Efem Nkam Ubi, Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs

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China's “targeted poverty alleviation” as a model for Africa 15 Dec 2018

The theme of this year's Wanshou Forum that I attended was “Targeted Poverty Alleviation and China-Africa Cooperation.” The forum, which has different segments, was established by the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee at the beginning of 2016. It is a platform that brings together Chinese and foreign politicians, think tanks, scholars and social sector professionals to dialogue on issues surrounding South-South Cooperation. The 2018 forum was organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the implementation of China's reform and opening-up policy.
Our segment of the Wanshou Forum held from October 20th to November 1st, 2018 and had delegates from seven African countries, namely; Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Namibia.

To begin with, it is important we understand China's concept of “targeted poverty alleviation (精准扶贫).” The concept was first introduced by President Xi Jinping in November 2013 when he visited Xiangxi, Hunan province in central China. The Chinese government officially adopted it as policy in 2014.
For Xi's China, targeted poverty alleviation means keeping track of every household and individual living in poverty. This requires a process of identifying the poor population, and for each case, analysing the reason behind the poverty. Between 2013 and 2015, two million government officials were involved in executing the programme. About 89 million files were opened, representing the number of poor families. Personalized poverty-alleviation plans were then formulated for each case.
The next stage of the plan involved identifying the right kinds of industrialisation projects necessary for the various counties with poor people. Secretary-Generals were subsequently appointed to the counties under the local committee of the CPC to manage their affairs for two years.
The entire process was backed by matching funds for the poverty alleviation programmes implemented. The final stage in the targeted poverty alleviation programme, as implemented by the Chinese government, was the establishment of seven institutional systems with special focus on accountability, policy, investment, assistance, social mobilization, supervision and assessment.
In 2013 alone, 66 million people were lifted out of poverty in China. Over the last 40 years, more than 700 million people were lifted out of poverty in the country as the percentage of people living in extreme poverty dropped from 88 percent in 1978 to 1.85 percent as of April 2018. President Xi's target is to completely end poverty in China by 2020 and make China a moderately prosperous society.
Poverty alleviation in China has been successful due to a number of factors, including the capacity of each county to leverage its comparative advantage and utilise cooperative societies. With regards to comparative advantage, counties are content with the resources they have and they put in efforts to develop these resources for income generation.
For example, Pu Tang and Suo Yuan villages plant trees on a large scale for income generation. These trees are logged and sold around the country. Also, Xintang village has very large apple farms. Each of these counties make between 11 and 13 billion RMB (more than 2 billion dollar annually) from sales of their agricultural resources.
This is in sharp contrast to the Nigerian situation where all the states and local governments solely depend on the federal government for monthly fiscal allocations. Many states and local governments in Nigeria remain fiscally unviable on their own. The reason is not lack of resources or capacity. It is because they are not interested in developing their resources in commercial quantities. It is no secret that nearly all the plantations in Western and Southern Nigeria that generated revenues for the regional governments in the 1950s and 1960s no longer exist since the advent of crude oil.  
Another distinct feature of poverty alleviation policies in China is that they are inclusive and they take a bottom-up approach, unlike in Africa where such policies are top-down. Federal or central governments in Africa formulate poverty alleviation programmes and they go ahead to implement them without recourse to the peculiarities and socio-cultural dynamics of the local and poor communities.
More often than not, poverty alleviation programmes in Africa focus on distributing money to poor people. Unfortunately, such cash-transfer programmes have never yielded any positive results. It is time for African countries to adopt and adapt the Chinese formula whereby the national government implements different varieties of programmes that are designed specifically to address the poverty conditions in different communities and families.
Another point worth mentioning here is the use of cooperative societies in China in the poverty alleviation process. Many of the large farms and cottage industries we visited while attending the Wanshou Forum were run by cooperative societies situated in the counties.
The question for African countries is how they can achieve Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to end poverty in all its forms by 2030. One way is to find out what lessons African countries can learn from China.
In his book, “Up and Out of Poverty,” the Chinese President Xi Jinping, opines that eliminating poverty is a tall order that must be followed with persistence. According to him, “Short term projects with quick results can be great for poverty alleviation, but we should not let ourselves be content with these and only focus on short-term task…the work of poverty alleviation is a long-term task.”
The following are some ideas to be included in Africa's poverty alleviation programmes and they must be pursued with considerable political will and commitment.

1.    First and foremost, a one-size-fits-all or country-wide policy is not a tenable solution for African countries. They must develop policies based on the peculiarities and dynamics of individual communities.

2.    African countries need to develop modern agriculture practices and support investment in large-scale agriculture.

3.    African countries must develop and upgrade their infrastructure such as electricity, roads, railways, etc without which they cannot develop their industries and export value-added products.    

4.    Good governance is a sine-qua-non if Africa must eliminate poverty. In this regard, the main responsibility of leaders is to resolve the problem of “bridges and paths”. Bridges refer to building channels for the people to develop commodity production. Path refers to the path of local economic development, which must be done in light of the overall plans of the central and state authorities. African countries must address the challenge of weak leadership, which has hobbled development on the continent for decades.

5.    African countries must give proper consideration to encourage the building of cottage industries and small and medium enterprises.

6.    Africa's poverty alleviation strategy must take a bottom-up approach. Inclusiveness is key to any effective poverty alleviation strategy. In this sense, the people most affected by poverty must be involved in in formulating the strategies to be implemented.