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Cuban Entrepreneurs Embracing Changes to Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The Caribbean island of Cuba has gone its own way economically and socially since its revolution in 1959. The country has seen significant gains in its human development in the decades since, and can boast impressive education levels and good public health care.

Cuba enjoys a good ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) – 59 out of 187 countries – and it has been rising since 1980. For Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba is above the regional average (http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/CUB.html).

But the country has also had a turbulent economy with periods of severe economic contraction. This has increased poverty levels and hunger, in particular during the Special Period beginning in 1990 (http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/havana/lperez2.htm) when the significant subsidies enjoyed by the country from the Soviet Union were pulled and the country saw a steep drop in its ability to import fuel and other goods. Cuba is still trying to repair the economic damage.

In the book Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, Louis A. Perez, Jr. explains: “The old socialist bloc Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) had accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, transactions conducted almost entirely in nonconvertible currency. Commercial relations with the former Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent, from $8.7 billion in 1989 to $4.5 billion in 1991 and $750 million in 1993. Trade with eastern European countries ended almost completely.

“Soviet oil imports decreased by almost 90 percent, from 13 million tons in 1989 to 1.8 million tons in 1992. Shipments of capital grade consumer goods, grains, and foodstuff declined and imports of raw materials and spare parts essential for Cuban industry ceased altogether.”

Conducting private business in Cuba was discouraged after the revolution as the state became the dominant arbiter of all economic transactions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has experimented at various times with moving to a mixed economy, only to pull back and return to the old ways. But now things are changing significantly after economic reforms that have accelerated since Cuban President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008.The reforms began in 2008 with the liberalizing of access to mobile phones, and accelerated between 2010 and 2013, when the number of people working in small businesses tripled.

Cuentapropistas – the Cuban term for entrepreneurs, named after “cuenta propria,” the ability to do business for oneself – have flocked to be officially registered as small businesses, with the number shooting up from 143,000 in 2010, to 429,000 by June 2013 (Report on Business).

Gustavo Kouri told the Report on Business magazine, “Although I enjoyed the work I was doing before – at an information centre in specialized health sciences – it wasn’t possible to earn enough to support my family.

“And then the state opened more opportunities to develop private businesses, for cuenta propia.”

He now owns the Rio Mar restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/restauranteriomar).

Artists and athletes have also been attracted to the opportunities that have opened up.

One is former volleyball Olympic gold medalist Mireya Luis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mireya_Luis), who now owns Las Tres Medallas (http://www.alamesacuba.com/en/la-habana/restaurant/las-tres-medallas/), a pizza-and-pasta restaurant.

For Luis, becoming an entrepreneur means the chance to “realize a dream.”

“Being able to open a place – a restaurant, a bar, a cafeteria, whatever – is a good opportunity for self-development, for people to demonstrate a capacity for business, and for them to grow personally,” she said. “It’s something incredible.”

Gilberto Valladares owns a hair salon in Old Havana, Arte Corte Studio, and has been able to employ others.

“Initially, it was a dream of dignifying and recovering a certain degree of respect for the trade of hairdresser and barber,” he told the Report on Business. “As my business grew, so did the dream.” He now employs a half dozen people from the neighborhood.

Cuba is attempting to reform and modernize its economy while holding on to the things people hold dear and see as the good achievements of the revolution: free healthcare, education and other public services.

Gregory Biniowsky is a Canadian-trained lawyer and political scientist who has spent more than 15 years living and working in Cuba and works for Havanada Consulting, a firm that focuses on sustainable development projects and social enterprise initiatives. “The irony is those that will save the Revolution are the emerging small- and medium-sized private businesses,” he said. “And those that could destroy it are those elements in the bureaucracy that resist those changes.”

The entrepreneurial spirt gripping the island is infectious. At one time, much of the only reading material available in bookshops were works with a communist or socialist theme.
But Cubans now have an alternative: an English-language bookshop called Cuba Libro (https://www.facebook.com/cubalibroHAV). It is filing an urgent gap in the marketplace for English-language books and foreign works in general.

Set up by an American writer and journalist Conner Gorry (connergorry.com), who has been living in Havana, Cuba since 2002, the bookshop has become a hub for free thinking and new ideas.

