Live or Dead Aid – Who is responsible for development in Africa?

Who is responsible for development in Africa?

Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo

This is the question I’m mulling over, after a presentation by Dr Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid.  The book has caused quite some controversy, not least among NGOs and recipients of the aid that Moyo critiques.

Foreign aid is a complex subject and one that has many vested interests. Any discussion on the future of aid is likely to be heated and emotional.  There are those of us whose very livelihoods depend on it, for without that donor money, we wouldn’t be able to pay our own bills.  And there are those of us lefties who struggle with the politics of the author – neo-liberal, economic focus, seemingly aligned to the interests of global capital. Her work experience is at the World Bank (seen by some as an arrogant manipulative International Financial Institution (IFI)) and Goldman Sachs. Her background at these institutions dents her credibility in South African development circles, where your politics and credentials are judged before you’ve opened your mouth.

Some people view her ideas with skepticism and see her as an emissary from yet another global institution that is intent on imposing their own agenda. Moyo contests this vocally, saying she is born and bred Zambian and has strong roots in the heart of Africa.  For most of us, despite any critique, it is fabulous to have an African academic raising these issues for debate.

I think Moyo’s biggest problem, when talking to an audience of civil society, is that she’s an economist with a background in capital markets.  Activists (quite rightly) get frustrated at what they see as her lack of engagement with the politics behind her ideas.

We might get some fresh perspective if we could separate the message and the messenger.

Moyo may have neo-liberal roots and come from a World Bank model.  However, her core message packs a punch that is worth more than a cursory glance.  The heart of her message is one that seeks to empower Africans to take back the control that, for years, has either been stolen or relinquished to others. 

The reality is that aid has been around for several decades.  Donors themselves have begun to ask how they can be more effective – as evidenced in the Paris Declaration of 2005 and subsequent conversations (and  As the global financial climate teeters uncertainly and funding dwindles after the crash of 2008/9, it is the perfect time for those truly interested in Africa’s development to ask some pertinent questions. 
Do we really want the current funding and development models to continue?
Isn’t it time Africa took back the reins and began to control our own development?
Vested interests aside, isn’t it time to recognise that IFI’s (rather than citizens) have been making decisions that control the fate of Africa, for far too long?
Shouldn’t we put citizens at the centre (instead of donors) and make governments accountable to their people (instead of donors)?

Global governance faces a shake-up in these uncertain times.  This rumbling provides an opportunity for civil society to raise their voice and demand an accountable, transparent partnership between African governments and their citizens, to build strong, resilient, democratic societies.


One Response

  1. There are three issues which I find in her book which are disturbing.
    1) Her politics relies on typical economist ideas that democracy is wasteful when it comes to allocating resources. In this, her views echo that of Joseph Schumpeter. In the absence of democracy, where are the human rights or should everything just become subject to the will of the egocrat? Her politics lacks a cogent explanation of human rights.
    2) Apart from her dubious orientation towards rights and democracy, the notion of aid as dead ignores that aid has enabled development to occur in once dead markets. Infrastructure requires a market and in the absence of a revenue generating base or market, aid is the next best thing. Thousands of kilometers of road have been paid for by donors and the secondary impacts and positive spinoffs cannot be ignored.
    3) Aid is not the problem. It is the wasteful political culture that permits tinhorn dictators to call themselves democrats and to have paper democracies all the while feathering their own nests. Corruption occurs in every country but in countries where every cent counts, corruption is felt more acutely. Even aid is mismanaged and pilfered by these pathogenic political elites who more often than not collaborate with a self-serving neo-colonial agenda. Bob Mugabe is one such example: he steals land under the guise of restitution and profits buy selling whatever that land produces to MNCs’. The new neo-colonialism is the governing elite’s behaviour.
    It is not a question of aid inculcating dependency but of political elites robbing their own people. The last thing we need is a justification giving them more of an excuse to take on more executive powers, which is what Moyo’s theory of development does. Many may think that her ideas are plausible but she is nothing more than a political Stalinist and an economic Leninist.

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