Africa is the second largest and most populated continent has been blessed with abundant natural resources and an equally rich history. However, for the last hundred years its people have suffered unimaginable hardship, first under imperial greed, and later under corrupt governments who have swindled both foreign aid and natural resources.
Corruption is nothing new in Africa. It’s become the sort of status quo for governments in power. Activists, global leaders, and humanitarians have demanded change for over fifty years. However, their tools mainly foreign aid and humanitarian relief, have only served to support the regimes they so vehemently oppose.
Over the last fifty years, over $1trillion dollars has been handed down to African countries from mostly western nations in the form of foreign aid. However, this aid has done nothing to improve the lives of Africans across the continent. This is the crux of Moyo’s argument in her 2009 book, “Dead Aid” not that helping Africa is wrong, but that African’s and their governments should work to develop new strategies for growth. In doing so, developing nations can end the vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.
Once readers get over the shock at the sheer political incorrectness being conveyed it becomes clear that Dr. Moyo ideas are quite revolutionary. The book may the echo the works of many other economists and thinkers, but it’s important in drumming up awareness about the growing change in opinion amongst influential Africans.
Acceptance of her argument requires a total rethinking of what aid actually means. It is not enough to simply donate money and supplies and hope something happens. It is insulting to think so, and creates an environment ripe for corruption. Her argument also highlights the underlying arrogance of western countries who believe aid legitimate approach to building sustainable, productive countries and economies.
Where the lines begin to blur however, is in Moyo’s suggestion on how exactly to wean Africa off the bosom of foreign aid. She makes the argument that many western economists would make, in that the answer lies in investment, cold turkey, and property law reform. The argument for foreign investment came at a time when the markets were in rare form. However, post economic downturn it is clear, at least for the immediate future that African governments looking to get involved in new bond markets may have to be patient.
As optimistic and controversial Moyo’s book maybe it is very fitting at this time when it appears that an economic changing of the guard is imminent. President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia, and the stiff rhetoric at the G20 in South Korea have made clear the United States’ intention to reanalyze its approach to the rest of the world, mainly developing countries. China has taken a particular interest in African countries, perhaps it is time that Western investors do the same.
Therein lies the significance of the book. Dead Aid‘s arguments may not hold water at this very moment, however it states very clearly the changing attitude of African’s towards aid. Perhaps in the context of a changing world it will make more sense as western countries may no longer be in the position to hand out aid. This could create an environment where aid alternatives will be viable options to investors and governments alike, looking to not only help, but make money in Africa.
In other words, the global markets may have already decided they are ready to work together with Africa. In the end it may be Africa’s lack of development, and potential for growth that will entice investors. Hopefully, bringing an end to the notion that African countries are charity cases. The world needs to acknowledge that aid does not build countries, and that investment is the only way to solve Africa’s socioeconomic problems. It will force both governments and the world community to acknowledge the problems present, and come up with practical solutions for future sustainability. Is Dead Aid blindly optimistic? Perhaps, but pessimism is the wrong way to approach a continent so ripe for change and growth.
About Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo is an international economist and New York Times best selling author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa, published in 2009.