“I know how hard it is to get English-language sources here,” she told The Associated Press. “So I started cooking this idea.”

Libro is the Spanish word for book and the play on words is meant to evoke a Cuba Libre, a rum-and-cola drink named for the country’s liberation from colonial Spain. The store bills itself as a “cafe, bookstore, oasis,” and  its logo features a woman reclining with a cup of coffee and a good book for reading.

The idea came about when a friend of Gorry could not find a place to unload 35 books she had. In time, Gorry amassed a collection of 300 English-language books, and this embryonic library became the book shop. The store also carries magazines, including U.S. titles The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

So far, the store faces little competition. Government book shops feature the occasional Cuban novel translated into English or the English-language versions of state-run newspapers such as Granma (http://www.granma.cu/ingles/).

Cubans are enjoying the slow thaw and what it could bring. “It is increasing in Cuba, the possibility to have different alternatives,” said Carlos Menendez, a 77-year-old retired economist Menendez.

Cuba Libro has two licenses to operate – one for selling food and one for selling used books – and is run as a type of cooperative, a group-owned private enterprise with five Cubans.

Doing business in Cuba is not without challenges. The bookshop needs to steer a steady path and avoid selling anything that would be considered “counterrevolutionary.” Gorry also needs to avoid problems with the U.S. government, which bans Americans from any financial transactions with the Cuban government.

“I’ve had to tread extremely carefully, everything above-board and legal, because I’m an American, I’m a North American, I am beholden to U.S. laws,” she said. “And so I’m not in agreement with those laws, but I abide by them.”

The bookshop has the benefit of a well-educated pool of potential customers; the annual Havana book festival is a popular draw in the country (http://feriadellibro.cubaliteraria.cu/).
There is a strong thirst for self-improvement in Cuba, and to gain knowledge is to get a better paying job. To widen access to the shop, there will be a lending library for those who can’t afford to buy the books on offer, and there will also be English classes.

And how will the bookshop get restocked in a country that still exercises a lot of control over information?

“Getting donations is going to be another interesting piece of it, because importing books here is very difficult,” Gorry said.

Resources

1) Cuba Research Center: The Cuba Research Center is a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.  Founded in 2013, its purpose is to provide information about Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, to participate in public debate about those subjects, and to build bridges between Americans and Cubans interested in those topics. Website: http://www.us-crc.org/

2) Havanada Consulting: Havanada Consulting is a consulting firm which focuses on sustainable development projects and social enterprise initiatives in Cuba. Website: havanada.com

3) Havana Cuba Business: If you are engaged in or would like to learn more about Cuba-related business or travel activities, Havana Cuba Business offer a customized consulting service that will address your questions and concerns. Website: cuentapropistas.com

4) A business-friendly Cuba gets a hand from Canada (Report on Business). Website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/a-business-friendly-cuba-gets-a-hand-from-canada/article14006239/?page=all


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Kenya Turns to Geothermal Energy for Electricity and Growth

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In an effort to diversify its power supply and meet growing electricity demand, Kenya is looking to increase its use of geothermal energy sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity). Tapping the abundant heat and steam that lurks underground to drive electric power plants offers a sustainable and long-term source of low-cost energy.

Kenya currently gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric projects. This is great until there is a drought, which there now is. With water resources low, the country has had to turn to fossil fuels to power electricity generators. This means relying on imported diesel, which is both expensive and polluting. It is also not generating enough electricity to keep up with demand.

Electricity blackouts have become common in the country and this is harming economic development. This is a particularly damaging setback in a country that has, in the last five years, gained a deserved reputation for its technological advances in mobile phone applications and Internet services – all needing reliable supplies of electricity.

Kenya is Africa’s largest geothermal producer and has geothermal resources concentrated near a giant volcanic crater in the Great Rift Valley with 14 fields reaching from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields in Homa Hills and Massa Mukwe (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191&Itemid=163).

Kenya is expecting its gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 10 per cent from 2012 onwards. The country hopes to become a middle income country by 2030.

Around 1,400 steam wells will be drilled by companies to meet these goals.

There are also many spin-off opportunities from tapping geothermal heat sources. These include using the steam heat for greenhouses growing plants, for cooling and heating buildings, and for drying and pasteurising foods.

