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Africa: Economist’s Self-Flagellating Aid Tract Does Continent No Favours

Posted by Admin on Dec 18th, 2009 and filed under Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Adekeye Adebajo| 18 December 2009| Business Day (Johannesburg)


Dambisa_Moyo-220IN THE recently published Dead Aid, author Dambisa Moyo, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated Zambian economist and former World Bank employee, controversially called for an end to development aid in Africa in five years.

Moyo has produced one of the most dangerously influential books in recent times, offering simplistic, sweeping recipes for resolving Africa’s economic crisis. The book is lacking in substance and subtlety, and often borders on sophistry.

Without providing much convincing evidence, Moyo blames aid for corruption and conflict in Africa, as well as for preventing the building of social capital and attracting foreign investment. She grandly promises a new “model” for financing development: private capital markets, remittances from African diasporas, microfinance, government bonds, and Chinese investment.

Aside from the exaggerated faith in these funding solutions, the global financial crisis has clearly rendered many of them impractical.

It is not that Moyo does not say things that many sensible people would agree with: she correctly criticises widespread corruption and misrule in Africa; acknowledges the pernicious impact of western agricultural subsidies on Africa; and identifies the potential of Chinese trade and investment for Africa.

But her ahistorical approach and lack of understanding of contemporary African international relations are clear. She fails to grasp the fundamental point that aid in Africa has often been misused for self-interested strategic pursuits rather than for poverty alleviation. She talks of Soviet “aid” to African countries during the Cold War without seeming to realise that many African countries were disillusioned by Moscow’s support which came largely in the form of military and not economic assistance. She puts insufficient effort into explaining how corrupt autocrats such as Mobutu Sese Seko were backed by western powers.

Moyo explains Africa’s push for democracy in the 1990s as having been initiated by external donors, blissfully unaware that national actors in SA, Mali, and Zambia led the struggle for more democratic governance. The fact that Washington gives Egypt’s 28-year- old regime of Hosni Mubarak 2bn annually (often double the amount to all 48 sub-Saharan African countries combined) escapes her attention.

Moyo does not explain clearly what she means by “aid” – sometimes including loans that have to be repaid – and often fails to separate national oil revenues from foreign aid. Cases where aid has promoted development in Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, and Ethiopia – despite some cases of poor governance — or supported worthy education and health programmes, are given short shrift. The fact that West Germany transferred over 1-trillion of “aid” (the amount Moyo claims went to 53 African countries in 60 years) to revive the relatively developed East Germany after 1989 would also appear to weaken her argument.

If aid is really the main problem, surely corruption would not be so rife in countries such as Nigeria, and to a lesser extent, SA, which do not rely on aid? Moyo argues that millions of Africans are poorer because of aid but does not provide much evidence to prove her point. She fails to make the link between cause and effect.

Her mono-causal explanation of aid as the root of all evil can also be easily debunked: structural issues from colonialism, external debt, and the global distribution of resources, as well as conflicts, poor governance, lack of a productive base, and failures of economic integration, have all contributed much more to poverty than aid.

This is a work of self-flagellating simplicity, totally devoid of any thinking by leading African research centres or scholars, making the book often read like a Harvard Masters syllabus or a World Bank report. Moyo reveals her ignorance by incredibly charging that “scarcely does one see Africa’s … officials … offer an opinion on what should be done”.

Adebajo Adedeji, the Nigerian Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa between 1975 and 1991, for example, provided several African-led alternatives based on African selfreliance and regional integration. Others such as Samir Amin, Thandika Mkandawire, and Bade Onimode have also offered African-led solutions.

Moyo employs crude stereotypes of “tribal conflict” to depict African wars, and recklessly suggests that aid is “an underlying cause of social unrest, and possibly civil war”. Such an absurd link would, of course, involve a huge leap of logic, and the author’s ignorant blaming of Somalia’s civil war on competition for food aid completely ignores the decade-long homicidal campaign of US-backed autocrat, Siad Barre, which eventually led to rebellion in 1991.

Without providing any evidence, Moyo blames aid for stifling entrepreneurship, making African policymakers lazy, and politicising African countries. It is as if there are no genuine group grievances in places such as Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta or pre-civil war Liberia. The author draws fatuous comparisons with China and India: countries with enormous markets that dwarf those of all sub-Saharan African countries combined.

This book also has glaring factual errors: the target of 0,7% of gross national product to be provided as aid is said to have been set in 2002 instead of 1970; Harry Dexter White is listed as US secretary of state instead of assistant secretary at the Treasury; a third Sino-African summit in 2006 is described as the first meeting.

Moyo’s book is also riddled with contradictions. She notes that 85% of aid is diverted to other purposes, which suggests that it is the abuses of aid – rather than aid itself – that is the main problem. She notes the decline of aid levels from 0,38% in 1982 to 0,22% in 1997, but continues to argue the deleterious effects of aid. Surely, if her arguments were correct, things would start to improve with this decrease in aid, which continues today.

She argues that Africa loses 500bn each year due to restrictive trade embargoes on its exports, but is unwilling to use aid more effectively to plug this hole. She calls for a huge improvement of Africa’s infrastructure, but will not support the aid that would be needed to build these roads, railways, and bridges. Moyo also notes that the US poured more aid into South Korea than it did into all 53 African countries, seemingly showing the efficacy of aid, if used properly.

Moyo will give succour to conservative thinkers who already see nothing good coming out of Africa. They can now hide under the skirt of an educated African woman to peddle their prejudices. This book surely represents more a case of “brain dead” than “dead aid”.

Adebajo is the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town.

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