructure, and agriculture. Participants then split up into two groups for field visits to the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang.

Rural and Urban Lessons

In the inland provinces of Guangxi and Jiangxi, the field visits focused on poverty reduction and rural development, while in the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang, the visitors explored investments in infrastructure, township and village enterprises, foreign investment promotion, and establishing special economic zones, among others.

"A most inspiring program," said Keizire Boaz, an agricultural economist from Uganda who works on implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program in his country.

Seeing the coinciding development impact of roads, power, and communications technology left an impression with Boaz, who addressed the Beijing workshop. "I saw first hand how China has helped farmers," he said. "If the road is paved, the product goes out faster to the market. With electricity, the farmers have radio and television, and are aware of market trends and competitive pricing. It makes a big difference." 

Another visitor, Andrew Ngone, Zambia-based advisor for Regional Trade Promotion and Development for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), said a visit to a vegetable greenhouse in Leping City in Jiangxi province gave him insights into how government investment can help develop viable private sector enterprises. "The government provided the initial infrastructure, but the villagers managed it and made it grow to a level where they no longer needed the government support," he said.

Qimiao Fan, task team leader for the China-Africa Experience-Sharing initiative, quoted some key takeaways by the participants:

  • Development with significant impact on poverty reduction can be achieved in one’s lifetime
  • There is a way out of poverty if we harness the necessary will power and ambition
  • Political commitment at the highest level is an important ingredient to translate ideas into reality
  • Each country must lead its own development programs
  • Infrastructure development, especially road construction, is critical for growth and poverty alleviation
  • The rural poor must have access to land and tenure

An Important Dialogue

The importance attached by the Chinese government to the program was reflected by the presence of two vice-ministers and the head of the state council's poverty reduction office at the opening session, even though the event was held during the mourning period after the recent Sichuan earthquake.

"China's remarkable success in reducing poverty while sustaining growth is unparalleled in the world," said the Bank's Africa Vice President, Obiageli Ezekwesili. "Through this exchange, policy makers will learn from relevant aspects of the Chinese experience as they shape their own strategies, keeping in mind that the difference in contexts will necessarily call for differentiated solutions. The Bank must increasingly support such south-south experience sharing programs."

Governor Li Ruogu of China's EX-IM Bank, Augustin Fosu of the UN's World Institute for Development Economics Research, Justin Lin, the Bank's chief economist, Jim Adams, East Asia vice president, and David Dollar, the Bank's country director for China and Mongolia, also spoke.
“Our Chinese Government partners are very happy about the program and have expressed their appreciation to the Bank for its role in making it a success,” said Dollar. “They have encouraged the Bank to organize these types of activities on a regular basis. For my own part, I see these types of knowledge exchange as an important complement to other initiatives the Bank is undertaking to support China’s engagement in Africa, including joint project financing and research.”

More Visits Planned

Another China visit is planned for officials from Central and West African countries, as is a visit focused on sharing experiences on irrigation and water resource management. A similar South-South experience-sharing program will bring African officials to India.

Contributed by Stefan Sittig, WBI