Kenya is currently building a 52-megawatt (MW) geothermal project with funding from the United States government. It is also receiving US$149 million funding from the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) to build the Menengai Geothermal Development Project. This plant will be able to generate 400 megawatts of renewable electricity from the Menengai geothermal sources in the steam field located 180 kilometres northwest of the capital, Nairobi (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=49&Itemid=137).

Speaking at a press conference this month, Gabriel Negatu, AfDB’s Regional Director, said he sees geothermal technology as an important driver of Kenya’s green growth ambition.

“Geothermal generation yields energy that is clean, affordable, reliable and scalable,” he said.

The Geothermal Development Company (GDC) (gdc.co.ke) is a state-owned company in Kenya and recently declared it had tapped steam with a well in the Menengai steam field. GDC started surface exploration in 2009 and has been using two drilling rigs to look for geothermal steam.

The Menengai Geothermal Development Project is slated to be completed by 2016 and will boost the country’s geothermal capability by 20 per cent. It is estimated to be able to power the electricity needs of 500,000 Kenyan households and power the needs of 300,000 small businesses.

Geothermal as a source of energy and electricity can help a country make big development gains. The best example is the Northern European island nation of Iceland. According to Orkustofnun (nea.is/geothermal), Iceland’s National Energy Authority, the country is a successful example of how a small, poor nation (Iceland was one of Europe’s poorest countries in the 20th century), shook off its dependence on burning peat and importing coal for its energy use. By 2007, Iceland was listed in the global Human Development Report as the country with the highest level of human development in the world. And one aspect of this success was the country’s ability to tap its renewable energy resources. Around 84 per cent of the country’s primary energy use comes from renewable resources, and 66 per cent of this is geothermal.

It is estimated Kenya could generate 7,000 megawatts of geothermal power and the Kenyan government is looking to increase the nation’s geothermal capacity from the current 198 MW to 1,700 MW by 2020 and 5,530 MW by 2031.

Resources

1) Home geothermal: A feature from Popular Mechanics on how geothermal can work in the home. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/hydropowergeothermal/4331401

2) Geothermal Energy Systems: A South African company specialising in setting up geothermal systems for customers. Website: http://www.africanecosystems.co.za/about%20us.html

3) Geothermal Education Office: The basic on tapping this energy source and how it works. Website: http://geothermal.marin.org/pwrheat.html

4) Menengai Geothermal Development Project: A detailed explanation of the project. Website: http://www.climateinvestmentfunds.org/cif/sites/climateinvestmentfunds.org/files/SREP%205%20Kenya%20Project.pdf

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Southern Innovator was designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy, much of which comes from geothermal sources. 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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A Steppe Back?: Economic Liberalisation And Poverty Reduction In Mongolia

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“… the neo-liberal claim that transition is most successful in situations where state organs wither away is highly problematic. The state, it seems, is required as a fundamental regulatory formation in transition (Pickles and Smith 1998: 15).”

By David South

This paper will explore the profound weaknesses of economic liberalisation as a tool of poverty reduction in the developing world. I have chosen to explore the experience of the Northeast Asian nation of Mongolia; a country sandwiched between Russia and China which has been held up as an example of how economic liberalisation policies and strong personal freedoms can help a country make the transition from a command-based Communist country to free markets and democracy (UNDP Mongolia: The Guide 1997-1999). I argue that the slate of policies that constitute economic liberalisation (or “shock therapy”) in the 1990s – privatisation, price liberalisation and a free-floating currency – are, by themselves, poor mechanisms for the alleviation of poverty; that in fact they increase poverty rates and leave a legacy of weak institutions that are either unwilling to or incabable of helping the poor. The author will also draw on firsthand evidence gained while working in the United Nations mission in Mongolia for two years.

Economic liberalisation policies have been inhibited from alleviating poverty by the cultural legacy of Mongolia’s economic development, which has de-emphasised private property and a money-based economy and placed a high emphasis on wealth being held in herds of animals and goods exchanged by barter.

Mongolia, with its relative isolation and small population of 2.4 million (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 55), has been seen as a self-contained petri dish by economic liberalisers hoping to incubate a robust transition to free markets and democracy that can serve as an example to other post-Communist states.

