Alumna Argues Aid in Africa is Failing, Needs to be Reassessed

April 1, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

A Kennedy School alumna with a controversial message is attracting attention to issues surrounding African development.

Zambian native Dambisa Moyo MPA 1997, author of “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa,” argues that the way in which aid dollars are delivered to and received in Africa undermine their very objectives and actually disenfranchise many Africans from involvement in their own future.

In a seminar Monday (March 30) sponsored by the Center for International Development, Moyo clarified that she is not attacking humanitarian, emergency, NGO or charitable aid, but is instead targeting large government-to-government flows of money.

Moyo addressed the way in which celebrities are involved in African issues, referring to the frequent public calls for more aid and the stars’ level of access to world leaders – something that is denied to Africans.

“I do believe the celebrity culture at the moment is focusing on the wrong thing,” Moyo said. “It’s so much easier for Bob Geldof or Bono to go to G8 and meet with African leaders [than for Africans]… There’s nothing positive that comes from there.”

When Africans raise their children with the mentality that they are poor and need aid to survive, Moyo argued, it makes them dependent on it and disenfranchised from their own government. Seventy percent of Africa’s budget is aid dependent, Moyo pointed out, so the people in Africa have little voice in their own future.

Moyo also argued that government corruption, inflation, rising debt burdens and civil wars are significant reasons why foreign aid doesn’t work the way it should on the African continent. Development is hampered by many other challenges, she said, from bureaucratic confusion to a lack of accountability. Many African governments no longer take responsibility for delivering health care, infrastructure, security and education, she said.

“There are a lot of governments that are very happy to sit back and let someone else do their work for them,” Moyo said. “This is not an African problem. This is an international problem. We should all be concerned.”

In her book, Moyo discusses possible solutions for the aid culture, which include developing agricultural trade with countries such as China, preparing African governments to prepare for the marketplace when the Western economy recovers, and restructuring how aid money is distributed (in some cases, charities only see a few cents for every dollar donated).

Moyo alluded to her time spent at Harvard Kennedy School, saying she came away with the clear understanding that the goal of foreign aid is twofold – to help stimulate economic growth and to alleviate poverty.

“On those two metrics alone, aid has not worked,” she concluded.

Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo said she is not attacking humanitarian, emergency, NGO or charitable aid - but large government-to-government flows of money.

“There are a lot of governments that are very happy to sit back and let someone else do their work for them." - Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo

Moyo takes questions from the audience.

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