Dead Aid: Book Review


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

“I would rather know it than be threatened by it”. – Mwizenge S. Tembo, September 26. 2005.

Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and How there is Another Way for Africa, London: Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 2009, pp. 188, $19.95, Paperback.


A powerful billionaire at a major international aid conference called her and her book “Evil”. At a different forum an American-based Zambian intellectual blasted and excoriated her book as advocating that millions of poor Zambians and Africans should be denied life-saving assistance and therefore would die by the millions if Dr. Moyo’s views were implemented. The few comments by Zambians that I read on line on the internet expressed outrage that a Zambian would advocate such a deadly policy. The handful of Zambian critiques supported the billionaire claiming he was a kind man who was saving their lives. It never occurred to these few Zambians who were critical that a foreigner was unfairly calling one of their own Zambian intellectual and her intellectual ideas “Evil”. All of this unjustified and over the top vitriol was because Dr. Dambisa Moyo had just published the book: “Dead AID”.

Dead AID by Dambisa Moyo

Dead AID by Dambisa Moyo

International Flight

I was flying to Zambia in 2009 when the book caught my eye at the airport in Johannesburg. I bought it with the intention of reading the whole book on the long flight and may be using it for teaching my College or University students. I may have read a chapter or two but got distracted and never finished it. I was very surprised when on March 12, 2016, Dr. Moyo was still defending “promoting evil” remarks the billionaire had made in 2013 regarding her book. I decided I would read the entire book which I did in one day in between a very heavy work schedule.

Book Review

Dr. Dambisa Moyo in her book: “Dead Aid” explains very clearly in the very first chapter of the book: “The Myth of Aid” that there are 3 types of foreign or international aid. The first is humanitarian or emergency aid which is distributed in response to natural disasters such as earth quakes, the Asian tsunami in 2004, famine, disease epidemics such as Ebola in West Africa. The second is charity-based aid which is distributed on the ground by organizations in affected countries. This is the aid that might target malnutrition, empowering poor women, promote health care, birth control, or fight against poverty in general. The third is systematic aid “- that is, aid payments made directly to governments either through government-to-government transfers via institutions such as the World Bank (known as multilateral aid).” (p.7)

Dr. Moyo devotes about a paragraph to discussing some of the criticism that could be leveled at both emergency aid and charity aid in terms of how the aid is distributed and other weaknesses. She hastens to add: “But this book is not concerned with emergency and charity aid.” (p.7) She says that the significant emergency and charity aid that goes to Africa gives the wrong impression to the international community, the West, Africans, and Zambians that all types of aid to Zambia and Africa must be good aid doing good work helping and saving lives.

Dr. Dambisa Moyo devotes the first 4 chapters of the book criticizing and debunking the myth that the estimated one trillion dollars of systematic or government-to-government aid that rich countries have distributed to Africa since 1940 has resulted into meaningful, strong, and sustainable economic growth. She argues that this type of systematic aid has failed in Africa. Instead may have resulted into the decline of GDP and worsened corruption and may have fueled even civil wars in Africa. In the first four chapters or 68 pages of the book, she discusses “The Myth of Aid”, “A Brief History of Aid”, “Aid is Not Working” and “The Silent Killer of Growth”. She includes statistical and empirical data to argue her case in critiquing systematic or government-to-government aid.

Suggestions for Better Economic Strategies

In second 6 chapters or 86 pages or part II, Dr. Moyo devotes to “A World without Aid”. The six chapters include a discussion of: “A Radical Rethink of the Dependency Model”, “A Capital Solution”, and “The Chinese are Our Friends” and “Making Development Happen”. In a very pragmatic and non-dogmatic ways, she proposes some radical ways of how African countries could find and establish alternative ways of getting capital to use for economic development. She discusses and infuses the better role of flows of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a better alternative for economic development in Africa rather than aid just as other countries do use FDI. She explores the role of trade, micro-credit organizations loans, and remittances from abroad as possible collective and better alternative means of creating economic growth in Africa while weaning from the aid dependency model.