Mongolia’s journey towards neo-liberal ideas is unique. Unlike many other developing nations, Mongolia’s lively democratic movement that emerged at the end of the 1980s actively sought out these policies, and has enjoyed strong and widespread public support for them (though this has ebbed and flowed with the economic fortunes of the country). The 1996 election was fought and won by the Democratic Coalition based on these policies; the Coalition won 50 of the 76 seats in Mongolia’s parliament, and voter turnout was more than 90 per cent (Far Eastern Economic Review 1997: March 27). Thus, this is not a case of international institutions forcing upon a country policies against its wishes: the door was opened and the economic liberalisers were effectively invited in for a big bowl of fermented mare’s milk.

However, it is also a country in which economic liberalisation has failed to deliver anticipated reductions in poverty for the majority of the population, and a strong case exists that it has made things worse.

As the Human Development Report Mongolia 2000 states:

In recent years however, the predominant vision has been neo-liberal. Backed by some international donors, reformers have argued that the best thing the state can do is to largely withdraw from the economy – by rapidly privatising state enterprises, and dismantling as many regulations and controls as possible, and allowing market forces to determine the production and allocation of goods and services. (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 13)

Liberalisation policies in Mongolia: A potted history

With the fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, Mongolia woke up to find itself without its financial benefactor for most of the 20th century, Russia, and in the grip of a severe economic decline (Rossabi 2000: 9).

But a new “big brother” was at hand. In 1991, economic liberaliser Jeffrey Sachs arrived in Mongolia (Fortune 1998: December 7). The arrival of Sachs and his ideas were to have a profound impact on the lives of Mongolians. He gathered a group of well-educated Mongolian economists to test economic liberalisation theories.

Smith and Swain neatly summerise the source of economic ideas for the transition states:

The roles played by Francis Fukuyama (1992), formerly of the US State Department, and Jeffrey Sachs (1990), as policy adviser … translated this agenda into the all too familiar programme of so-called ‘shock therapy’. Shock therapy has been based on the view that capitalism could be … imposed by fiat and that the unleashing of the power of capital will inevitably allow the institutions, regulations, habits and practices associated with the ‘normal’ functioning of a capitalist market economy to emerge (Smith and Swain 1998)

The economic liberalisation project in Mongolia can be split into two distinct phases. The first more tentative phase under the Communist government extended from 1990 to 1992 and included privatisation of some state firms, the issuing of stock-market vouchers to most of the population and a failed attempt to enter the foreign currency markets (as a result of which 80 per cent of the country’s reserves were lost). This phase coincided with a new constitution, democratic elections and significant improvements in personal freedoms.

The economic liberalisation project encountered serious difficulties from the start, and when all aid and subsidies from the Soviet Union were removed, the economy collapsed, with inflation spiralling to 320 per cent (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 13). Pro-economic liberalisation factions in the Communist government lost influence and the reforms stalled from 1992 until 1996, when they were re-started with a vengeance with the election of the Democratic Coalition. The Coalition was assembled from a hitherto fragmented opposition by the Washington-based International Republican Institute and mimicked the policies of the American Republican Party, including distributing a Newt Gingrich-style “Contract with the Mongolian Voter.”

The second phase of reforms, under Democratic Coalition Prime Minister M. Enkhsaikhan, was launched with the removal of price controls on fuel and electricity, increasing prices by 50 per cent (Rossabi 2000: 11). This phase of economic liberalisation also ran into difficulties, but its most successful policy achievements have been the privatisation of public housing, the removal of trade tariffs and the reining in of inflation.

Poverty and economic liberalisation

Prior to the introduction of economic liberalisation, there was no extreme poverty in Mongolia, though it is difficult to gauge relative poverty since this information was not gathered. Rossabi notes, however, an extensive public welfare system was spread throughout the country:

The Mongol economy required substantial subsidies from the Soviet Union. This command economy produced inefficient industries, few consumer goods, and scant increases in the size of the Mongol herds. The one-party system limited dissent and contributed to human rights abuses. On the other hand, the government provided extensive medical, educational, and welfare benefits to the young, women, the elderly, and indeed much of society. A growth in population, a longer life span, and high rate of literacy were byproducts of such state policies. (Rossabi 2000: 6)

All research data has shown an increase in poverty levels for a large portion of the population after 1990. Estimates vary wildly, but the United Nations Development Programme reports that 38.4 per cent of urban dwellers – and 32.6 per cent of rural residents – were poor in 1998 (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 23). School attendance is down, regional disparities have become more extreme, with the capital experiencing a boom fuelled by international aid (this totalled US $180 million in 1998 (Mongolia Update 1999: 27) and an expanding service sector. Provincial towns and smaller communities have seen local state-run businesses collapse, communications weaken, and a leaching of the population, either to the countryside to herd animals or to the capital to seek work.

