03 June 2009


Thanks to Betsy, I was alerted to a new book that has been written by the Zambian Economist Dambisa Mayo.  She writes about how aid itself has failed the continent Africa, a slightly radical stance.  Where she seems to break new ground is to suggest that aid should be entirely cut.  Since I cannot get a copy of the book, I will suggest it only based on the reviews that were passed on to me and the fact that she is no slouch.  Harvard and Oxford educated and having worked for the World Bank and Goldman.

I have written before about my issues with aid.  Yesterday, I told a story that was shared with me by one of the sisters.  Without having read her book, I will argue that a complete cutting off of aid would be disastrous.  Her basic thesis is that markets will open for private investors who will require more transparency for their investments.  I see that as a half truth.  Transparency will always be trumped by financial returns.  If a country can meet its necessary payments, then there is little reason for an alarm to be sounded.  There could be benefits, but corruption runs much deeper.  As long as the police continue to make thousands of shillings off trucks and busses, they will not change.

When a matatu approaches a police stop, the conductor leans out and presses money against the door of the car with the palm of his hand.  The officer strolls over, takes the money, and if acceptable waves the driver onwards.  The officers at the stop split the cash and then meet up with the station chief to give him his cut.  I do not know if it goes higher, but I am sure that if such corruption is allowed to persist at the lowest levels that money makes its way to the top.

I realize the hypocrisy in being critical of aid when I have become a part of that system.  My only defense is the fact that we are involved with community based programs.  There is no promise of food at either the orphanage or the SJC.  The orphanage is entirely Kenyan.  There is funding from the US, but private funds.  The majority of the money continues to be from Kenyans.  At the SJC, we are still run by an American SND, but the transition is and has been in the works to have a Kenyan sister take over.  The staff, outside of Sue and I, are all Kenyan.  There is still much that needs to be accomplished in terms of community awareness, but the center is thriving because it was based on a want and a need for the area.

I was also told of pipes that were placed in Kisumu to bring fresh water to the city.  After the entirely foreign team came, built and left, the residents of Kisumu dug up the pipes and sold them to make money.  Nothing was ever done to see if anyone actually wanted pipes for water.  Outside ideas cannot be imposed.  The seeds of these ideas may be placed into communities, but there needs to be a shift within the community itself where the members determine what they want.

I will leave this for now and end with three articles.  The first two are reviews of the book and the last is an essay by Andre Gunder Frank.  I have read the Frank essay twice, once a few years ago in a IR class at Holy Cross and again this year at Seton Hall.  He illustrates the relationships which exist between the developed and underdeveloped nations.  It is quite academic to give a fair warning

The Independent Book Review

Newsweek Book Review

The Underdevelopment of Development