Throughout the book, Dr. Moyo draws our attention to the reality that it will not be easy for Africa to eliminate the dependency on aid. “Africa is addicted to aid. For the past sixty years it has been fed aid. Like any addict it needs and depends on its regular fix, finding it hard, if not impossible, to contemplate existence in an aid-less world. In Africa, the West has found its perfect client to deal to.” (p.75)

Zambian Critiques of Dead Aid

When I was in graduate school doing my Ph. D. in the 1980s at the height of the anti-Apartheid Struggle, a black South African classmate told me that many books were banned during the Apartheid era. He did not want even his family members to know he was secretly reading some of the difficult to get banned books because if apprehended the whole family might have been hauled to prison. So at night he would pretend to go to bed in his tiny bedroom. He would retrieve the banned book from a secret location in the room. He would read the book using a torch or flashlight. Whenever anyone opened his bedroom door he would switch off the flash light and pretend to be asleep.

If Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid” has erroneously acquired a bad reputation, you may find yourself unwilling to read it in case you are called names such as you are person who advocates “Evil”. Whether you are an ordinary Zambian, an educated elite, a college or university student, political party cadre or government official or an aid advocate, I recommend you read the book. You can even read it secretly. No one has to know. That’s why I came up with the saying: “I would rather know it than be threatened by it”. Never let the unknown intimidate you. All the 17 universities and colleges in Zambia should be reading this book so that we can have new perspectives and a robust debate. May be we could have better policies for economic growth into the future of Zambia.

International Critiques of Dead Aid

If you are an international critique of “Dead Aid” come up with better explanations as to why you disagree with Dr. Moyo’s argument. Read the book if you have not done so yet. To simply argue that Africans will die if Aid is taken away is to take the lowest denominator moral high ground. This is the argument that seems to imply that Africans, all 1 billion of us, are so helpless like children, that anything that takes away Aid will just kill most of us. One of the international critiques states: “Moyo is not offering a reasoned or evidence-based position on aid.” This statement appalled me because the entire book is full of statistics and arguments based on empirical logical arguments. What “evidence-based” position on aid does the person criticizing have? Let them show the evidence.


This review does not nearly cover or reveal everything Dr. Dambisa Moyo says in the book. She says some provocative things that I will leave for the readers to uncover. I found those ideas intellectually stimulating as I have thought them myself and have expressed them in some of my books. May be after you secretly read the book, let’s have a lively discussion and debate.



The New Jim Crow: Book Review


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press, 2010, 2011, pp. 312, $19.95, Paperback.


The long history of African Americans in the United States since President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end chattel slavery in 1865, is that of living a life of excruciating emotional torture and uncertainty the likes of which ought to devastate them and usurp their souls. Just after 1865 during Reconstruction, African Americans experienced brief periods of hope of freedom, euphoric potential for genuine emancipation, and finally achieving equality and dignity as human beings as proselytized in the preamble of that great document called the American Constitution. Then there was what should have been the predictable backlash from the white dominant group that quickly created the Jim Crow laws which were accompanied with absolute continuous terror and degradation of African Americans. So the oppression and discrimination went on until the 1954 Supreme Court decision known Brown vs. the Board of Education. The decision declared that racially separate schools between blacks and whites were not only wrong to be separate but they were not equal.The New Jim Crow

School Integration and Civil Rights Movement

The enforcement of school integration gave African Americans hope momentarily that they could finally get a decent education. There was hope that racially integrating schools may slowly eliminate racial hostility, prejudice, and discrimination of whites towards blacks. The vast majority of whites resisted integration some violently. The biggest hope of freedom and racial equality for African American was the tumultuous Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In the 1970s there was some potential for racial progress as African Americans and women made some gains in upward social mobility Then the 1980s started the era of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Book Review

