Foreign Aid

Dambisa Moyo: fact vs. fabrication

Jameson Berkow
Probe International
June 25, 2009

The foreign aid industry is in a flap over Dambisa Moyo and her blockbuster book, Dead Aid. In it she argues that foreign aid (specifically state-to-state and multilateral aid) has spent US$1 trillion over 60 years trying to develop Africa, yet has failed to improve the quality of life for the average African by any significant measure. Indeed, aid has become the problem, she says, undermining the very development it promises to induce by creating dependence and corruption.

Declaring that the time has come to cast the old failed methods of assistance aside in favour of a new approach that relies on accountable government, representation with taxation, and private sector investment in African markets (among many other practical and concrete suggestions), Moyo’s message has been met by a whirlwind of frantic resistance by the elite of the traditional foreign aid establishment.

Unable to provide a substantive rebuttal to her call for a dramatic change of thinking and desperate to maintain the multi-billion dollar feel-good foreign aid industry; scores of journalists, aid workers and scholars have gone on the offensive against Moyo.

She has been accused of irresponsibly lumping all types of aid together, of not being interested in the role of the state in promoting development, and perhaps most absurdly, of inciting some manner of pan-African genocide. ONE, an aid group co-founded by Bob Geldof and U2 front man Bono, even went so far as to circulate a mass email to its network encouraging them to think of ways to stop Dead Aid from getting “traction.”

Dambisa Moyo’s solutions to ineffectual foreign aid have been sneered at, misrepresented, distorted, and attacked outright. Probe International takes it as a sign that Dead Aid has hit the central nervous system of the foreign aid industry.

Consequently it can be difficult to separate what Moyo really said from what has been put forth as her words by others in an attempt to vilify her position. Here, Probe International attempts to set the record straight with a side-by-side comparison of what Moyo actually said versus what her critics claim she said.

