Great changes have taken place in these Asian countries since 1992 when I last visited them. Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have become modern cities, and the countries have good transport systems and education. Many cities in Indonesia have also undergone a lot of change, e.g. many new department stores, and there is electricity almost everywhere. Travelling is easy between the big cities with railway, bus or planes. Internet cafes can also be found, and university staff at major universities have e-mail access and addresses.

The picture is not only positive. In Indonesia the rupiah tumbled to a quarter of it's value from 1997 to 1998, and has not recovered in to any great extent in March 2000.  The poor people in the cities are probably those hardest hit. People with money can both buy things cheap and foreign interests with production facilities can have very cheap labour and sell their products with huge profit at the international market. So it is not difficult to see who are profiting on this state of affairs. But who was the main mainipulators who created this situation?

Malaysia has also had its upheavals lately with the former vice prime minister being accused for corruptions and some other things. Media are saying that is more a political struggle. So there seems to be a discrepancy between very democratic sounding pronouncement made about democracy and reality. The vice prime minister got 6 years jail sentence if my memory serves me right. Malaysia also proclaim that they will be a model of racial harmony. But how stable is the relationship between the chinese and the malay?

Singapore seems to have a solid economy, but will their economy continue to prosper. One concern which was voiced by several was lack of creativity. Is it enough that the school kids in grade are the best in the world as far as  mathematics  goes? A Singaporean I talked to said Singapore was very dependent on how well the surround countries did economically speaking.

Ghana managed to keep their cedi stable in relation to the  dollar the in 1998 but it has depreciated about 30% now in March 2000. There seems to have been some improvements in certain areas. Some departments at The University of Ghana has got e-mail and internet access. But there has also are strikes  among teachers and physicians.

Japan and South Korea November 1999.
I visited Japan in November 1999 participating in "7th International Conference on Computers in Education", ICCE'99  and was impressed by how well organized both this conference and the society was.  I could easily get my home page loaded down from Norway when giving my presentation so I had no need to bring anything.
Trains were running on time, toilets could easily be found,  free of charge and paper always available , and the level of criminal behaviour is very low so you felt always safe.
But the japanese seems to be fairly selfcontained. Few spoke English and sign were seldom in English so it was at times difficult to orient yourself. In train stations you had first to find out the fare and then use the automatic ticket machine. I found that it was very helpful to have a map and a compass. Together with Lonely Planet for Japan I managed quite well.
I travelled to Nagasaki via Kyoto, were I stayed in a traditional inn sleeping on the floor. Part of the trip from Kyoto to Nagasaki I went with Shinkansen, "the bullet train" with an average speed of 200 km/h with stops. It was floating along. You only noticed the speed if you looked at cars being left behind very quickly on the parallel road.
I talked to several foreign students, and one thing several had noticed was that students often slept during lectures and almost everybody get through once you get into the university. But you have to struggle to get in there and the opposition you get afterwards seems to be closely linked to what university you have attended.

In South Korea I visited Pusan and Seoul. Knowing how devastated the country was in 1953 after the civil war it is impressive to see both Pusan and Seoul was modern cities with and excellent subway system. I also visited a university in Pusan and one in Seoul. Both had well kept buildings in pleasant surroundings.
Staff and student seemed to speak English to a greater extent than the japanese. They also seemed to read English language journals and  publish articles internationally to a greater extent than the japanese.

Why have these Asian countries taken great strides forwards while Africa is lagging far behind?
Corruption is widespread in both  Ghana and Indonesia, "under control" in Malaysia while Singapore seems free from corruption as far as public servants go.  Strict child rearing practices make people more compliant, and  loyalty to the extended family and tribe rather than to employer contribute strongly to the maintenance of corruption.

A sort of "learned helplessness" seems most pronounced in Ghana. The turmoil in Indonesia in May 1998 can be seen as a reaction against corrupt leaders that have become rich but also brought the country forward economically, educationally and with respect to services like electricity, health and transport. The collapse of the rupiah gave people a set back which triggered  protests and riots. The students want transparency and political reforms, more democracy, and they have lately got increased support. May 21 1998 president Suharto had to resign and vice president Habibie, a technocrat, took over May 22 1998. Corruption will not disappear with this change, but it may be the beginning of a process for improvement.
The newly elected president Wahid seems to be more democratically minded than earlier presidents but the rupiah has not recovered since 1998. The upheavals in Timor has not helped the situation.

Malaysia and Singapore seem to have clear political goals and strive towards being self-reliant and independent. These two countries also seem well organized.   Ghana is peaceful, but poorly organized, and progress is slow. The South Asian countries seem far more dynamic.
In Japan and South Korea they get things done and they invest a lot in their kids in terms of stimulation and education. Ghanian people are nice people with a well developed social intelligence but with less will and ability to get things done.

I think a lot can be explained out from cultural variables. Gert Hofstedes book "Cultures Consequences" is doing this out from certain variables. Child rearing practices may be another variable to consider. This again should be put into a historical and political context.

Bjarne Fjeldsenden  April 26-1999 / April 2000   Bjarnes  MAIN PAGE