In the introductory chapter, the author explains how she painfully came to the conclusion that a New Jim Crow existed in the form of mass incarceration of African Americans. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”  does an excellent job in the 6 chapters to first briefly but systematically describe how the enslavement of Africans started.  She explain how plantation slave owning whites created an alliance with poor whites against the black slaves. In the first chapter she addresses “The Rebirth of Caste” with subheadings such as the “The Birth of Slavery”, “The Death of Slavery”, ending the chapter with “The Birth of Mass incarceration”. In Chapters 2 and 3, she addresses what might be the heart of the book: how the Reagan administration started the War and Drugs, how the Justice System, harsh drug laws, the role of the media, the political system, and legislation in Congress, and policing: all worked in tandem in the drive toward the massive incarceration of African Americans. Discussing racial disparity of incarceration, Alexanders says:

Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino. ….There is, of course, an official explanation for all of this: crime rates. This explanation has tremendous appeal – before you know the facts  — for it is consistent with, and reinforces, the dominant racial narratives about crime and criminality dating back to slavery.” (p. 99)


Chapters 4 and 5 are probably the most disturbing as the author in Chapter 4 under the title “The Cruel Hand” discusses parallels in the African Americans between post Reconstruction Jim Crow racial victimization and now the devastating consequences of the miserable life of suffering African Americans lead after they get out of prison. Discussing what Fredrick Douglass at the National Colored convention of freed slaves said in 1853, Alexander says:

“Blacks were finally free from the formal control of their owners, but they were not full citizens – they could not vote, they were subject to legal discrimination, and at any moment, Southern owners could capture them on the street and whisk them to slavery.” (p. 141)

Alexander then makes the connection to the present day African Americans in the era of mass incarceration: “Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or black person living “free” in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow”. (p. 141)

The New Jim Crow

Chapter 5 describes “The New Jim Crow” under such subheadings as “States of Denial”, “How it Works”, “Political Disenfranchisement,” “Exclusion from Juries’, “Black Support for “get tough” policies. Chapter 6 has surprising conclusions and recommendations looking forward. The main point she makes is that finding solutions to the mass incarceration of African Americans is not going to be simple. According to Williams (2007), in 2005 an estimated 2.2 million men and women were incarcerated in the Unites States. Of these imprisoned people, 547,200 were African-American males representing 40% of those imprisoned, while whites were 35% and Hispanics 20%. While African Americans constituted only 12.7% of the population according to the government census in 2005. “Moreover, African American males aged 25 to 29 years had the highest incarceration rate when compared with other racial and ethnic groups. In 2005, 8.1% of African American males in this age group were incarcerated compared with 2.6% Hispanic and 1.1% whites.(Harrison & Beck, 2006)” (Williams, 2007:255)

The high levels of incarceration of African American males is an unprecedented complex problem that will require radical comprehensive solutions over a long period of time as there are so many parts to the difficult problem. This quote probably best encapsulates the serious problem:

“Although it is common to think of poverty and joblessness as leading to crime and imprisonment, this research suggests that the War on Drugs is the major cause of poverty, chronic unemployment, broken families, and crime to day…….imprisonment has reached such extreme levels in many urban communities that a prison sentence and/or a felon label poses a much greater threat to urban families than crime itself.” (Alexander, 2011:p. 237)


This reviewer came to an alarming and pessimistic conclusion after the reading the book.  All the while living under the invisible heavy chains and dark shadow of the American racial caste system, the white dominant group continuously creates reasons to ideologically justify the racial oppression directed at African Americans at every turn in the life of America since emancipation in 1865. This cycle will never end so long the racial caste system directed at African Americans is structured into and deeply embedded in the American society’s DNA. This makes the author predict that as judicial reforms are widely being discussed now, the white nervous white majority will find another justifiable means of keeping African-American oppressed: who would have predicted the Drug War and the mass incarceration of African Americans? What will be next?