To cite one graphic anecdotal example of the process, a consulant for the Asian Development Bank told a 1998 donor agencies meeting of the irony of going into former factory towns, and telling the well-educated residents to turn to small crafts and itinerant vegetable growing rather than restarting the existing factory.

Mongolia’s transition: theoretical dilemmas

As Pickles and Smith note in their work of political economy Theorising Transition: the Political Economy of Post-Communist Transformations, it is a profound mistake to ignore the distinctive evolution of each of the former Communist states. Mongolia’s attempts at transition to a market economy have been deeply marked by its cultural legacy, in spite of attempts to transcend this. While Ohmae may assert that “This movement up the ladder of development has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the region’s ability to put the right policies, institutions, and infrastructure in place at the right time (Ohmae 1994: 21),” culture is crucial. It is simplistic to depend on a “stock set of policies to enable the supposed transition to capitalism at the end of the twentieth century to be achieved (Pickles and Smith 1998: 10).”

As Pickles and Smith add about post-Communist Eastern Europe:

Treating post-communist Eastern Europe as a whole fails to recognise the ever-present diversity of some 27 states and 270 million people. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, such political-economic diversity was central to what was unfolding in the region … The diversity of historical experiences was replicated under state socialism, and while we would not argue for some form of historical determination, the state socialist economy in part relied upon these spatial divisions of labour and forms of social organization and institutionalised practices, albeit that large-scale attempts at forced industrialisation were made to eradicate the legacies of ‘peasant societies’ and uneven capitalist development. (Pickles and Smith 1998: 12)

Historically, Mongolia had never experienced capitalism, even in its most basic and embryonic form. Prior to the 1921 revolution which made Mongolia the world’s second Communist country, the vast majority of its citizens were divided between two occupations: nomadic herding, and the herding of souls as Buddhist monks. There was a small trading community, including a tiny community of Jewish traders – a legacy of the long-gone silk route that once plied its way through the Mongol Empire. But modern, urban, industrial capitalism as was present at this time in Europe was nonexistent in Mongolia. Concepts of capitalism, market economics and private property were introduced anew after 1990.

Urbanisation, modernisation and industrialisation were wholly communist concepts in Mongolia prior to 1990. The traditional nomadic way of life measures wealth in terms of the size of the herd and places a high value on the ability to roam unencumbered by private property divisions and the ability to trade animals for other goods (though these needs are simple since a nomadic herder can only carry around a limited quantity of possessions).

Economic liberalisation policies have, ironically, only exacerbated this trend, driving more of the economy into barter relations and actually pushing a portion of the population out of urban areas and into subsistance herding in order to survive (Partnership for Progress 1998: 2-3).

Mongolia also offers some anomalies to theories of economic and democratic liberalisation. Lewis contends that democracy gives a nation a distinct economic advantage. “Average wealth, the degree of industrialisation and urbanisation and level of education are perceived to be much higher for countries which are democratic, education being of particular importance in this respect (Lewis: 1997).”

Yet as Fortune magazine noted, “No other Asian country enjoys more political freedom today than Mongolia. And no other Asian country has shown greater commitment to open markets. But Mongolia has received little reward for its efforts (Fortune 1998: December 7).”

The role of the state

Broad, Cavanagh and Bello see a strong argument for clear state direction in underdeveloped economies in the beginning stages, before allowing market mechanisms to dominate:

The South Korean economy’s resumption of growth after a brief period of stagnation at the onset of the 1980s and Eastern Europe’s slowdown after rapid growth in the 1960s confirm a more complex truth than the purveyed by free-market ideologues. Communist economies may propel societies through the first stages of development, but further growth into a more sophisticated economy necessitates a greater role for market mechanisms. (Broad/Bello/Cavanagh 2000: 392)

Strong state direction in economic development has been abandoned in Mongolia (it remains to be seen whether the re-election of the former Communist party in the summer of 2000 will alter this), and it can be argued that the over-dependence on market mechanisms has been premature.

