January 16, 2010
Aid is an unmitigated, political and humanitarian disaster, declares Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, in her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Hers is such a “tough love” prescription that the author has had to dodge a punch in Toronto, Canada, and has had tomatoes thrown at her elsewhere.
For the better part of last year, Moyo’s book made headlines in major world capitals with its controversial call for an end to aid and embracing alternative means of developing Africa.
While interest in her book is widespread in the Western countries, with media and institutions scrambling to interview her or get her to give talks, there has not been much interest in Africa.
Only a handful of African fans and bloggers and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have shown interest. In the true spirit of our times, this interest is living well online; where she has over 5,000 Facebook fans.
Why should Africans be interested in Moyo’s message? Although she is not the first economist to write on the challenges of Africa’s underdevelopment, her book stands out for being brutally honest on what choices the continent has to lift itself out of perennial poverty and free itself from the yoke of aid; challenging established aid infrastructure.
In 50 years, over $30 trillion has been transferred to Africa, and over the same period the number of people living on less than a dollar a day in Africa has grown from 10 to 30 per cent.
It is easy to dismiss Moyo’s vision.
After all, she is no ordinary African woman. She is highly educated, having gone to some of the most prestigious schools, including Ivy League Harvard, has held plum jobs and lives outside the continent.
For Africans, it is easy to see her as one of those who have lost touch with the realities of the day-to-day living on the continent and the vital role aid supposedly plays.
Moyo warns against rushing to this conclusion, because like other Africans overseas, she shoulders the burden of having to support relatives back home due to lack of jobs and opportunities. But those in the West, who believe Africa needs to be rescued, accuse her of killing African babies by calling for aid cancelation.
Surprisingly, this is not a view thrown about when pop stars take up Africa’s cause. This, to Moyo, relegates the serious business of Africa’s woes to what she calls “glamour aid” and “moral campaigners”. She complains that while no African leader campaigns for Africa’s betterment; pop stars get invited to G20 meetings to speak for Africa.
Moyo makes three very controversial calls; but they are at most, obvious solutions, even to any average African citizen. She is more concerned with the aid directly given to governments as opposed to humanitarian assistance.
Her main reasons are: it leads to corruption, abdication of African governments from their role of providers of basics services to their citizens, and civil unrest, as it becomes lucrative to gain control of government in order to gain access to aid money.
She calls for a fixed timeframe, suggesting that African governments should get a call as this from donors that “… in five years the aid taps will be shut off- permanently…”
One of her most controversial views is on multi-party democracy.
Like Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Moyo does not believe that Western style democracy is suitable for struggling nations and that it is a luxury that can only come along after prosperity.
She proposes four possible sources of funding African countries can use to fund their development. Bond markets are one of her proposals; a never before considered alternative by commentators on African development.
Explaining in The Economist in November, Moyo argued that accessing the bond markets is a real solution for African countries to raise funds and that they do not have a choice because they can no longer depend on aid.
“For African governments it is clear that aid flows will go down in 2010, and dramatically so…” Faced with worsening economic times, donors have no choice than to cut back on aid.
Unlike aid, funds raised on bond markets are offered at prevailing market rates and have shorter repayments times. Aid comes with less stringent conditions leading to default. It is not hard to see how this can be beneficial for any country.
Africa could also go Chinese and the West will not like this.
This is one of Moyo’s controversial solutions. By going Chinese, Africans will seek to trade and cooperate more with the Chinese but also imitate the Chinese. China is now a challenge to bigger economies like the United States, not through aid but by letting in large scale direct investment to stimulate industry and grow exportations.
A transformation achieved in less than 30 years; 300 million Chinese moved above the poverty line. China’s entry into Africa has been heavily criticised by the West, especially for overlooking of human rights standards at home and abroad, in other words undercutting the West in competition for raw materials and energy.
But while the West may be warning African governments against flirting with China because of its human rights record, the same reason does not apply as China is helping to fund America’s stimulus efforts by buying its treasury bonds.
At the University of Richmond, US, in November, while acknowledging that agricultural subsidies to Western farmers can stay in place, Moyo admonished African leaders for focusing too much on acceptance into Western markets at WTO meetings than capturing the opportunity offered by emerging markets like China and India whose big populations, rising consumer spending power, willingness to trade represent a huge market.
Prof Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, believed in microfinance and made it work for the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, proving to the conventional banking world that the poor are bankable. Dead Aid sees microfinance playing a big role towards Africa’s self-sustenance.
Microfinance enlarges the number of participants in the economy leading to more savings, growth and jobs.
Moyo’s tough love message is comparable to how African mothers sometimes have to wean babies off the breast by applying pepper on it. Or shouldn’t the West really just apply the pepper on the aid breast and let Africa sort itself out?
Ms Keter is a student of communication in Canada
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