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Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
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African Authors-African Issues > April-June 2014: Dead Aid

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message 1: by Tinea, Former Special Project Leader (last edited Feb 13, 2014 02:18AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tinea (pist) | 194 comments Mod
In April, June, and July, the African Authors on African Issues project will tackle Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo.

This is a great book for this project! First of all, Moyo's liberal economic perspective will provide quite the contrast to Ngugi's postcolonial cultural critique. However, both base their arguments on explicitly repositioning (southern) Africa from the margins to the center of their field (literature in Ngugi's case, economic development for Moyo), so we may find more overlap than expected. I'm looking forward to hashing it out.

While we still have another month and a half to discuss Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in this other thread, I wanted to get this one up. This gives people ample time to find and perhaps start reading our next selection.

I have a treasure trove of articles and backgrounders on pretty much any development topics, so please do ask questions if Moyo gets too technical or jargon-y on something.


message 2: by Mark (new)

Mark Wentling | 35 comments Dead Aid by Damisa Moyo

This highly educated African woman dives into the heart (appropriate for a Moyo) of the aid predicament and her provocations serve the purpose of stirring up much useful debate on this old topic. As someone who has spent a lifetime (over 43 years) in every corner of Africa practicing development and humanitarian assistance, I read almost everything that comes out on this subject. Therefore, I could not wait to read Moyo’s book when it was published in 2009. Recently, I read it again with a cooler head.

Fortunately, while there is much tedious reading, it is a quick read at about 150 pages (not counting a 24-page bibliography). For me, this is not enough pages to cover such a complex topic, and I think the brevity has contributed to her overlooking some key points. I also wonder if this very academic book (treatise?)is well understood by those not connected to foreign aid. In this first book, Moyo has demonstrated to me that she is not a writer but a brainy economist with little hands-on field experience in rural Africa. Books on related subjects come out about every year or two, but they are usually written by academics who do not have in-depth field experience. To me, this reduces greatly their credibility.

I ask myself what solid connection this elitist, urbanized woman from Zambia, who was trained and is based abroad, has with the average African and their daily battle for survival. Certainly, she does serve as an important role model for African women and others who would like to emulate her success. In this regard, Moyo’s book does not cover well important development challenges confronting many African countries. For example, what about fast population growth that is doubling populations every 25 years and producing a population structure where 65% of the people are under 25 years of age? How can any effort keep up with education, caring for, employing, etc. such a fast growing population? High fertility rates remain a central development challenge in many African countries, which have not yet had a demographic transition like most of the rest of the world.

It is well that she dedicates her book to Professor Peter Bauer who said over 40 years ago in his book, “Dissent and Development,” that “if a country really needs external aid to develop, it probably cannot develop.” But, does she really mean eliminating all aid or reforming aid so only those governments that are properly and honestly managed receive aid. I agree that we should not be assisting corrupt governments and greedy leaders who think of only enriching themselves, but we must not forget the needs of the poor, growing masses. How can deeply entrenched high levels of corruption be defeated? Simply eliminating external aid will not achieve this laudable objective.

How can we expect any country to progress if a large percentage of its children are stunted and over 50% of its population has not benefited from a quality education? How can we expect countries to remain stable if most of the young people who have diplomas cannot find work? What about institution and capacity building? What if a country has nothing that it can competitively trade? What about cultural values, particularly those that prevent women from fulfilling their full potential? Development can be defined as building up capacity so people (men and women) can manage their affairs competently without outside assistance. It can also be defined by the extent one participates in the market place by selling their goods or services. We need dedicated African leader and good governance that create the conditions needed for much of this to happen.

While I applaud Ms. Moyo and I share deeply her desire to see a better way forward for Africa, my feelings about her book are mixed. I find the arguments put forth in her book both right and wrong. I admire her courage in publishing such a book, and I am glad that it has served to wake many of us up, but globally her ideas are too simplistic. Nonetheless, I hope that many of the ideas put forth by this extraordinary African woman prevail over time and her book does not go on my shelf along with others as another flavor of the month.

Mark Wentling


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
I picked this up a couple of weeks ago when I was down at my parents’ house -- I didn’t realise until later that this group as reading it, or I would have absconded with the book (or at least taken notes).

I’m not an economist (and have never so much as taken an econ course), so I go into this sort of thing with the understanding that this is not my area of expertise. This felt accessible enough, though I wonder whether a level of complexity was sacrificed in order to maintain that accessibility and keep the message straightforward. It seems like a decent enough introduction to the problems of foreign aid, but there were a few things I would have liked to see more on -- for example, what specific governments/countries/regions have done successfully; what impact loss of foreign aid (even spread out) would have at the ground level; how long it could reasonably be expected to take to get certain types of infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals) in good shape and widely accessible. I’m also a sucker for hypothetical examples, so furthering the tale of Dongo would have been nice.