In fact, “the neo-liberal claim that transition is most successful in situations where state organs wither away is highly problematic. The state, it seems, is required as a fundamental regulatory formation in transition (Pickles and Smith 1998: 15).”

The absence of this regulation in Mongolia means that where once economic transactions were transparent, they have now gone underground. The example of cashmere exports (one of the country’s major foreign-currency earners) is particularly interesting. In 1998 the Mongolian government, faced with ever-dwindling tax revenues, introduced a tax on cashmere exports, ostensibly to protect the domestic cashmere-manufacturing industry. Whatever the true intention, the result was catastrophic for government revenues. Recorded exports fell by more than 98 per cent, to US $306,000 in 1998 from US $16 million in 1997 (Far Eastern Economic Review: 1999). The trade went underground and a handful of customs officials could not make a dent in a border as vast as Mongolia’s. It is a graphic example of how weak the central government had become, unable to raise revenues when necessary.

Economic liberalisation also tends to pull economic activity into the capital, as has been witnessed across the transition states. Centrifugal forces leave great swathes of poverty in rural areas and drain marginal urban centres of their skilled workers (Pickles and Smith 1998: 17). Mongolia is no exception to this pattern (Rossabi 2000: 10).

Forces outside the market

After investigating the role economic liberalisers in non-communist developing nations, Robert Bates found that market-oriented economists routinely overlook the role politics and political power plays in wealth distribution:

One reason that market-oriented economists tend to deny the centrality of politics to the development process is that they tend to discount problems of distribution. Those who adhere to the efficiency-and-growth position counter that if development produces a maldistribution of income, those who are losers in the short run could become winners in the longer run … From this viewpoint, governments are not just irrelevant to the development process, the actually impede it. (Bates 1988: 239-240)

There is scant contemporary research into the role of clan or family elites in modern Mongolia, but Rossabi, a Mongolia historian, believes they wield significant influence to this day, and have glided from communism to capitalism with ease (Rossabi 2000: 12). He asks, “Has there been sufficient turnover in the political elite, or does it represent the same consitutency as in the past? Has it expanded sufficiently to make itself more broadly representative of the Mongol population, including the herders and the countryside in general?”

In search of a purpose

Mongolia today is undergoing a basic economic dilemma familiar to Ricardo. It is at once transforming political and economic relations while also exploring what advantages it has to offer to the world markets, that old chestnut of absolute and comparative advantage. To date, its absolute advantage has been to be the source of raw materials, the two key foreign currency earners being copper and cashmere wool (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 30).

Its large herds of animals (some 34 million) are under-utilised as foreign-currency earners, and for the most part provide food for domestic consumption. One of the main reasons for this has been the rudimentary livestock techniques that exclude these vast meat and dairy resources from foreign markets (while the herds are raised without any use of chemicals, there is no quality control – a service once provided by the state before 1990). The distortions to the economy caused by these policies are highlighted in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1985, agriculture accounted for 14.3 per cent of GDP, and industry was 31.8 per cent. By 1998, agriculture (now mostly nomadic herding) accounted for 32.8 per cent of GDP and industry shrank to 24.1 per cent (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 56). The economy had contracted and was more focused on meeting basic domestic food needs.

Mongolia has a number of strengths it can draw on, however, with its impressive steps at building democracy and personal freedom chief among them. Lewis categorises former communist states into two groups, with group two taking an undemocratic route. Mongolia would rank in group one, since these countries have: “relatively rapidly established a reasonably viable constitutional order and multiparty system, having held free elections, seen unequivocal changes of government and generally established civil liberties (Lewis: 1997).”

The economic model used by the Democratic Coalition was the United States; Mongolia’s new leaders, dismissed other Asian nations – with their stoic, thrifty populations taking direction from the state – as poor examples for Mongolia. Like the US, Mongolia’s nomadic heritage values freedom and individual effort over the state, assert government advisers such as Tserenpuntsag Batbold, an economic adviser to the Mongolian prime minister’s office.

