Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo
Reviewed by Kevin L. Kehl, Abilene Christian University
No. 2, October 2010, Review of Global Studies Literature
Dambisa Moyo addresses complex economic challenges facing the people and nations of Africa. Her credentials for writing this book are noteworthy: a master's degree from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a PhD in economics from Oxford, and perhaps most worthy of mention for the discussion to follow, she was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia.
Moyo sets the stage for her thesis reflected in the title Dead Aid
by taking readers through a discussion and rationale behind the West's answer to the economic and social struggles facing Africa. Simply stated, the prevailing thinking of the day is that the rich should help the poor. While Moyo is in agreement, she proceeds to argue that the form of aid typically directed from the West has been harmful to ordinary people. More specifically, she contends that the West's fixation on direct loans and grants to governments actually encourages and facilitates corruption and conflict within political and economic systems.
According to the author, between 1981 and 2002 (a period in which record amounts of aid were poured into Africa), the number of people living in poverty on the continent of Africa has doubled. The question of why has often been posed to world leaders of business and education alike who have suggested that the economic woes facing Africa include corrupt leadership, insufficient educational opportunities, wars brought on by colonial powers, and ethnic conflict. In contrast, Moyo is adamant that the root cause of the current financial crisis and poverty facing Africa is the direct result of foreign aid.
Moyo does differentiate aid given by charities to institutions or people on the ground from aid given directly to governments or institutions by other governments. The author poignantly suggests that the latter type of aid is often justified in the West, which holds that all forms of aid are good. She suggests that just the opposite is happening. The type of aid given by governments directly to governments is in fact stifling economic development in Africa.
Moyo takes considerable space in her book to challenge the suggestion that debt relief is the key to unleashing Africa's economic and human resource potential. She criticizes what she calls glamour aid where famous celebrities and entertainers raise money and awareness calling on the donor community to forgive debt. Moyo argues that direct foreign aid is not connected to substantial accountability, goals, or timelines. Moyo suggests that the answer to many of the economic woes facing Africa is direct investment. While the concrete ideas offered by Moyo seem few and far between, she does offer suggestions for overcoming problems by taking a look at China's approach to the African continent. She is rather blunt in suggesting that the West's big mistake is in giving something for nothing. China's success, on the other hand, can be attributed to its approach in Africa being strictly about business.
Whether one agrees with her assessment or solutions, the perspectives shared in this book could play an important role along with other readings, international experiences, and reflections in our quest to help students and international leaders to think critically. Admittedly, many stereotypes exist about Africa in general, and more specifically about the causes and solutions to challenges currently facing the continent. Having U.S. students read and reflect on the thoughts put forth in this text adds an important culturally informed perspective and helps to challenge some of these stereotypes and generalizations. It is also important for decisionmakers at U.S. institutions to consider the thoughts presented in this book to help inform their decisions related to program or partnership selection, content, and assessment.
Moyo, Dambisa. 2009. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.