Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid”: “Cut all aid to Africa within five years”


by Nelima Kerré | February 23, 2009 • Even before the release of her book early this month, ‘Dead Aid’ had generated quite a buzz. Critics are pondering and debating Moyo’s suggestion for a cut to all Aid to Africa in five years. I have not had a chance to read the book, but wanted to share some of the reviews out there in the hopes that you can read the book and share your thoughts – as I will do too.

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In an interview with the New York Times, she was labelled ‘The Anti Bono‘. She recalled meeting Bono at the World Economic Forum last year at a party to raise money for Africans, where she was the only African in the room.

I’ll make a general comment about this whole dependence on “celebrities.” I object to this situation as it is right now where they have inadvertently or manipulatively become the spokespeople for the African continent.

She makes a comparison to China;

Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.

Then talks about the African problem;

I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.

For the skeptics, Rwanda will be the litmus test. An article in AllAfrica stated that under Moyo’s consultation, the government last week vowed to cut dependency on Aid. On Dead Aid’s website Kofi Annan is quoted,

Dambisa Moyo makes a compelling case for a new approach in Africa. Her message is that “Africa’s time is now”. It is time for Africans to assume full control over their economic and political destiny. Africans should grasp the many means and opportunities available to them for improving the quality of life.

However there have been many criticisms, Paraminder Bahra of the Times Online says;

Moyo is not the first to question the effectiveness of state aid, but her analysis is crude. There is no new research and her argument against aid is as spurious as the argument that it is bad to go to hospitals because many people die in them. To argue that all aid goes into the hands of corrupt leaders is naive and shows a lack of understanding about how aid is distributed and the projects that do promote good governance and institution building. The lack of any examples of how aid has been used is a huge omission – instead we have anecdotes about African leaders on shopping sprees with donor money.

Moyo is also content to throw democratic aspirations out of the window on the basis that: “The uncomfortable truth is that far from being a prerequisite for economic growth, democracy can hamper development as democratic regimes find it difficult to push through economically beneficial legislation.” This may also account for her unquestioning support of China and its activities in Africa. She supports the “hassle-free, no questions asked approach” of the Chinese. What Moyo does not explore are the contracts and the terms of trade of the deals struck with African nations.

Paul Collier who taught her at both Harvard and Oxford had this to say in his review;

So is there solid evidence to refute her claim that aid worsens governance and so impoverishes? Unfortunately, the research on whether aid is effective is frankly shambolic. At the level of an individual project we can often show it is effective, but this misses Moyo’s point: that what matters is the overall impact on the society.

By the same token, I think that Moyo’s message is over-optimistic. She implies that, were aid cut, African governments would respond by turning to other sources of finance that would make them more accountable. I think this exaggerates the opportunity for alternative finance and underestimates the difficulties African societies face.

Just today Reuters posted an argument against cutting aid to Africa;

Aid is also beneficial when trade is fair. There are several examples in Africa, like the case of coffee farmers in Uganda, where aid has been used effectively to improve the overall quality of the coffee seeds, thereby giving farmers better prices for their produce. When they have access to markets at home and abroad, they generate income which is ploughed back into increased output, better access to health and education, and overall improvement in the quality of their lives. To make this happen, developed countries need to stop procrastinating and put in place fair trade practices.

Aid works well if governments are accountable – in other words, when they are responsible and encourage active citizenship. On this continent, civil society is still weak and needs to be nourished. But stopping aid will not resolve frustrations about poor governance, which is partly a result of weak public scrutiny. Aid should be used to help fight corruption and promote accountability through active input from ordinary people.

Haven’t found a review from an African, if you have one share. If you can, read the book and share your thoughts. You can also read more about Dambisa Moyo and Dead Aid on her website.