Moyo and Humanitarian Aid

Africa has received billions in aid in the past 50 years and some argue that this aid has created a dependency that cannot be reversed. Dambisa Moyo, an economist from Zambia, has spoken out against this method to reduce poverty in her book, “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa”. In this book she speaks about how much of Africa is still extremely impoverished and are now dependent on the billions of aid that America has sent to them. Moyo calls this a “culture of aid”. She claims that in 60 years of aid, there is nowhere that has emerged out of poverty and yet we continue to try the same methods to make change. Moyo’s approach to helping the impoverished starts with cutting off the aid that has created these dependencies and helping them sustain themselves without it.  She argues that while this aid is continually being pushed into these cultures, the political and economic systems cannot develop correctly.

In her book, Moyo talks about the different kinds of aid that have been prevalent in the past sixty years. Started by the international aid programs that were used to help victims of WWII, aid has continually evolved into different forms. In the 1960s, there was a period of aid that mainly focused on industrialization, in the 1970s it was mainly focused on curbing poverty caused by increased food prices. in the 1980s and 1990s the aid was mostly trying to improve the aid given and use it for political gain. In the millennium and beyond, aid is largely a political statement or a way to draw attention to oneself. Many celebrities are giving aid very publicly, even though they may not be completely knowledgeable on why they are aiding these places or how their aid affects their economy.  For example, Bono is a permanent image of international humanitarian aid. Moyo feels that their message is based only in negativity and therefore people don’t want to invest in their sustainability. She stresses that we need to hear from African leaders what aid would be helpful instead of celebrities trying to further their image as a humanitarian icon. In a recent interview, even Bono speaks of how he believes Capitalism is the way to take people out of poverty – not more aid. 

The constant aid given to the government is only helping maintain the corruption, for different factions are constantly trying to obtain the money that the governments are receiving from around the world. Additionally, the governments have no incentive to create jobs for African people, but rather to rely on the aid that is constantly coming in. The changes that must happen in Africa must begin with the leadership. She claims these governments must remove the “aid addiction” and develop the economy by encouraging the private sector. In an interview with CBC, she gives the example of cell phone companies in Ethiopia not selling the license for cellular phones. It has been shown by other African countries that cell phones are extremely helpful for development. However, these governments don’t sell the license because the financial aid keeps them afloat – if aid were not an option, they would have to sell the license. This is a good example of how financial aid can indirectly effect these cultures in a negative way.

Moyo’s arguments are radical and are disputed by many humanitarian leaders across the globe. However, one cannot ignore the facts – aid is creating a dependency that we cannot reverse. While I don’t believe that completely removing humanitarian aid is the way to help impoverished lands succeed, there must be a compromise that allows these countries to sustain themselves and use this aid in a way that prepares them for the future, when aid can be removed completely.


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