Mark, you seem fairly dismissive of the book; I am reluctant to write it off (albeit also reluctant to argue that it gives a full enough picture of aid), but I’m interested to hear what points you, and others who have read or are reading this book, found particularly salient, and where more depth might be warranted.


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
As an aside: She separates development aid from emergency aid (and of course focuses on the former), but one could also write volumes about how the latter has and has not been effective.


message 5: by Mark (new)

Mark Wentling | 35 comments Liralen,

I unloaded all I wanted to communicate in my comments on Moyo’s book. I did not want to be totally ‘dismissive,’ but I did want to give some indication of how her book did not go far enough. Indeed, I can easily agree with her that there are instances when no aid is the best aid.
You can imagine how it might be a bit irksome for people like me, who have spent a life time on the ‘front lines’ trying to aid Africa, to read a book by someone who has so little first-hand experience in the field. If Moyo had spent years in the ‘development assistance’ trenches before writing such a book, it would have been much more credible. In many ways, she is right but, when you are face-to-face with the African poor, it is hard not to try to help improve their desperate living conditions. Best, Mark


message 6: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 541 comments This looks like it will be an interesting discussion.
I have the book Dead Aid from my library but have not read it yet.
I was hoping that a more recent book was chosen for discussion as I think so much has happened in the world politically, economically and socially over the last couple of years that many processes and procedures just need rethinking and more recent data is needed.

This week in the NYTimes is a review of Olopade's latest book The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/boo...

A couple of other books that caught my eye were:
The New Scramble for Africa
Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise

I will admit that I almost nothing about development aid but do know it is a complex subject with many complex moving parts.

Hopefully I will find time to start reading later in the week.


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
I've started The Bright Continent and so far I'm really enjoying it (the author is a journalist by trade, which puts a different spin on it). I've been distracted by library books with short loan times, though, so not done just yet.

Re: complex subject & so much change over the last few years: I imagine that, ideally, the people with the power to effect country-level change would be pulling from as many different perspectives as possible -- politicians, aid workers (development and emergency), economists, business owners, average people just trying to get by, etc., etc. You could call Dead Aid one part of that puzzle.


message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark Wentling | 35 comments Yes,Beverly,development aid is an extremely complex subject, particularly in much of the very diverse African context. When you start trying to re-engineer societies,transform human nature and bend cultural values, the tasks involved are impossible. I have been at it for almost 44 years and I have fewer answers (if any) today than when I first arrived on the continent in 1970, and I am supposed to be the experienced specialist with all the answers. I am trying to unravel some of the mysteries of development by telling an instructive story in my African Trilogy.


message 9: by Muphyn (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments I haven't finished reading the book yet (and haven't really explored the above comments) but I recently watched an interview with Moyo that I found quite interesting. It's also on our group's homepage.


message 10: by Martha (new)

Martha Samsell (tmhoira2012) I have read three fourths of the book and am angry that there is so much waste of money. The people are suffering and a band aid is being used to solve the problems in Africa. I would like to know how much has been stolen, so little infrastructure has been built. It is a shame.


message 11: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) | 29 comments I hate to interrupt this conversation, but when will the next topic start (African Feminisms)? Are we doing this? Did I miss something?


message 12: by Jo (new) - rated it 1 star

Jo Sekimonyo | 1 comments Why do we fall in love with fools? I truly believe that anyone like Sir Paul Collier, who claims that colonization has nothing to do with the uninterrupted African mess that we witness today deserves the guillotine! And I swear that I am close to applying the Chinese water torture method on the next old stingy white lady that brings up the name of the confused Dambisa Felicia Moyo. I am disgusted that Dambisa’s eminence and her African slave trade consulting expansion came at the cost of discrediting the work of incredible honest Africans and Non-Governmental Organizations that I have personally came across. Most people don’t have much but have devoted their lives to lending a hand to the less fortunate. Aid is a transitional maneuver of relief for people stricken by Mother Nature’s rage, and it works taken in this pure purpose and context. On the other side of the track, debt has worked for western country’s to keep their economies afloat and to feed their nationals addictive spending. However, it has never been a catalyst for third world countries’ development as intended for explicit reasons I cited in my book, Cast Away: For these reasons. Certainly Dambisa, Collier, and the other buffoons appease white people’s conscience and relieve them of a sense of guilt towards apathy. The devastating consequence of acceptance of their senseless stance, is the indication of the little we have learned of the social implications and danger from Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda.


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