Batbold is sanguine about finding a purpose for the country’s economy: “I’m always thinking about this, but I can’t give you an answer. This is exactly why we have to create a nondistortive economic environment, one which will show us the true comparative advantages of this nation (Asian Wall Street Journal 1997: May 27).”

Yet the process has been a difficult one. At a June 1998 international investors’ conference in Ulaanbaatar, the World Bank variously called Mongolia the “gateway to Russia”, the “gateway to China”, and the “gateway to Central Asia” (UB Post: 1998), giving the impression that both the global institutions and the Mongolian government would try anything in a desperate search for a purpose for the country’s economy. In fact, efforts in the 1990s to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) have not been fruitful. In 1999, FDI stood at US $70 million; it was US $200 million for all of the 1990s (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000). The belief that foreign private companies would pay for the country’s infrastructure improvements has run up against a wall: most foreign companies find it hard to see the benefits in investing in a country that only has a market of 2.4 million people and very high start-up costs.

By 1998, even Sachs was striking a pessimistic note. He told Fortune magazine he disagreed with the pace of reforms and insisted infrastructure improvements – more roads, improved livestock breeding, investment in information technology – were the only things that would improve the country’s economy (Fortune 1998: December 7).

Conclusion

Political power in Mongolia has switched from the hegemonic control of the Communist Party (and its overlords in Moscow) to be dispersed amongst a plethora of actors, including international aid organizations. Economic liberalisation has destroyed the state’s ability to guarantee a minimum standard of living. However, it has also expanded the number of small businesses in the country, and the GNP generated from the private sector has grown from 10 per cent of the total in 1990 to 64 per cent in 1999 (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 31). In spite of this, poverty rates remain stubbornly high, undermining assertions that free markets alone will generate wealth for the disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, Mongolia has significantly misdiagnosed the origins of prosperity in its current role model, the United States. Economic liberalisation policies cling to simplistic notions of the evolution of capitalist markets in the US, ignoring the complex relationship between state-funded or regulated infrastructure development and economic growth. Post-communist countries have been ill-advised on what policies will actually reduce poverty rates. These societies do not fit into conventional ideas of underdevelopment; on the whole their populations are highly literate and skilled. While products produced by these countries may not be able to compete head-on with more technologically sophisticated equivalents in Western markets, there is little evidence that wholesale destruction of these industries will spurn economic growth and reduce poverty.

Pax Chaotica: A Re-evaluation of Post-WWII Economic and Political Order

In The Interests Of The Exploited?: The Role Of Development Pressure Groups In The UK

The Sweet Smell Of Failure: The World Bank And The Persistence Of Poverty

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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China Sets Sights on Dominating Global Smartphone Market

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The rise of smartphones – mobile phones capable of Internet access and able to run ‘apps’ or applications – is the latest wave of the global connectivity revolution. Mobile phones rapidly made their way around the world to become almost ubiquitous – the most successful take-up of a piece of communications technology in history – and now smartphones are set to do the same. The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the world surpassed 6 billion in 2012 (out of a population of 7 billion) and, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the number of mobile phones will exceed the world’s population by 2014.

Over the last five years, with the increasing popularity of smartphones, the focus of the mobile industry has shifted from voice and messaging to apps and data services.

Smartphones are complex pieces of technology and any country that can develop the capability to make them and innovate is set to make a lot of money.

The high export value potential of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a UN meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

At present, smartphones have a long way to go to surpass old-style mobile phones: by the end of 2016, according to Portio Research (portioresearch.com), the number of non-smartphones in the Asia-Pacific region alone will still be bigger than the entire worldwide number of all smartphones. Even so, it’s predicted that by 2016, there will be 555 million active smartphones in China alone, as well as half a billion smartphones in Europe by the end of 2014. By 2013, North America’s smartphones will make up 50 per cent of all mobile phones. All in all, a lucrative market.

The main factor holding back the rise of smartphones is price. Smartphones tend to cost more than a basic mobile phone. But as China gets more heavily involved in the smartphone marketplace with its own smartphone and mobile phone brands, low income consumers will find themselves with a wider choice of affordable and powerful smartphones, each one a mini-computer.

Out of the 10 largest global manufacturers of smartphones, four are Chinese: Lenovo, Yulong, Huawei and ZTE (Gartner).

