Ghana : Comparing the development of "third world" countries: Ghana & Malaysia


Well-Known Member
Aug 24, 2002
The Diaspora
BBC world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle travels to Ghana and Malaysia to compare the development experiences of nations that were roughly on an economic par 50 years ago. I often have a familiar conversation with friends from Ghana. It goes something like this:

Ghanaian friend: "Oh, this country! Nothing works in Ghana! Why are our politicians so useless? Why are we so poor?"

Ghana got independence in 1957, as did Malaysia

Me: "Hey! don't do yourselves down! You've got peace and democracy. You're miles better off than most other Africans. What's more, this country is full of really friendly people! "

Ghanaian friend: "Come off it, Mark. You can't eat democracy or friendly people! Anyway, why should we compare ourselves with other African failures? We want to compare ourselves with the best! We won independence in the same year as Malaysia, in 1957! How come we're not as rich as them?"

British colonial records show that in the early 1950s, Ghana and Malaysia were on an economic par - equally poor and equally dependent on the export of raw materials.

Today, Ghanaians get by on an average of about $300 per year, while Malaysians earn over $3,000. Ghana is still exporting raw products like cocoa and gold, Malaysia makes its own cars and boasts skyscrapers that rival anything in New York or London.

Stability crucial

The development of one product - palm oil - tells part of the story. Ghana grows and processes the rich red oil to make soap and cooking oil.

Political stability is extremely important

Mahathir Mohamad
former Malaysian leader

Malaysia - which imported its first palm oil trees from west Africa in the 1950s - has not only become the largest palm oil producer in the world, but has also developed a high-tech industry which makes sophisticated chemicals and food additives from the raw berries.

The main architect of the economic boom years for Malaysia - the 1970s and 80s - was the recently retired Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"Political stability is extremely important", Dr Mahathir told me. "Without political stability there can be no economic development. People are not going to put money into a place where there is no certainty".

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