What you need to know:
- Both India and China have strong pharmaceutical industries.
- Kenya must learn from China and India.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed that the capacity of a country to respond effectively is primarily influenced by its status of industrialisation and political leadership. The case of China and India illustrates this starkly.
China and India are Asian neighbours. India got its independence in 1947, China had its revolution in 1949. Both countries have a population of about 1.4 billion.
India’s Gross Domestic Product was US$30.6 billion in 1950 while China’s was US$30 billion. China’s GDP is now US$15 trillion while India is at US$3 trillion.
China and India inherited sprawling slums at the revolution and independence, respectively. Industrialisation and economic development has generally led to eradication of slums in China. India has also had some success with industrialisation and economic growth. However, this growth has been patchy leading to continued proliferation of slums.
The pandemic began in China last year and there were many deaths, initially. The government took strict measures to control it, including lockdowns. It also traced and quarantined all the people who tested positive.
They also deployed massive resources and built (in record time) and equipped huge hospitals dealing with Covid-19 patients, saving many lives. Food was supplied to the public by the military during the lockdown. This was possible because the population were largely living in modern houses.
Basic medical insurance
The pandemic also began in India last year. The government took measures to control it, including lockdowns. Many Indian migrant workers died walking hundreds of kilometres returning home.
The government could not impose lockdowns in slums because of their chaotic nature. The migrant workers, most possibly, spread the virus as they traversed the country. The lack of lockdowns in slums contributed to spread of the virus. In the slums, it was impossible to supply households with food. We now see the pandemic spiralling out of control in India and well-controlled in China.
From 1949 to 1976, China was, by and large, an agricultural country with 82.6 per cent of its population living in rural areas in absolute poverty. In four-and-a-half decades, their economy performed well. Its manufacturing sector is now the world’s largest in terms of added value.
The economy produces an estimated 15 million formal sector jobs annually. The unemployment rate is below three per cent. Access to education has been expanded remarkably, reducing the illiteracy rate from over 30 per cent to below three per cent in 40 years.
The labour force with a higher education has surged from less than 0.5 per cent to 25 per cent. Social security has been significantly improved, with more than 85 per cent of the population covered by basic pension and over 95 per cent possessing basic medical insurance.
Fourth, urban-rural income disparity has steadily declined after peaking between 200 and 2010. The Gini coefficient has also fallen since 2008, although it still hovers above 0.45.
The Indian economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of services. Major industries include iron and steel, textiles, jute, sugar, cement, paper, petrochemical, automobile, information technology, banking and insurance.
Below world average
Slightly less than half of the workforce is in agriculture, but services are the major source of economic growth, accounting for nearly two-thirds of India’s output but employing less than one-third of its labor force.
India has capitalised on its large educated English-speaking population to become a major exporter of information technology services, business outsourcing services, and software workers.
Nevertheless, per capita income remains below the world average. It has a fairly vibrant medical tourism industry that is largely private. The poor majority lack access to health care due to a dearth in public medical services.
Both India and China have strong pharmaceutical industries. They can produce vaccines and therapeutic drugs to fight the pandemic. However, China is effectively a developed country whilst India has islands of modernity surrounded by a sea of underdevelopment. This has enabled China to respond to the pandemic more robustly than India.
Kenya must learn from China and India. An industrialised country with no slums and focused political leadership has better chances of defeating pandemics.
Kenya must institute focused, patriotic and ethical political leadership in order to industrialise, develop economically and eradicate slums as well as enhance its capacity to respond to pandemics.
Prof Gumbe is former chairman of Centre for Multiparty Democracy-Kenya