Huawei (http://www.huawei.com/en/), the world’s biggest smartphone seller (according to research firm Canalys) (canalys.com), has started to move some of its design team to London in the United Kingdom, to better tailor its products for foreign markets. It has revenues each year of US $35 billion.

China’s mobile phone market is vast, accounting for a third of all smartphones sold in the world. Getting a foothold in this marketplace places a company in a very strong position to build the expertise and capital to push into the wider global marketplace. And that is what Chinese brands are starting to do. So far, Chinese exports of branded smartphones make up a fifth of those sold around the world (Canalys).

The big global competitors to date have been South Korea’s Samsung (samsung.com) and the American Apple brand (apple.com). Other large competitors are Canada’s troubled Blackberry and Finland’s Nokia.

To compete with them, popular and successful Chinese brands include Xiaomi (xiaomi.cn), which sells more mobile phones in China than does the American Apple brand, and ZTE (http://wwwen.zte.com.cn/en/).

For years, many of the top global brands have had their phones and the components manufactured in China. This meant Chinese manufacturers were assembling the phones but not benefiting from the high value that can be extracted from being the owner of the brand name and the originator of the innovation and holder of the copyrights and trademarks.

But now China’s Lenovo brand (http://www.lenovo.com/uk/en/), for example, has successfully pulled past U.S. electronics maker Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com) to become the largest seller of personal computers in the world. It is also selling more mobile phones and tablet computers than personal computers.

Lenovo Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing espouses a two-part strategy to defend market share at home in China while going hard at overseas markets. Lenovo started with so-called emerging markets in Russia, India and Indonesia.

“We have very aggressive plans to explore overseas markets,” Lenovo’s mobile phone division head Liu Jun told China Daily. “We hope the overseas market will contribute more than half of Lenovo’s total smartphone revenue in the long run.”

Xiaomi founder Lei Jun is considered part of a new generation of dynamic Chinese technology leaders. His casual clothing and charismatic public presentations have had some equate him to the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. But Jun is not happy with selling smartphones and instead sees the company’s future in software and that the phones are just a tool to access the software. Xiaomi hopes to make even more money from selling games, running online marketplaces and offering social media.

The Chinese-made smartphone brand Coolpad (http://coolpadamericas.com/) – made by Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific Co. – is the third best-selling in the Chinese marketplace, surpassing Huawei and Apple and has global annual revenue of US $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Sino Market Research found 10.2 per cent of China’s smartphone users own a Coolpad, behind Korean brand Samsung and China’s Lenovo.

Coolpad has succeeded by investing heavily in research and development (R&D) and innovation to make the phones cheap but also powerful.

Innovations include technology that lets users have more than one phone number for the same phone by being able to connect to two different network technologies. The phones also include security and privacy protections that make them popular with businesspeople and government officials.

The Coolpad brand has also been frenetic in launching different models of the phones to appeal to its customers. In 2012, it launched 48 different models, selling for between US $50 and US $500.

Coolpad was launched in 2012 in the US as part of the company’s global expansion plans.

China has placed innovation at the core of its economic development policies. China increased its R&D spending in 2009 to US $25.7 billion, a 25.6 per cent rise over 2008, according to Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents filed and was in a neck-and-neck race with Japan and the United States.

China now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The drive to change and transform China’s global economic role was promoted in 2011’s Beijing International Design Week (http://www.bjdw.org/en/), with its theme of transforming “Made in China to Designed in China.”

Resources

1) iHub Nairobi: iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. Website: http://www.ihub.co.ke/

2) Venture Capital for Africa: Venture Capital for Africa (www.vc4africa.biz) is the continent’s leading founder’s network, the largest and fastest growing community of  entrepreneurs and investors building promising companies in Africa. Website: https://vc4africa.biz/

Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognized quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website: http://www.red-dot.de

C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

North Korea Tech: North Korea Tech is dedicated to covering and collecting information regarding the state of information technology and related industry in North Korea. You can expect to find articles related to Internet connectivity in the country (yes, it does exist), North Korea’s use of technology, and the country’s centrally-controlled and heavily-censored mass media. Website: http://www.northkoreatech.org/

Published: September 2013

ISSN 2227-3905

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

Google Snippit December 2020.