I am sure all the readers of this blog probably know that I am currently in Malaysia. It has been great to come to the far east albeit just for a few months and see a different side of this earth. However, it has also been a great eye opener in terms of my economic thinking.

 Most economic articles that chronicle or critique Africa's slow pace when it comes to economic development, often draw parallels with the East Asian tiger economies. These are Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and so on. In all honesty, readers of this blog will realise that I have also joined in the foray and given the parallels.

These parallels are pertinent in that the East Asian economies started their growth from the same level as the African one's did. They are therefore good candidates for comparative analysis as one can see where we African's went wrong. We can analyse why our tourism numbers are so low given similar or sometimes even better tourism sites, we can analyse why our macro economic environments are so unstable, why our business costs are so high, why we do not have running water and many other factors. It is true that most of the tiger economies are in a far better position that we are in all of these measures.

 The Eastwards mentality is becoming so entrenched in our minds, especially when the gains of western style capitalism haven't spread out to everyone. Trickle down economics has not worked, maybe our canopies are too thick and thus the rain hits the canopy, sticks there and later evaporates so as to condense elsewhere. It could be said that this eastward mentality is just another form of anti-capitalism (socialism), in just the same vain as tree hugging is. I have some friends from Zimbabwe who are such staunch supporters of their governments plans to look eastwards when it comes to development, that they can even get violent when one questions the rationale behind it. They often point out to western imperialist designs as to plausible reasons as to why we should favour the east. However as Shakespeare wrote "a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet". The east and especially China is just as imperialist as the West is, maybe just that they are honest about it. However, before I digress this was not the point of the post.

My concerns are that the admiration towards East Asian economies could be misplaced. The socio-political environment here in Malaysia and in most of the surrounding countries would simply not work in any African country. There is a very patronising and paternalistic approach from government towards their citizens. The people are like drones who shall neither speak out nor think for themselves. "Why should they, we give them all they want", seems to be the approach from the leaders. They stay mostly locked up in the government state (Putrajaya in the case of Malaysia) and looked towards like some all knowing demigods. The level of conformity is at times almost tangible. When watching TV a lot of the content is controlled, there are no satirical comedies both in print and visual media that poke fun at the governments. After all that we as Kenyans have fought for in terms of democracy and freedom of speech. So much so that a generation has grown up with people like Gado, Redykyulass and the late Wahome Mutahi who often ridiculed powerful figures in government, are we ready to give it all up, all in the name of looking east?

As my deceased intellectual mentor and role model Milton Friedman (yes, I do set myself lofty standards) would say; "the biggest downfall of the intellectuals is that they undermine the intellect of the common man".  The fact is that a self sustaining capitalist and democratic society, in my view and as is attested by history should allow people to pursue their own happiness. In any means possible so long as they do not infringe on their neighbours rights. This is pure speculation, however, the Tiananmen Square crisis of the late 80's according to most historians arose due to the new found wealth of the Chinese that needed expression through increased personal freedoms. This is amongst the many historical examples that underpin the argument that freedom and wealth go hand in hand. In a previous blogpost, I start off with a quote from Adam Smith that also argues about freedom and wealth. Our aim then as a country and generally as a continent is to find a growth formula that starts off with a liberal political base. As hard as this may be, it is the only option. Looking east will mean that we give up a great deal of our basic freedoms, a situation that is untenable in both the short run and the long run.