Moyo Challenges the Mainstream

By Connor J. Wangler
Source: Dambisa Moyo

Source: Dambisa Moyo

In 2009, a scathing remonstrance of the international aid model was laid out in Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo‘s book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is A Better Way For Africa. She begins with the assertion that despite the billions of dollars in aid funneled into Africa by the West over the past sixty years, poverty and inequality still runs rampant across the continent. Poverty reduction efforts have not freed Africa from what Jeffrey Sachs called the “poverty trap” but instead forced countries into what Moyo calls a “culture of aid.” Her ultimate claim is that in order for the necessary political and economic systems to raise Africa’s economic and social situations to be in place aid must be cut off. Moyo sums up her claims in an interview with CNN:

Moyo’s overall concern is with what she labels as “systematic aid,” aid given directly governments via bilateral aid or multilateral aid. She admits that other types of aid, humanitarian/emergency aid and charity-based aid, have fundamental merits but also have their failures. They are plagued with poor administration and implementation, and are often doing the bidding of their donor governments, but are minor compared to the billions involved in systematic aid.



In order to describe the present climate of aid policy, Moyo details a history of foreign aid and its dilemmas. She begins by looking at the origins of mass international aid programs followed World War II, primarily the Bretton-Woods Agreement and the Marshall Plan. She then flows into what she deems a period of aid focused on industrialization and infrastructure projects in the 1960s. This focused shifted onto poverty in the 1970s following a spike in food and oil prices brought on by the Arab oil embargo against the United States. The 1980s were a time of refocusing on development policies and “conditionalities” placed on aid by the West in order to try to improve efficiency of spent aid; examples that Moyo focuses on are structural adjustment programs and the Washington Consensus. During the time following World War II and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moyo makes clear that there was a clear underlying pretense to aid agendas: aid recipients had to choose between the United States (capitalism) or the Soviet Union (socialism), they had to pick a team. The 1990s then brought a focus on poor governance systems as a cause of aid failure. The new millennium brought with it what Moyo calls “glamour aid,” or aid initiatives promoted by global celebrities. One thing, interestingly enough, that Moyo failed to illustrate in her “history” was how the African perspective of aid has changed over the course of time. The timeline presented is, in large part, a western history of aid; a good argument, one should say, gives both sides of the issue.

Source: Beijing Axis

Source: Beijing Axis

In a June 2013 TEDtalk, Moyo presents her audience with one of her “solutions” to the aid problem: China. According to her, more and more African countries are shifting towards Chinese models of assistance and away from Western programs. She hails Chinese investments in infrastructure projects, healthcare, and job creation in Africa; however, Moyo fails to discuss the problems associated with these investments.  Here is an interview with Alice Ukoko that provides insight on some of the concerns of Chinese investment:

Moyo has stirred a debate in the realm of international development and poverty reduction; however, there are many critics of her “solutions.” Bill Gates, for example, says that Moyo “does not truly understand aid.” I, personally, believe Moyo needs to rebrand her argument. Reading her book, I do not get the impression that she wants “all” aid to stop, but that she calls for “smarter” aid in which funds go to empowering Africans to carry out their own solutions and not lining the pockets of corrupt politicians or western corporations.


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