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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo

In this book Ms. Moyo first documents the fact that aid has not alleviated the poverty of Africa, has in fact worsened the situation in Africa, and why that is so. In the second part of the book she talks about alternatives to aid which have been tested and proven in other countries, and how they might work in Africa.

I found this book much  more compelling than Ms. Moyo's other book, How the West Was Lost. I found a lot less to disagree with.

The statistics she marshals to demonstrate that aid has not worked, despite 60 years of trying and billions of dollars and various emphases for the aid, are truly startling and dismaying. "But has more than US$1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made African people better off? No. In fact, across the globe the recipients of this aid are worse off; much worse off. Aid has helped make the poor poorer, and growth slower." p. xix.

"Even the most cursory look at data suggests that as aid has increased over time, Africa's growth has decreased with an accompanying higher incidence of poverty. Over the past thirty years, the most aid-dependent countries have exhibited growth rates averaging minus 0.2 percent per annum." p. 46.

"And between 1970 and 1998, when aid flows to Africa were at their peak, poverty in Africa rose from 11 per cent to a staggering 66 per cent. That is roughly 600 million of Africa's billion people trapped in a quagmire of poverty--a truly shocking figure." p. 47.

Ms. Moyo offers many reasons why aid does not work, such as corruption in government (which is spurred on by aid), and many alternatives which could turn the tide for Africa, such as micro-financing. She recommends that those nations and institutions which give aid to Africa should decide to gradually decrease aid over five years, and then turn off the taps permanently.

One can only hope that this book finds its way into the hands of influential people, who act on its message. Aid has failed, but there is a better way.


  1. Wow, that is a tough recommendation. As you probably know, World Vision does a lot to alleviate suffering in Africa and I can't see not giving to them. Does the author differentiate between other countries giving aid and organizations such as WV giving aid? There is much waste when foreign aid is given by another country, but I know WV tries to help people get to the point they can take care of themselves.
    I'm also reminded of an update from one of the OPC missionaries (out of Uganda I want to say-- some where in Africa) who talked of a village they were trying to minister to who had a cycle of waiting for foreign aid then drinking and getting drunk once it came and in general wasting the donations until it was gone and waiting for more foreign aid. Very little work was actually done by the residents. The village had a severe fire and the villagers asked the missionaries for money to rebuild. The missionaries said that they'd pay villagers to do some work for them in exchange for money to fix the fire damage and were met with extreme hostility and accusations of the missionarys being very unchristian since they didn't just give the money outright. That story really stuck with me about how the villagers were stuck in this cycle of extreme poverty and didn't seem to want to work to escape it.

  2. The recommendation sounded harsh to me at first, but the arguments she uses are quite compelling. Aid by and large seems to have fostered a sort of welfare state, encouraging the people of Africa to depend on the aid (as in the example you mention), and the leaders of Africa to be corrupt (most of the aid money does not in fact make it to the poor people of Africa).

    I do not recall that the author mentions World Vision by name. She does generally condemn private charity as well as government-to-government aid, though the government-to-government aid comes in for greater condemnation.

    I think you should give the book a read, and if you think World Vision differs from the sort of aid Ms. Moyo singles out for attention, let me know.

    She tells the story of an African mosquito-net maker who employs ten people, each of whom supports 10-15 relatives. An aid organization comes in and passes out free mosquito nets. The net maker goes out of business. All his employees and all their dependents are now moved from gainful employment to poverty. Then the free mosquito nets eventually wear out and need to be replaced, but there is no longer a local business making nets.

    She seems delighted with the idea of micro-finance (small loans made to groups of borrowers). There is a website called Kiva that allows private people in the Western world to invest small amounts of money in these small loans. That seems like an exciting way to improve economic conditions for the people of Africa (and other poor nations).

  3. I have to admit that regardless I cannot stop giving to an agency like World Vision. I can't see a picture or hear a story about Africans literally starving to death and not feel it's part of my duty. I do know that WV does some micro loans and now I understand the rationale behind it. I also know WV is careful about what money goes to gov't. Years ago, I knew a woman who was originally from Africa and she decried gov't aid to African countries because of the extreme corruption where like you said that so little of the money gets to the needy. She had a friend who worked for WV and at that time WV was trying to get a check to clear in a certain African country and the country officials were refusing to let it clear unless WV greased a few palms and WV was refusing to do so. I don't know what happened in the end. It sounds like orgs like WV need to move towards teaching the Africans to be self-sustaining instead of just handing out donations. Such a complicated situation. This welfare dependency is playing out in this country and we're literally going broke financing it. Meanwhile the Dems are accusing us of having no compassion.