22 June 2009

Does Aid Work?

Aid has not, does not, and will never, help Africa

Daily Nation

By RASNA WARAH Posted Sunday, June 21 2009 at 19:04

Recently, aid to Africa has come under attack from the most unlikely quarters — the Africans themselves. The most recent of these has come from Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist, whose recently-published book, Dead Aid, makes a convincing argument against foreign aid to Africa.

Moyo argues that Africans have for too long lived in “a culture of aid” that has failed to reduce poverty or promote economic growth on the continent. She calls for the eventual phasing out of aid altogether and for making African markets more efficient.

Despite billions of aid money being poured into government coffers every year, Africa continues to remain largely poor because aid fosters corruption and hinders the development of home-grown industries and solutions.

Moreover, aid doesn’t come for free. Most of it has to be paid back, which means future generations of Africans are burdened with debt before they are even born. Even when things, such as mosquito nets, are given for free, they end up stunting or killing local industries that produce those things, which leads to more poverty.

Moyo proposes a mixture of trade, foreign direct investment, capital markets, the bond market, remittances and microfinance to lift Africans out of perennial poverty and to create the jobs needed for Africa’s largely youthful population. For her insights, she was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people this year.

But not everyone is happy with what she has to say. Jeffrey Sachs, a leading proponent of more aid to Africa, who also happens to be director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and founder of the Millennium Villages Project (one of which is being implemented in Sauri, Kenya), calls Moyo’s arguments “farcical”, claiming that if her ideas are implemented, millions on the continent will suffer.

Moyo dismisses people like Sachs saying they suffer from “Western, liberal, guilt-ridden morality”, which has made the continent “the focus of orchestrated world-wide pity” epitomised by the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof. People like these two have not just become the de facto faces of Africa in the West, they are actually defining the policy agenda for the continent in forums such as the G8 and G20.

In an interview, Moyo called this state of affairs “ridiculous” as it allows Western celebrities — rather than African governments themselves — to formulate policies for their own countries, a point that has also been made by the Tanzanian academic, Issa Shivji.

MOYO ARGUES FURTHER THAT, IF Africa needs a partner in its development, then that partner should be China, which invested $900 million in Africa in 2004, and is more interested in trading with the continent and building infrastructure that could propel the continent out of a never-ending cycle of poverty.

However, I must confess that even though I believe that Dead Aid is a path-breaking book that must be read by African policymakers, it is clear that the author has not spent enough time on the continent (though born and raised in Zambia, she spent much of her adult working life in the United Kingdom, where she is based).

Her book fails to reflect the nuances and particularities of place that make a “one-fits-all” prescription difficult to apply. There is also almost no reference to Africa’s colonial history and the role it continues to play in perpetuating poverty in the region, nor does she address issues of social injustice in the region or how the very free markets she is advocating increased poverty and inequality.

Moyo’s ideas are hardly new. Africans (economists such as George B.N. Ayittey and David Ndii, leaders such as Paul Kagame, and even writers such as myself) have written or spoken about the negative impact of aid on Africa. But none have achieved the kind of notoriety that she has.

Am I jealous? Sure I am. My recently-published anthology, Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits, which looks at the failures of the aid business in Africa, and which was published eight months before Dead Aidcame out, barely got a mention in the local and international press and has sold less than 500 copies, while Moyo’s book has already made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

But I am grateful that Moyo has managed to show all the Bonos, Bob Geldofs, Madonnas and Angelina Jolies of this world that aid doesn’t work, hasn’t worked and will not work in Africa.

Those who label her as a heartless cynic who doesn’t care for the barefoot, malnourished African child, should ask themselves why there are more poor African children today than there were before aid became the mantra upon which Africa’s development was hinged.

Ms Warah is an editor with the UN. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations. (rasna.warah@gmail.com)