The Critic The Source What they claim she said What she really said Where she said it
Jeffrey Sachs Huffington Post – May 24, 2009 Moyo “sees nothing wrong with denying $10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malaria bed net” “if working towards a sustainable solution where Africans can make their own anti-malaria bed-nets (thereby creating jobs for Africans and a real chance for continents economic prospects) rather than encouraging all and sundry to dump malaria nets across the continent (which incidentally, put Africans out of business), then I am guilty as charged. Don’t forget that the over 60 percent of Africans that are under the age of 24 need jobs not sympathy.” Huffington Post – May 26, 2009
Jeffrey Sachs Huffington Post – May 24, 2009 “Moyo, Easterly, and others lump all kinds of [aid] programs – the good and the bad – into one big undifferentiated mass” “This book is not concerned with emergency and charity-based aid. The significant sums of this type of aid that flow to Africa simply disguise the fundamental (yet erroneous) mindset that pervades the West – that aid, whatever its form, is a good thing. Besides, charity and emergency aid are small beer when compared with the billions [in systematic state-to-state and multilateral aid] transferred directly to poor countries’ governments” p7/8 of Dead Aid
Jeffrey Sachs VoxEU.org – May 29, 2009 “Moyo now campaigns against the kinds of aid that can keep millions of African children from dying or being maimed for a lifetime through the consequences of serious episodes of disease. She advocates cutting the aid that has allowed more than 2 million Africans access to life-saving AIDS treatment, since governments are involved.” “This book is not about specific development policy. It is not a book about whether one way of tackling the HIV-AIDS problem is better than another, or if one education strategy yields better results than another. It is about how to finance the development agenda so that, whatever the development policy, economic prosperity might be realized.” p72 of Dead Aid
ONE (an NGO co-founded by  Bob Geldof and U2 front man Bono) One.org – May 31, 2009 “Dambisa Moyo claims that aid to Africa… should be shut off in five years” “I give a five-year example in my book. Very foolishly, the NGOs have jumped on that and [suggest I] said aid should be stopped immediately or, in the worst case, within five years. I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is we need to have an exit strategy. Aid can, perhaps, only work when we know the tap will be turned off at some point. We need a phase-out plan to make sure that African governments can wean themselves off of aid.” Interview with the National Post – May 30, 2009
Mo Ibrahim The Daily Nation – June 2, 2009 “Ms Moyo suggests that government bonds can take the place of development assistance. This is unrealistic” “For Ghana, [the economist Jeffrey Sachs] estimated the total investment needs for meeting the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] would average US$2 billion a year. Of this total, Sachs proposed that US$1.2 billion would need to be funded by annual external assistance [ed note: development aid]. Yet, although Ghana’s 2007 foray in the bond markets was only for US$750 million, it was heavily oversubscribed to the tune of US$5 billion of unmet investor demand. On the basis of Sachs’ estimate, this would have been enough to cover at least the foreseeable next five years’ MDG requirements.The Ghanaians did the right thing. There was clearly no need to go down the aid path, and there was a lot of upside to issuing the bond.” p96 of Dead Aid
Madeleine Bunting The Guardian – May 13, 2009 “Moyo is not interested in the role of the state” “Let’s be clear on one thing. My fundamental belief is that social services and public goods—roads, infrastructure, schools, and so on—are the responsibility of government.” Interview with Guernica Magazine – April 30, 2009
Madeleine Bunting The Guardian – May 13, 2009 “Her proposal to phase out aid in five years is disastrously irresponsible: it would lead to the closure of thousands of schools and clinics across Africa, and an end to the HIV antiretroviral, malaria and TB programmes, along with emergency food supplies, on which millions of lives depend.” “The Dead Aid proposal envisages a gradual (but uncompromising) reduction in systematic aid over a five-to-ten-year period. However worthwhile the goal to reduce and even eliminate aid is, it would not be practical or realistic to see aid immediately drop to zero. Nor, in the interim, might it be desirable.It might very well be the case that more-modest aid programmes that are actually designed to address the critical problems faced by African countries can deliver some economic value… Systematic aid will be a component of the Dead Aid proposal, but only insofar as its presence decreases as other financing alternatives take hold.” p76 of Dead Aid
Scott Calhoun @U2 Blog – May 11, 2009 “[Moyo claims that] celebrities don’t help Africans by portraying the continent as second-rate, desperate and hungry.” “These celebrities don’t portray Africa in a positive light. This continent suffers from a very severe PR problem. The world is asking us as to raise our children in an environment where we’re constantly told that we can’t do anything—we’re poor, we’re dirty, we’re impoverished, we’re hungry, we’re corrupt, we’re war-torn, disease-ridden. Ask any psychologist: that’s not a formula for generating innovators and entrepreneurs. And I don’t see celebrities out there saying: “Let’s bring in more investments; we can show you African doctors and teachers and lawyers and people participating in their country.” What I see is a perpetuation of the negative stereotype of Africa, which I think is problematic.” Quoted by the UK’s Times Online June 3, 2009 article written by Ian King
Michael Gerson The Washington Post – April 3, 2009 “Aid fosters a military culture.” “There are three fundamental truths about conflicts today: they are mostly born out of competition for control of resources; they are predominately a feature of poorer economies; and they are increasingly internal conflicts. This is why foreign aid foments conflict. The prospect of seizing power and gaining access to unlimited aid wealth is irresistible… …Beyond politicization of the political environment, aid fosters a military culture. Civil wars are by their very nature military escapades. Whoever wins stays in power through the allegiance of their military.” Page 59/60 of Dead Aid

“Aid isn’t the answer. Africa must be allowed to trade its way out of poverty” – Bob Geldof (co-founder of ‘ONE’ along with U2 front man Bono and a chief critic of Dambisa Moyo, hypocritical considering she would fully support this statement) – quoted from the Austrian Times, June 7th 2009 edition

Read more about the Dead Aid debate,

Categories: Foreign Aid

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