Monday, December 15, 2014


You know what they say, if you are going to climb a mountain study all the possible routes up and then ask someone who has already been there.

Looking at the numbers alone South Korea was little different than Uganda about 50 years ago. At independence in 1962 Uganda's GDP per capita was about $62 while that of South Korea was about $87, around the same.

However South Korea was just coming out of a devastating civil war that had literally razed it to the ground, while Uganda was being touted as the cant-miss country with its bounty of natural endowments.

If you had gone to sleep then, after visiting both countries, and woken up today you would have doubted what you knew then.

During the period the size of the South Korean economy has grown to $1,197 billion from $2.3 billion, grown to five hundred times its size or essentially averaged 13 percent annual growth for the last 52 years. And it has done this while spreading the benefits better than its neighbours. It's ranked 15th on the Human Development Index, a ranking which measures how well the country is doing on social indicators like literacy,availability of health services and other indicators which measure the population's quality of life.

The Ugandan economy of course has only grown forty fold in size from its 1962 levels.

Last week members of the press sat down with officials from South Korea's embassy and technical assistance agencies to understand how the East Asian nation achieved what it did and what lesson's we can glean from their experience.

Given the apparent equality at the beginning, South Korea maybe one of the best case studies that show that for development the key factor that predicts success, or not, is the quality of the people -- leadership and general population, rather than the wealth in natural resources of the country.

Despite a period of colonization by Japan, South Korea had been existence since before Jesus Christ was born, which meant it had had a centralized administration that was directing development. The levels of education among the population were quite high with primary enrollment at 60 percent in the 1960s compared to 12 percent here.

This means two things, that the country's bureaucrats were drawing on long established practice and experience, while at the same time there was a critical mass of qualified people to formulate and execute policy.

But they did not stop there. When they decided they were going into heavy industry they decided their skilled manpower was inadequate to support their ambitions and they embarked on a programme to skill their people.

They ramped the numbers of their graduates from science universities and specialized technical schools from 5,000 in the the 1960s to 50,000 by the end of the 1970s. I will be impressed if we have 5,000 technology and science graduates annually in Uganda today.

"But in the classic case of God giving meat to those who have no teeth, our embarrassing bounty in arable land and conducive climate has clearly worked against us. The Koreans have less than a fifth of their land good for agriculture but have mastered the art and science of high yields to the point that Dr Hyeong-Jin Jee, the head of their agriculture assistance arm asserted "It's not the size of the farm, but how much you can reap that matters"....

While South Korea imports 70 percent of its food its self sufficient in rice and vegetables.

He pointed that the share of our budget is woefully low and suggested that were the budget to be increased from the current under ten percent, it should be focused on developing agriculture technology, especially seed development. In addition extension services should be boosted.

He said that in the 1960s Korea used to develop up to 40 new seeds varieties annually now they are up to a thousand annually.

However it might be a case of its still early days for us -- if we write off the 1970s.

The graph of the growth in per capita income shows that here was slow, almost imperceptible growth between the end of the Korean War in 1953 before they reached $500 GDP per capita in the mid 1970s. Around that time, probably when the human resource had matured and the shift towards heavy industry, fuels an exponential jump that has continued despite the subsequent political and economic upheavals.

Also interesting is that the leadership recognized very early that this growth needs to be shared rather than concentrated in a few hands, long before poverty eradication became a fad in development economics.

South Korea was never uganda, but interesting lessons can be learned from their development process and then who knows in 40 years we will look back and wonder at what we have achieved.

No comments:

Post a Comment