Last month on September 30, The New Times (Rwanda) reported that the East African Community (EAC) resolved to benchmark education practices from Singapore and Germany. On the same day, Uganda’s The Observer published a treatise by Ugandan sage, Justice Patrick Tabaro, about the genesis and meaning of Ubuntu as a philosophy. What is the link between these two ‘stories’? We return to this shortly.
Today, virtually every African planner speaks the language of ‘best practices’ spiced with such catch phrases as a ‘benchmarking’, ‘replicating’ and similar clichés. And the benchmarking is most invariably focused on developed countries, thus the case of the EAC seeking to benchmark Germany and Singapore on higher education practices. However, as one sage once noted, Africa only apes the visible outputs in developed countries without digging deeper about the inputs and processes.
“We copy European consumption habits without learning their working discipline and ethics,” he concludes.
This will be the case as our planners at the EAC embark on ‘high level’ dialogues on how to benchmark Germany and Singapore. The higher education systems and practices in these two countries and, Indeed, elsewhere, are informed by the type of economic strategy a country pursues. The economy itself is informed and influenced by that society’s philosophical interpretation of life. Perhaps a scanning appreciation of a few countries/regions may help us grasp better what it takes to become a Singapore or a Germany.
Germany’s social market economy
Germany’s economic and technological might is driven by their philosophy of a social market economy.
Most literature describes the social market economy as not being an economic system as such, but rather an idea, a belief, a conviction, a programme. Konrad Zweig for example sums it thus: “The social market economy was not advocated solely for its superior efficiency, but for its unification of the spiritual, economic and humane requirements of life. It was seen as an order beyond supply and demand, hoping to soften social strife, class differences and alienation of work…this ethical and social aspect was never dissociated from the more narrow considerations of the material benefits of following the rules of a competitive market.”
It is this philosophy that explains German’s current might, dating from its reconstruction after its destruction and recession.
The re-industrialisation path (buttressed by The Marshall Plan, which was a re-industrialisation plan, not hand-out aid as often misconceived), addressed the immediate needs of the citizens, as evident in the legendary Volkswagen Beetle. …‘the purpose was to make a car that would drop the children at school, drop the mother at work and take the father to work, thus its name: the ‘people’s car’, Georg Vollinger, our school chaplain at St Joseph’s Voc School in Mbarara, once told us during a GP class.
A friend well-versed in matters of economics tells me the reason banks in Germany rarely foreclose businesses is because they take an active role in the growth of the businesses they finance, unlike our Wall Street practice in East Africa, where when faced with a patient, banks rush to call an undertaker instead of a doctor.
Singapore’s controlled free economy
This economy is an enigma: free, but controlled. Five decades ago, Singapore was so poor that its brief merger with Malaysia in 1963-65 had been interpreted as a buy-out, the former becoming another province of the latter. Leaping from Third World to First World in three decades is not a result of your classic GDPism that focuses on statistics, instead of people.
This miracle is a product of beliefs espoused by Lee Kuan Yeuw, who established a developmental, dirigisite state. It is said that in his early years, Yeuw made it mandatory for people to save 23 per cent of their earnings or face jail. He buttressed his leadership with Asian values, especially Confucianism. Confucianism, for example, holds that people must work to support God in his co-creation, instead of praying for miracles and surviving on ‘humanitarian’ hand-outs.
Colbertism is not so much an ideology as it is zeal, a sense of national duty and pride. Scholars have used the term to refer to the policies, strategies and system of economic development undertaken by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, France’s Finance Minister under Louis XIV. He has been described as the greatest economic patriot of 17th century Europe, becoming to France what Adam Smith was to Scotland.
The Scandinavian Lagom
The economies of the small Scandinavian kingdoms are based on the Lagom philosophy, which means neither too much nor too little, but just enough for everybody. They hate greed.
Before our expert thinkers and planners embark on donor dollar-oiled ‘study trips’, they may find it worth visiting Mzee Justice Patrick Tabaro for tutorials about Ubuntu Philosophy.
The author is a partner at Peers Consult Kampala and CET Consulting, Kigali.