Our abstract has been accepted for presentation at the Asian Studies in Africa: Challenges and Prospects of a New Axis of Intellectual Interactions: John Walsh and Eric Bediako, “Special Economic Zones in the Mekong Region and Africa” (Accra, Ghana: January 15th-17th, 2015).
The special economic zone (SEZ) and its role in instigating and facilitating the factory age (i.e. low labour cost competitiveness, import-substituting manufacturing that is export-oriented) has become a symbol of rapidly developing Asia. It may be an exceptional space where individuals are stripped of their usual rights and suffer alienation and sickness along with repression but it has proven to be a generally successful means of raising aggregate income levels. This is true for those countries in the Mekong region which have almost reached the limits of what the factory age can achieve (i.e. Thailand), that are at different stages of the trajectory through the process (i.e. Vietnam, Yunnan province of China and Cambodia) or are only just beginning the cycle (i.e. Laos and Myanmar). There have been significant negative externalities along the way but new concepts of eco-industrial villages may – if these can be successfully realized – indicate a way ahead that minimizes pollution and promotes sustainability of production. Although this approach has achieved success in the Mekong region (within the limits noted), much less success has been achieved across the vast continent of Africa. This lack of success is often attributed to the lack of infrastructure and low levels of integration of SEZ activities with the local economy. However, the Mekong region noted for its infrastructure or for its harmonious and multi-faceted private-public sector relations. What other factors might be relevant in seeking to improve success levels? This paper adopts a case study approach to highlight the different dynamics and factors by which SEZs may be characterized and described. Analysis of the case studies yields some policy recommendations and conclusions.