  1. Natasha Williams, “Prison Health and the Health of the Public: Ties That Bind,” in Anna Leon-Guerrero and Kristine Zentgraf (Eds), Contemporary Readings in Social Problems, Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, 2009.


Term “Bride Price” Should be Banned


Mwizenge S. Tembo

Professor of Sociology


The term “Bride Price” should immediately be banned from use anywhere in Zambia and Africa to refer to one of our cherished customs. I realize that the Europeans invented this term “Bride Price” in the 1700s and 1800s to refer to a fundamental aspect of Zambian and culture may have done it out of ignorance at the time. The great late eminent African scholar Ali Mazrui would have called what those early Europeans did to distort the meaning of this custom “European cultural arrogance”. I understand that the Europeans and their scholars, some of whom may even be Zambians and Africans, may still want to use it. If they so choose they can use “Bride Price” within the confines of European borders all the way to Britain, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece along the edges of the Mediterranean Sea. The people on the African continent must boycott and ban this term from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt all the way to Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, all the way to South Africa.

I will first explain to you why the term “Bride Price” must be banned, abandoned and boycotted. Second why there is so much confusion and ignorance about the term “Bride Price” among Zambians and Africans ourselves. Third, why the term “lobola” should be used instead using a dramatic social incident involving lobola going on in my large extended family right now. Lastly I will explain the proper traditional use  of “lobola” today if you would like to engage in it as a family whether your ethnic group or some of the 72 “tribes” in Zambia practiced lobola or not. I will end with the conclusion of the advantages of lobola in the 21st century marriages and extended families.

The book has more details about marital and other customs

The book has more details about marital and other customs

Why “Bride Price” Should be Banned

When Europeans first began to sail along the West coast of Africa in the 1600s, they did not know anything about Africa and African culture. In fact they called the interior of Africa “The Dark Continent” because they did not know about Zambia, Africa and Africans. When the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe there was tremendous excitement among Europeans. Adam Smith’s “Wealth Nations” vividly reinforced the dominant advantages of the just discovered capitalism which hinges on commerce as the buying and selling and free market exchanging of everything including physical commodities, services, land, minerals, tobacco, sugar, cotton, silk, spices, indigo. Later on the famous Karl Marx exposed the key inner workings of capitalism. It was not surprising that Europeans went on to enslave anywhere from ten to 20 million Africans in the brutal Atlantic Slave Trade and European Colonialism in Africa in this atmosphere of practicing and enjoying the fruits of newly found capitalism and advancement of science.

It was in this atmosphere that Missionaries like David Livingstone and mining prospectors such as Cecil Rhodes arrived in Zambia and Africa from 1850s onwards. It was later in the late 1800s to the 1940s and 50s that anthropologists began to create knowledge about us Africans and Zambians for the benefit not of us Africans but European audience however misleading and distorted this knowledge might have been. It did not matter to the Europeans then perhaps even now. They had no ideas about complex kinships, marriage and family customs that had existed among us Zambian and Africans probably for many centuries perhaps going back to 100,000 to 50,000 years ago since Zambians and Africans are the origins of all the 7 billion people.

The European explorers, missionaries, travelers, and especially anthropologists observed numerous customs many of the so-called tribes in Zambia and Africa were practicing. They may have noted at the time that among these primitive people called Africans,  that when a man wanted to marry a woman, he had to transfer a certain amount valuables to the bride’s family; chickens, goats, cattle before the marriage could take place. The Europeans were so overwhelmed with capitalism, superiority complex and economic exchange of commodities that they wrongly called the custom: “Bride Price” and we as Zambians and Africans are stuck with that wrong term to this day. As a consequence among the 1 billion Africans especially the educated, we freely use “Bride Price” as it truly reflects what goes on in our marriages.

“Bride Price” does not exist

What many Europeans, educated modern Zambians, Africans, and other outsiders do not know is that the term “Bride Price” does not exist in any of the more than 18 Zambian major languages and may be 72 dialects, ethnic groups, and the 72 “tribes”. It may not exist among the 2,000 African languages and dialects. Even in Uganda where a feminists are fighting to eliminate the “Bride Price” which oppresses women in marriage.

