October 13, 2009
We love to take care of Africa. But does Africa need taking care of?
Since 1960, Africa has received more than $1 trillion in foreign aid, and by many measures, its people aren’t better off. Of course, if an old white man were to argue that perhaps that trillion has done more harm than good, it would be easy to write off his opinion. To hear that same opinion from the mouth of Dambisa Moyo, however, casts it in a whole different light.
Moyo, the author of Dead Aid, was born in Zambia, educated at Harvard and Oxford, and has worked at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs. So when she says that there are better solutions to African poverty than simply throwing money at it, it’s worth listening to her.
“Let’s get real,” she says. “If a company had 60 years with the record of performance that aid to Africa has had, the company would have been shut down.”
Dead Aid offers a prescription for African development that doesn’t involve giving away money, but instead proposes a capitalistic approach to enable African nations to tap into the financial markets to their own benefit. By receiving and slowly improving credit ratings and by issuing bonds, while encouraging foreign investment, Moyo argues, African nations can free themselves from a damaged system and grow using the same paradigm that works for developed nations. It’s not as far off as you might think: There are 19 African stock markets, and 16 countries have credit ratings. “You never hear that story,” says Moyo. “All you hear is bad news.”
For a fairly dense treatise on economic policy, Moyo’s book has received a surprising amount of attention. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, praised Moyo’s arguments in an op-ed for the Financial Times; Jeffrey Sachs, a tireless advocate of U.S. aid to Africa, denounced them, accusing Moyo of accepting the equivalent of aid in scholarships to attend Harvard and Oxford, and noting that Kagame’s country still depends largely on aid.
Moyo isn’t deterred. “Unfortunately, people like Jeffrey Sachs, their response was kind of disappointing, because there is definitely a debate to be had. To outright dismiss [the book] as a crazy argument seems rather silly,” she says.
Measuring the efficacy of aid is tricky, and it’s indeed possible that aid is “working,” but the system surely isn’t working perfectly. Having a discussion about improving it can only help. And having a native African as a prominent part of the discussion is refreshing, to say the least, especially as a check to the elements of paternalism and colonialism that can insidiously slip into the discussion.
“I never thought I would be quoting George Bush, but he said that we need to be careful of the soft bigotry of low expectations,” Moyo says. “The world is sleepwalking through the problems that are afflicting Africa because we have very low expectations from that continent.”
Categories: Foreign Aid