Africa's regional development is essential for the continent's renaissance

By Benard Ayieko
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, March 31, 2021
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Lamu Town in Kenya [Photo/HELLORF]

China's regional development strategy remains the envy of many across the world. Despite the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese economy recorded impressive growth with its gross domestic product (GDP) expanding by 2.3 percent in 2020, exceeding the prediction of 100 trillion yuan ($15.44 trillion). Speaking at this year's National People's Congress in March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged that while the Chinese economy still faced challenges such as weak domestic consumption, a crippling small and medium-sized enterprises sector and job losses, there was no cause for alarm. Li predicted that China's GDP will grow "above 6 percent" in 2021. He exuded confidence that China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), which focuses on coordinated regional development, will successfully drive the country's growth and development agenda.

Last year, China achieved a key milestone in its journey of realizing the first centenary goal on the fight against poverty. According to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), China, with its population of 1.4 billion, lifted millions of its people out of extreme poverty, 10 years ahead of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals target of eradicating global poverty by 2030. This success is largely attributed to the Chinese deliberate but well-intentioned and executed coordinated regional development programs.

So what lessons can Africa learn from China on coordinated regional development?

Focusing on less developed regions

First and foremost, it's imperative to note that Africa must appreciate that coordinated regional development is the foundation on which the aspirations of the African Union's Agenda 2063 must be laid. Just like China, Africa's coordinated regional development needs to be inclusive and must involve both a strategy for overall coordination and a strategy focused on developing the main functional areas, as well as initiatives to prevent GDP gaps from increasing beyond moderate ranges.

To ensure that African countries reap the fruits of coordinated regional development, just like China, there is need for policymakers on the continent to come up with national and regional strategic development guidelines and policies whose sole objective is to promote development in less developed regions. These policies should provide a clear framework for revitalizing old industries and aiding the rise and expansion of other parts of the country.

China has managed to successfully implement a comprehensive strategy related to developing key functional areas informed by the needs of the people and the available resources. Africa needs to borrow a leaf from China's book. The economic development blueprints of African countries must dictate the direction, decentralize resources, standardize the growth sequences, control the intensity of development and support efficient coordination and sustainable development systems.

For instance, Kenya's development blueprint dubbed Vision 2030 that aims to transform the country into a newly industrialized middle-income country by the year 2030 has housing and urbanization flagship projects that emphasize the nationwide urban planning and development campaign. This campaign was decentralized across major cities and towns including rural settlements as a way of promoting coordinated regional development within the country. Kenya's Vision 2030 accentuates the need for metropolitan and investment plans initiatives for 11 regions covering Nairobi and its environs.

The key takeaway is that African countries should emulate China's thoroughly planned regional growth strategies to achieve balanced development and improve the standards of living of its people. In 2014, China embarked on a strategy to coordinate the development of Beijing's neighboring port city of Tianjin to move non-capital functions out of Beijing. This initiative has since solved the urbanization challenges such as traffic congestion in Beijing. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, this effort resulted in relocation of 2,648 manufacturing enterprises, 581 markets and 106 logistic centers from Beijing to Tianjin in the past five years as a way of fostering regional development.

Cultivating new growth poles

If Africa is to realize its renaissance in line with the aspirations of the Agenda 2063, the continent must aggressively promote the opening up and development of economic hotspots, cultivating new economic growth poles to assume leadership and exemplary roles, and radiating out support and stimulation for the development of other areas. This must be augmented by simultaneous and vigorous deliberate support to initiate development projects in less developed regions within the African economy. These development programs must be alive to the needs of the impoverished areas, ethnic minority groups and border areas to improve development, production, living conditions, and self-efficacy.

Africa has witnessed regional strife within territorial borders of its countries and as part of coordinated regional development efforts, there is a need to deepen intraregional economic cooperation, encourage cooperation internally, promote orderly industrial change across the country, unify interregional development, vigorously promote new economic growth frontiers like the blue economy, coordinate the advancement and opening up of coastal, borders, and inland areas, and create a new model of comprehensive opening up of the less developed parts of the country, especially the rural areas. With 60 percent of the African population concentrated in rural areas, coordinated regional development will strengthen the continent's fight against poverty and reduce the existing regional development imbalances. These efforts are geared toward accelerating development of infrastructure and other social amenities that will dignify the lives of the poor.

Formulating feasible policies

There is need to close the interregional gaps in the quality of public services by increasing funding in under-developed regions, accelerating construction of basic public service infrastructure, institutions of learning, energy projects, healthcare and other social services. This will improve overall quality of life and reduce the amount by which under-developed areas lag behind in terms of public services. The mineral-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo remains poor with 72 percent of the population in the north, west and Kasaï regions living in abject poverty of less than $1.9 a day, according to a 2018 World Bank report.

The political goodwill of the National People's Congress, China's national legislature, and the Central Government, have greatly contributed to the improvement of public policy making apparatus by strengthening the top-down structure of regional development and integrating regional policy with tax, investment, industry, land, and environmental protection policies. This has resulted in the cleaning up of regional policy making by implementing a classification and management system that has accelerated the formation of laws and regulations that promote coordinated regional development.

African governments must therefore bring together stakeholders both from the public and private sector to take part in the formulation and implementation of policies geared toward promoting coordinated regional development.

This is expected to increase the per-capita disposable income of residents in those regions, reduce regional development inequalities, raise the annual economic growth rates, boost development of the regions, promote ecological conservation and green development, innovation, accelerate foreign trade in those regions and help cure urban ills that will make those regions livable and business friendly areas.

The writer is an economist, consultant and a regional commentator on trade and investment based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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