For example, if the term “Bride Price” existed among say the Tumbuka people of the Eastern Province of Zambia and Northern Malawi, it would be called “kugula mwanakazi” which translates into English as “to buy a woman”. It would also be called “mtengo wa mwanakazi” which translates as “price of a woman”. These are expressions that are used for actual buying of commodities such as dresses, chickens, bicycles, and shoes. Instead the term that is used to refer to what goes on during complex marriage customs is “lobola” about which I will go into detail later. The distorted term “Bride Price” was inserted in all the press, books, college and university text books which are read around the world including our Zambian and African scholars. This had led to everyone wrongly believing we practice “Bride Price” which is the selling and buying of women and girls. There may have been some protests about the demeaning and dehumanizing nature of the use of the term “Bride Price”. The anthropologists and the editors of these text books that are circulated worldwide replaced the term “Bride Wealth” apparently to soften the use of the harsh term “Bride Price”. The distorted meaning of buying and selling women is still the same.

This book has fascinating details on how marriages were traditionally conducted.

This book has fascinating details on how marriages were traditionally conducted.

The Etic and Emic Perspectives

There are those who will argue that the use of “Bride Price” to describe a very important marital custom among Zambians, Africans, women rights campaigners, and radical feminist anthropologists is legitimate or accurately describes what is really happening because the natives themselves, including myself, are incapable of realizing what they are doing: buying and selling a woman. The argument is that it takes a clever outsider who is objective and educated may be with a Ph. D to actually explain the reality of the very rich social experiences if practiced the way it was in the African traditional society. The belief is that the “emic” is the perspective that the natives, local people, or insiders who say they are practicing the “lobola” custom will have. The “etic” is that perspective of the critical expert, objective, superior, more educated, better informed individual that calls this marital custom “Bride Price”. This “etic” perspective is what everyone should believe. The author strongly disagrees with this outdated point of view.

Lobola the Best Term

Zambians and Africans should never ever use “Bride Price” as it does not exist in any Zambian or African culture. Instead, lobola or any equivalent term in your indigenous Zambian or African culture should be used.  Lobola may have been practiced among some ethnic and tribal groups going back to the 1820s. There is evidence of the practice among the Zulu in the Chaka Empire in the 1820s. (Ritter, 1955, 1978) The Ngonis and other tribes may have spread the marital custom among the peoples in present day Zambia, Southern Tanzania, Northern Malawi and elsewhere in Southern Africa.

What Happened During Lobola?

Let’s say John NKhata of Mtema Village knows a young woman Mary Mvula of Basiti that he would like to propose marriage to. John would go to Mary Mvula’s village and propose to her. If she finds him attractive and accepts the proposal, very complex social relationships and actions begin to develop. John’s family will select a Thenga or go between to go to Mary Mvula’s family to begin talks about malowolo. Immediately there were social ripples of excitement between the 2 large extended families of the couple because the two families were going to unite. Marriage in Zambian traditional society was never only about just the 2 people getting married. The malowolo negotiations would take numerous visits back and forth between the 2 families and villages. After may be 6 months to a year, the lobola may have been two cows and may be 3 or some other valuables. These were never meant for the father of the Mary Mvula to enrish himself or just to spend on his own. Almost always traditionally as livestock, it was seen as a modest investment to be kept for the whole family. The lobola was often never given in total before the marriage. What you are reading here about how lobola is conducted is very simplified and abbreviated. But the entire lobola social transactions and involving large kinship networks were very complex but very enjoyable and useful for the couple and the 2 large extended families in the two villages.  Read Tembo, 2012; Chondoka, 1988, and Ngulube, 1989 for more details about this custom.

