Japan v Cameroon: Colonialism’s laboratory
In 1959 my grandfather was sent to Japan as a British diplomat. The country he found was undergoing what is now a famous post-war economic recovery.
At the time, the Japanese government was pursuing a strategy of tight economic protectionism, and substantial investment in education. The American army had left only seven years earlier, and Japan’s equivalent of the Marshall Plan had helped kick start the re-building of infrastructure. Japan closed its borders to most international competition, and concentrated on building up its companies, and investing in its people and its infrastructure. Major corporations provided lifetime job guarantees, and factories were heavily unionised, international trade was carefully regulated.
Throughout this period, the country saw growth rates of more than 9%, and rapidly rose to become the second biggest economy on earth. Once companies had built up, throughout the sixties, they were slowly released onto global markets, but with strict controls ensuring they maintained access to their domestic markets.
But by this point, my grandfather had moved on. In 1963, he was sent to the newly independent Cameroon. Unlike Japan, who centuries before had managed to keep European colonialists at bay, Cameroon had suffered from French imperialism. However, significant oil reserves and a willingness to subsidise agriculture led to initial growth in Cameroon, allowing it to become one of the wealthiest sub-Saharan countries.
Unfortunately, though, international economic collapse of the 1980s stifled this. While Japan had built up sufficient wealth by this point, Cameroon had to go cap in hand to the IMF and World Bank. The following decades have been characterised by privatisation and the enforced free trade. 4 re-structuring programs later, the country has not met any of the targets imposed on it by these organisations. In a country replete with natural resources, 23% of the population are chronically hungry, and life expectancy sits just below 60. Such has been the success of two decades IMF/World Bank management.
Like most wealthy countries, Japan has been more than willing to plunder the Cameroonian markets levered open by the IMF and World Bank. Most notable, perhaps, is Japanese industrial fishing off the coast of West Africa. Famous for their love of fish, the people of Japan have managed to trawl their own seas to oblivion. As a result, they have moved on to those areas with any remaining fish – with the West African coast towards the top of their priority list. As one Japanese company boasts: “More than any other parts of the world, the coastal waters of West Africa bring a wealth of business in commercial fishing.” And Cameroon has suffered along with it’s neighbours, as traditional fisherpeople face dwindling stocks of their main source of food.
So, as these two countries face each other in South Africa, what we see are examples of two different models of economic development. In blue, a country which managed to avoid imperial colonisation of both European gun-boats and IMF conditions. In green we will see a team representing a country that has suffered from both. In blue we shall see a country which has exploited it’s own natural resources, and moved in on markets prized open by the World Bank and IMF. In green, we shall see those suffering from these policies. In blue, we shall see a country who’s wealth has multiplied since my grandfather lived there. In green, a country which still suffers the colonial oppression it hoped it had left behind it by the time he arrived.