For decades, aid and Africa have been inextricably linked, but Dambisa Moyo, a Harvard/Oxford-educated economist wants to change that…immediately.
In her controversial new book “Dead Aid,” she argues that aid to Africa has caused more harm than good. War, poverty, corruption – blame it on aid, she says. At worst it ends up lining the pockets of corrupt political leaders, she says. At best case scenario, it does not do anything productive; it goes to fuel large bureaucracies that do not support entrepreneurship and that primarily choke off any private sector of development.
Cutting off aid won’t hurt most Africans because it never gets to them anyway, she argues. She joins a small number of intellectuals who have, in recent years, posited that too much help has hindered the continent’s growth. And yet, Moyo remains an anomaly: a young African woman, in a world where conversations of this nature are dominated by older, white males.
I have to admit I was struck by her style when we met. With her Hermes bag and patent leather Lanvin heels, she looked more befitting the pages of Vogue than the hollowed halls of Goldman Sachs, where she’s worked for several years. Clearly, this was one African not in need of aid.
Though I didn’t agree with her position on the role of celebrities and Africa, I did admire her bravery. Not many people are willing to take on Bono. In fact, most have praised the rock star for his tireless work on behalf of Africa, but Moyo isn’t a fan of what she’s dubbed, “glamour-aid.”
“For me and millions of other Africans who spend a lot of time in long lines voting, we expect African leaders to offer an opinion on how they see the future of the continent,” she explains, “so it is worrying for Bono to be the ostensible face of Africa.”
Naturally, those in the aid community are outraged. Her book, they argue, is not grounded in credible evidence. “It would be like looking at all the problematic contracts at the Pentagon and then saying that we should disband the military,” says John McArthur, head of the aid organization Millennium Promise.
“It’s a false logic and not helpful.” He is quick to point to achievements aid has brought to the continent. “Ninety percent reduction of death to measles,” he says. “Two million people on AIDS treatment. None of whom were on medication at the turn of the century. Tens of millions of anti-malaria bed nets distributed with 50 percent reduction in child morbidity in those cases…”
Still, Moyo insists that it is trade and not aid that Africa needs. And she’s also a big proponent of microfinancing. “The good news is that we have alternatives,” she says. “Africa doesn’t have to go and re-create the wheel.”