Lobola Custom in 2016

In May 2015, I received an email and later a phone call from Zambia. My large extended family in Zambia regularly hold family meetings which are modeled after the traditional mphala of the Tumbuka people or insaka among the Bemba people. They discuss family marriages and wedding arrangements. Often they get together to attend to funerals. One of our young men who is an engineer, who I will call David, had met and proposed marriage to a young woman from Central African Republic, Rita, who he had met while both were attending school at CrytalRose Polytechnic State University in Los Angeles in California. They wanted a traditional marriage including lobola. I was appointed the Thenga (go between) because I was an elder and knew the traditional marriage customs. I was surprised, honored and humbled to participate in this role. The first question I asked myself: “What young people today who are less than 30 years old, who grew up in the city like Lusaka, live abroad would want to practice the traditional custom of lobola in marriage?”

To cut a long story short, I consulted by phone and email with the Thenga from the bride;s family for 6 months. Both couple’s families are scattered in the Central Africa Republic Mali, Zambia, the United States and Britain. At one time we suspended the negotiations for more than a week because there was a death in the bride’s family in Bangui. Her uncle had died. Eventually, we came up with a lobola amount of several cattle equivalent in money. Members of the families will travel to Lusaka for the wedding soon. The couple will return to the United States as man and wife to start their lives together after the wedding. But families on both sides already know each other so much better because pf the lobola negotiations besides many other rich customs.

This book has more details about traditional Zambian culture and marital customs.

This book has more details about traditional Zambian culture and marital customs.

“Bride Price” distortions

There is plenty of confusion about the misuse of this very useful marital custom. There was headline in the international news a few months ago: “Uganda’s Bride Price Ruling Marks Women’s Rights Milestone, But Clashes With Customary Laws.”

Some will see my advocating this lobola which many will misinterprete as the same as “Bride Price” as setting back women’s rights in Uganda, Zambia and the rest of Africa. This would be throwing out the baby with bath water. This attitude or opposition would be understandable in that the use of “Bride Price” in the headline and in Uganda and elsewhere bears confirmation of the original sin or distortion when Europeans mischaracterized or distorted the custom. What compounded the problem is that virtually all educated Africans who use European languages have wrongly accepted the use of the term “Bride Price” instead of lobola.

The men and families who charge high “Bride Prices” because their daughter is educated or very valuable are playing right into the hands of the original Europeans who coined the distorted or wrong term “Bride Price”. The Ugandans and other modern Zambian and African men and families who abuse this “Bride Price” as license  to abuse their  wives and keep them captive when she wants a divorce are also ignorant because that was never the intended purpose of lobola in the traditional customs.


Practicing the original lobola in a positive traditional way with all its cultural and customary richness would be very valuable for strengthening marriages and strengthening families that unite in marriage today. Tribes and ethnic groups that traditionally never practiced the lobola custom can adopt it too to strengthen their marital experience. No Zambian and African should be prisoner of archaic terms that Europeans invented centuries ago to portray negatively what Zambians and Africans had enjoyed for ages. You will notice that I have avoided the use of the term “pay” to describe how the groom’s family delivers lobola to the bride’s family. This is another negative power of using English because it is a very powerful hegemonic tool for distorting our culture and creating the epistemology that both oppresses and distorts how we see our own lives as Zambians and Africans.


  1. Chondoka, Yizenge A., Traditional Marriages in Zambia: A Study in Cultural History,Ndola: Mission Press, 1988.
  2. Kottak, Conrad Philips., Anthropology: Exploration of Human Diversity, 12thEdition, New York: McGrawhill, 2008.
  3. Ngulube, Naboth M. J., Some Aspects of Growing Up in Zambia,Lusaka: Nalinga Consultancy/Sol. Consult A/S Limited, 1989.
  4. Ritter, E. A., Shaka Zulu,New York: Penguine Books, 1955, 1978.
  5. Tembo, Mwizenge S., Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture: Social Change in the Global World,Indian: Xlibris Corporation, 2012