Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: South Africa’s Struggles, India’s Struggles, and More

by Isobel Coleman
October 29, 2012

Children play in the dump as the Lonmin mine is seen in the background in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, August 21, 2012 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters). Children play in the dump as the Lonmin mine is seen in the background in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, August 21, 2012 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow highlights developments in Africa and Asia in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • South Africa’s Struggles: As South Africa’s labor unrest finally seems to abate, two Economist articles (here and here) survey the country’s unsettling scene. “After 18 years of full democracy,” the magazine says, “South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.” A leading culprit is education. Despite healthy spending, outcomes lag: just 15 percent of 12-year-olds reach minimum proficiency in language, and 12 percent do so in math. Unemployment is officially 25 percent—but 29 percent for blacks against 6 percent for whites. The Economist says that “economic malaise and the chronic failure of government services are an indictment of South Africa’s politicians.” Many view positions with the African National Congress (ANC) as “a ticket for the gravy train.” Officials, generally elected on party-controlled lists, “have little incentive to provide for their voters.” Despite these failings, the magazine reports, the ANC’s dominance is not yet in doubt. Progress might not come until it is.
  • India’s Struggles: A series of Time articles assess developments in India as doubts surround the country’s trajectory. One piece explores the regulations and political disputes that have, many believe, stalled India’s rise. “The private economy… is rewriting the playbook of global business, but the public sector–inefficient, wasteful, and corrupt–is incapable of supporting their efforts,” the piece says. Another article examines India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which offers “100 days of paid work each year to any household that wants it.” While the scheme has done some good, it is plagued by insufficient awareness among villagers, slow payments, discrimination against women, and stretched administrative capacity, among other ills. A third article examines the dilemma of growth versus equity and justice. “India,” it says, “has largely turned its eyes from the seamier side of development,” including corruption, environmental damage, and inequity. A final article explores the changing ambitions of IT firm Infosys. Rather than using huge teams of engineers to build “one-off” solutions for clients, the company wants to make off-the-shelf software that smaller teams can customize. The move is a response to India’s slipping competitiveness as education falters and salaries rise.
  • Africa’s Food Trade: Only 5 percent of African countries’ grain imports comes from inside Africa, says a new World Bank report, illustrating the woeful state of regional trade. The report cites a range of barriers, including slow and expensive transport, insufficient access to inputs like fertilizer and seeds, and “opaque and unpredictable trade policies.” The Bank calls for governments to bolster “market-supporting institutions,” such as commodity exchanges, futures and options markets, and weather-indexed insurance. They must also build “a predictable, stable policy environment.” Overall, the Bank says, increasing trade “will boost the potential for greater food production in Africa and contribute to food security by improving poor people’s access to food and by increasing returns to poor farmers for the food they produce.”
  • Outsourcing in the Philippines: The Philippines, long a low-wage magnet for outsourced U.S. garment manufacturing jobs, is now losing those jobs to even cheaper competitors, GlobalPost reports. In the last five years, some 400,000 garment jobs have fled the country to such places as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. It is, the article says, “a Goldilocks game” to find countries with the right mix of low costs and reliable governance and infrastructure. Garment work has provided a solid if unspectacular middle-class life for many Filipinos. As one worker puts it, the job “is essential to my family and I will do anything to keep it.” The only hope may be to manufacture for the domestic market, catering to “rich and middle-class Filipinos with American tastes.”

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