The Brenthurst Foundation
Strengthening Africa's
economic performance

The Asian Aspiration

Greg Mills

Director, The Brenthurst Foundation

Hailemariam Desalegn

Former Prime Minister of Ethopia

Olusegun Obasanjo

Former President, Republic of Nigeria; Chairman, The Brenthurst Foundation

Emily van der Merwe

Former Researcher, The Brenthurst Foundation

Book / Publication · Published 1 March 2020


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Africa will double its population in the next generation. If Asia’s example can be followed, this does not have to equal double the despair.

In 1960, GDP per capita in South East Asian countries was nearly half of that of Africa. By 1986, the gap had closed and today the trend is reversed, with more than half of the world’s poorest now living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Why has Asia developed while Africa lagged? The Asian Aspiration chronicles the untold stories of explosive growth and changing fortunes: the leaders, events and policy choices that lifted a billion people out of abject poverty within a single generation, the largest such shift in human history.

The relevance of Asia’s example comes as Africa is facing a population boom, which can either lead to crisis or prosperity; and as Asia is again transforming, this time out of low-cost manufacturing into high-tech, leaving a void that is Africa’s for the taking. But far from the determinism of “Africa Rising”, this book calls for unprecedented pragmatism in the pursuit of African success.

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‘If you want to avoid reinventing the wheel of development, and believe Africa can and must catch up, read this book, and learn.’ — Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, 2008-2013

‘Asia’s rapid progress reveals there is no enduring reason why Africa should be poor.’ — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Laureate and Former President of Liberia

‘Asia shows that there is no real reason why Africa is poor.’ — Aliko Dangote, Owner of the Dangote Group

‘Are Africa’s leaders ready to draw inspiration from Asia’s lessons so clearly articulated by the Brenthurst team? I think yes.’ — Wilmot James, Visiting Professor, Columbia University

‘A fascinating insight into Asia’s high-growth development path that should be read by anyone concerned with Africa’s trajectory. Asia teaches that prosperity is a policy choice made by leadership.’ — John Steenhuisen, Leader: Democratic Alliance, South Africa

‘This book explains how Africa can emulate the best bits of Asia’s journey from poverty to prosperity, and avoid the worst.’ — Ernest Bai Koroma, Former President, Sierra Leone

‘An excellent product of a lot of hard work and insights.’ — Joe Studwell, Author: How Asia Works





About the authors

Greg Mills is the Director of The Brenthurst Foundation. “We always get asked, can Africa be the next Asia, and what does it need to do?” he says about the reason for the book. Having visited Asia since the early 1990s, he has witnessed first-hand the revolutionary change that came with the upliftment of more than a billion people out of poverty.

Hailemariam Desalegn is the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who resigned in 2018 when he realised that the type of reform that his country needed could not be achieved so long as his party was being held back by ethnic tensions and a determined old guard. ‘We needed to reform fast, and if I didn’t withdraw, the old leaders would not step aside either,’ he says. His views on selfless leadership has had a deep influence on the book.

Olusegun Obasanjo is a former president of Nigeria, and currently the Chairman of The Brenthurst Foundation. He believes that Africa can develop like Asia, but that it must do so not by imitating Asia but by going its own way. His contributions to the book center on his home country, and around leadership, having met many an Asian head of state in his nearly 50 years in public service.

Emily van der Merwe is an economist at The Brenthurst Foundation. After traveling through Asia to do research for the book, she has come to the realisation that there is a lot to be avoided from the Asian experience (particularly in the environmental and sustainability sphere) and that greater nuance is needed when looking at Asia’s lessons.



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