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”.
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.
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.