“Bangladesh, with its challenges, can be a development model for African nations”
Name a nation where 44 percent of people live in extreme poverty, women have an average of 4.5 children, and the per capita income is less than $500? The answer -- Bangladesh around 1990.
Despite its issues, the nation is changing today. The average GDP has multiplied eight-fold. Women typically have two children, which gives parents more money to spend on each child's education, health, and wellness — and more funds for banks to lend to business. Less than half as many individuals now live in absolute poverty, writes David Pilling in an opinion piece for the Financial Times.
Women now have much better status. Secondary enrollment is higher for girls than for boys. One in five children died before the age of five in 1971, the year the country gained independence. It is now one in thirty.
However, one should not overstate. Bangladesh still lives under poverty. Political unrest, environmental dangers, and a high level of corruption are still some of the challenges it faces today. It only approached the IMF this week to request a multibillion-dollar loan. However, if you look at Bangladesh in the long term, which Henry Kissinger once called a "bottomless basket," you will see that it is a development success.
Though it is rarely cited as a model for development, it has lessons to teach for many regions of Africa. Although South Korea and Singapore are usually mentioned, no African nation has achieved development on par with them.
Bangladesh is a reminder of what is actually feasible and a retort to those who disregard the potential of the entire continent in favour of past national achievement. Following the end of its Liberation War, the newly independent Bangladesh experienced starvation and political assassinations. This bleak beginning eventually led to some measure of prosperity.
This is due to three primary factors, according to Oxford University's Stefan Dercon, a development economist. The first is the textile sector, whose exports increased from $32 million in 1984 to $34 billion in 2018. Bangladesh made twice as much money from exporting clothing in 2020 as all 54 African nations put together. The remittances are the second. Last year, $22 billion was sent home by Bangladeshis working abroad. Third of all, Dercon places non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like BRAC and the Grameen Bank, which act as a safety net and lift some impoverished people out of poverty, read the article.
Dercon contends in his book Gambling on Development that the government had no "grand design" in any of this. Instead, it stayed out of the way. For instance, it abstained from destroying the budding textile industry and allowed NGOs to operate freely. It is true that Bangladesh has expanded by using its own inexpensive labour, often at awful costs. The Rana Plaza catastrophe of 2013 resulted in the death of over 1,000 garment workers. However, every industrialising nation has seen similar horrors, from Britain with its filthy Victorian slums to Japan with its Minamata mercury poisoning catastrophe.
The success of Bangladesh's development, according to Charlie Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, can be attributed to three things. Economists prefer threes. Heis ones are electricity, fertility, and literacy. In his book, "The Time Travelling Economist", he makes the case that Bangladesh meets all three requirements for industrial take-off: adult literacy rates of at least 70 percent, an electrical supply of at least 300 kWh per person, and a fertility rate of no more than three children, says the opinion piece.
Many African nations have literacy rates above 70 percent, providing them with a ready-made labour base for factories. But just a few nations can deliver dependable electricity at affordable prices. The majority fall short of Robertson's 300 kWh barrier, ranging from Guinea Bissau (21 kWh per person) to Ethiopia (82 kWh) and Nigeria (150 kWh).
It is debatable if Robertson is correct when he insists that nations cannot develop until the fertility rate falls below 3. However, he asserts that there is a direct link between family size, household savings, and the accessibility and cost of bank loans for industry. Compared to Nigeria 12%, Bangladesh has a rate of loans to GDP that is 39% higher. Compared to Nigeria's 5.2, it has a fertility rate of 2.
Botswana, Mauritius, Morocco, and South Africa are among the African nations with fertility rates under 3. They are among the richest in the continent. Though the reason can be questioned, there is a significant link. The fertility rates in the rest of Africa range from Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, with a fertility rate of 6.7, to Kenya, a middle-income country with a fertility rate of 3.4, reads the FT article.
Bangladesh is now where South Korea was in 1975, just before it experienced a miracle. Robertson's conditions for lift-off are met or virtually met by a number of African nations. Governments that are upright and progressive surely assist. However, Bangladesh demonstrates that there is also a haphazard route to riches.