Monday, May 18, 2009

Aid resumes to Zimbabwe

The World Bank is resuming aid to Zimbabwe. But what will Dambisa Moyo say?! Moyo’s book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and How there is a better Way for Africa (ISBN-10# 0374139563), argues that Aid, in all its shapes, has failed Africa. I have enjoyed reading the book since it expounds such a refreshing point of view. I think it is a beginning, along with other similar books such as William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, but cannot encompass the complexity of the discussion. Moyo writes like an Economist, which she is. Economic analysis often requires that variables are held still while observing the important one you want to discuss, ceteris paribas. She wants to discuss aid and blame it primarily for corrupt government activity. She pins her entire argument on what she describes as decades of witless activity by individuals at aid agencies who should have known better than to donate money without limit and without the demand of some kind of return. This is overly simplistic and ahistorical. This simplicity limits the power of her arguments to my mind. This should not however, take away from her breaking the conversation wide-open which I truly admire.

Essentially, she argues that agencies continue to promote aid in order to justify their own existence. Agencies employ thousands of people all over the world who are rewarded by continually loaning or donating without thinking. Also, while many politicians are aware that aid does not help, they still go through the motions-they are trapped in a cycle. Additionally, she insists that aid has cultivated and fostered the corruption found in African nations that rely on aid. She provides plenty of statistics and links to websites in her attempt to support her findings. Unfortunately, her arguments sometimes remind me of the lawyer who starts pounding the table when she can no longer pound the facts. Her vilification of aid agencies may be accurate; I cannot say really as I have no background in development. However, she is relentless in her criticism of them from inception until today. This is just too much of an over-statement to be comfortable with. We have learned so much about global economics since Bretton Woods began and these agencies have changed direction several times in their approaches to various regions, presumably in an effort to be more effective. These organisations are too complex to be all good or all bad. They may have outlived their usefulness and this I take away from the book.

Moreover, she has simplified her discussion to such a point that issues such as leadership, power, and responsibility are, for the most part, absent. Why corruption exists anywhere is complex. And corruption exists everywhere and is a human frailty. It is not just about easy money. In Africa, it is something else. I hesitate to describe it as I am not a corruption expert at all but I do have an opinion and I have been thinkinf about it. Martin Meredith, in his book The State of Africa, describes the similar fates of post-independence African nations, due to corrupt leaders. It is relentless, like Dead Aid, in its own historical way. Meredith describes how each nation; one by one goes the same way. This is getting close to an understanding corruption in Africa. It is about getting your own but not in the individualistic way of the West. Getting yours in Africa means taking care of friends and family; very extended family too. It has to do with one’s people and not just one’s-self. (credit to JRW in Zim for the inception of this theory) But this is too in-depth for Moyo to encompass in her discussion. She chose her battles and focused on them.

Having described the limitations of the book let me add that I admire the singularity of her discussion. She has spent an entire book saying something unpopular but true. It is possible that she needed to bang this gong incessantly, without the luxury of giving the other side any credit at all, in order to ensure that her point was heard. She gives China credit for its efforts in Africa which is something not discussed frequently enough. I saw an interview with the author online. She is articulate and a fine ambassador for this new way of thinking. More power to her-I pray people are listening.

For interview see

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