More From Dambisa Moyo: the Dead Aid Firestorm Begins

Dambisa Moyo’s new book “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa” is now out and available at amazon.com and other fine retailers near you.

Moyo has been called the ‘Anti-Bono’ (though she detests the nickname) for her stance on government-based foreign aid; she believes that development in African and other countries in the global south would be best accomplished by allowing those countries’ markets to grow unhindered by foreign dependence. She is a strong advocate both of the free market and of government accountability in developing countries — government accountability not to foreign donors, but to its own people.

A few weeks ago I visited Bono’s ONE organization headquarters in D.C. as part of a project researching nonprofit aid organizations, where office staff tried to seduce me into joining their campaign with free t-shirts, wristbands, youthful idealism, and rock music. I brought up this book in our conversation and asked how they dealt with critics like Moyo who said that the current government-sponsored aid model is broken and what’s more, is hurting impoverished countries more than helping them, and of the several stammered and red-faced replies I got, ONE’s Presidential Initiative Director actually told me something to the tune of “This model has been proven true in my lifetime…we’re America, we have the power to effect change. We can do whatever we want.”

Clearly. This truly frightening sentiment has worked out pretty well so far, hasn’t it?

Partly thanks, I’m sure, to the alert I raised (my comments caused much eyebrow-raising and name jotting), I found this post attacking “Dead Aid” today on ONE’s site. Interesting to note is this excerpt:

ONE has never argued that development assistance is a panacea, but targeted aid has a positive role to play in promoting development in the poorest countries — especially at this time of global economic crisis — alongside other prerequisites for progress: trade, private investment and improved governance.

On the question of economic growth, the growth that Sub-Saharan Africa needs will require a significant increase in aid, not a reduction. In order for the markets to work, African policy makers and activists are asking for increased sector investments to build up the underlying physical and human infrastructure, and that requires capital which African leaders can’t raise without increased ODA.

At ONE, we have always advocated for a kind of aid which not only delivers results, but also strengthens national governance by supporting citizen efforts to hold their governments accountable. Moyo’s proposals would also dramatically cut funding for these vital democratic processes.

I like what Moyo says about ONE and other hostile NGOs attacking her position in this interview:

FC: What’s surprised you about the response to the book?
Moyo: The thing that surprised me the most is just how NGOs have taken a very aggressive approach to the book. The book was written in a polemical sense to try to get the debate going. I wanted everyone to get involved, from people who are diehard aid proponents to people who hate aid. I want to have them really question the system the way we are now questioning the capitalist system — one year of problem with the credit crisis, after 300 years of evidence that capitalism works, and it’s out the window. We have 60 years of problems with aid and nobody has really been saying anything.

FC: What have the NGOs said?
Moyo: I’m a bit annoyed because I think they have been quite mean, misrepresenting some of the things I say. I keep saying there are three types of aid: humanitarian aid, charity aid — I’m not talking about those in the book — and government aid. I keep getting these emails saying, Oh, Dambisa Moyo is going to kill babies. African babies are going to die of malaria and AIDS. They don’t want to move the debate forward.

FC: Who has attacked you publicly?
Moyo: ONE, Bono’s organization. They wrote a letter that’s on their Web site. I’ve spoken to them one on one — no pun intended — and I’ve told them numerous times that I’m not criticizing their kind of aid. They say, Yeah, yeah, let’s have dinner and chat some more. The next thing I know they’ve launched a campaign.

I suppose we’ll see what happens between Moyo and ONE, but it seems to me that the problem is that ONE is so caught up advocating for government foreign aid funding increases that they see “Dead Aid” as a direct attack on their organization, which it is not. Moyo’s unwanted nickname, a red herring assigned to her by the New York Times, surely doesn’t help the situation either.

If these NGOs truly had a heart for the global south, shouldn’t they be welcoming an honest and intelligent inquiry into how to make foreign aid more effective and less addictive to the countries that receive it? The end goal of foreign aid, after all, should be to eventually eliminate the need for it altogether, not to create an ever-growing vortex of dependency with undertones of nation-building, which is sadly what we’ve done in the past 60 years. How is that benevolent in any sense of the word?

UPDATE: Dambisa Moyo was featured on the April 1 episode of The Colbert Report. I’ll try to get the clip of her interview up here later today.

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