TEN years ago, it would have been hard to find anyone to question the wisdom and morality of the rich world giving billions of dollars in help to the poor world. A generation reared on Live Aid held these truths to be self-evident. Now, the intellectual trend is all the other way. A stream of economists, politicians and even disillusioned do-gooders have penned powerful critiques of every aspect of aid and the aid industry; men like Paul Collier, William Easterly and Robert Calderisi. Even the high priests of aid, pop stars such as Bono and Bob Geldolf, now preach a much more nuanced and complex gospel than they did in the 1980s.
Yet the intellectual arguments about aid are still conducted largely within a small circle of Western white men. So it is good to welcome a new voice to the debate, and a black African woman too, Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist at Goldman Sachs. It is remarkable that so few voices have been raised in Africa, supposedly the main beneficiary of the world’s largesse, about how the aid money should be spent, or even whether it should be received at all.
Unfortunately, Ms Moyo’s contribution ends there, for “Dead Aid” does not move the debate along much. Yes, she has joined the chorus of disapproval—and that in itself might surprise a few diehards who think that Africans should just be grateful for the aid and shut up. But her arguments are scarcely original and her plodding prose makes her the least stylish of the critics.
Moreover, she overstates her case, almost to the point of caricature. There is almost nobody left, even in the aid lobby, who seriously thinks that bilateral (government-to-government) aid is the sole answer to world poverty, as she suggests. “Trade not aid” is only one of several newish mantras among aidniks that seem to have passed her by.
Nonetheless, Ms Moyo is right to argue that the rich world—and Africa—should now focus on other ways of helping poor countries. Ms Moyo shows how some countries, such as Ghana, have successfully tapped the bond markets for funds. She also has good discussions on the virtues of microfinance, venture capital and liberalising trade. By concentrating on these three, African governments might well raise more money on their own; some might even lessen their dependency on aid.
Private investors will always require good governance to ensure that their dollars are not misused. This “trumps all”, argues Ms Moyo. She won’t find many Africans who disagree with that. But getting governments like Nigeria’s or Kenya’s actually to walk the talk has proved a much tougher proposition.
in The Economist