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Dead Aid

Dambisa Moyo

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To purchase Dead Aid

Title: Dead Aid
Author: Dambisa Moyo
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2009
Length: 164 pages
Availability: Dead Aid - US
Dead Aid - UK
Dead Aid - Canada
Dead Aid - India
L'aide fatale - France
Dead Aid - Deutschland
La carità che uccide - Italia
  • UK subtitle: Why Aid is not Working and how there is a Another Way for Africa
  • US subtitle: Why Aid is not Working and how there is a Better Way for Africa
  • With a Foreword by Niall Ferguson

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Our Assessment:

B- : of some interest, but presentation too simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The American Spectator . 16/3/2009 Joseph Lawler
The Economist . 12/3/2009 .
Foreign Affairs . 1-2/2010 Jagdish Bhagwati
The Guardian . 14/2/2009 Madeleine Bunting
The Independent . 30/1/2009 Paul Collier
The Nation . 30/3/2009 Sonia Shah
The Spectator . 11/2/2009 Michela Wrong
Sunday Times . 1/2/2009 Patrick French
The Times . 6/2/2009 Parminder Bahra
TLS . 7/5/2010 Harry Johnstone
Wall St. Journal . 17/3/2009 Matthew Rees
The Washington Post . 3/4/2009 Michael Gerson

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus -- and the global financial-world meltdown makes for bad timing for the argument

  From the Reviews:
  • "Moyo has skin in the game, a reality that lends pragmatism to her approach and enables her to think critically about the current aid schemes. (...) Moyo wants to conquer the dehumanizing poverty afflicting Africa, even though the hands-off solution would mean that she doesn't get to be the hero." - Joseph Lawler, The American Spectator

  • "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." - The Economist

  • "Moyo is right to raise her voice, and she should be heard if African nations and other poor countries are to move in the right direction. In part, that depends on whether the international development agenda is set by Hollywood actresses and globetrotting troubadours or by policymakers and academics with half a century of hard-earned experience and scholarship. In the end, however, it will be the citizens and policymakers of the developing world who will seize the reins and make the choices that shape their destiny and, hopefully, soon achieve the development progress that so many have sought for so long." - Jagdish Bhagwati, Foreign Affairs

  • "One suspects that behind this book is a remarkable woman with an impressive career and very little time for learning how to write a good book. The result is an erratic, breathless sweep through aid history and current policy options for Africa, sprinkled with the odd statistic. There are so many generalisations skidding over decades of history, such frequent pre-emptory glib conclusions, that it is likely to leave you dizzy with silent protest. (...) Despite being poorly argued, Dead Aid will boost Moyo's profile. There are many who will want to promote her views, only too eager to cut aid budgets as pressure builds on government spending. The danger is that she will end up on the wrong side of the argument. The battle is to press for more effective aid, not cut it altogether. Her proposal to phase out aid in five years is disastrously irresponsible" - Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian

  • "I doubt that many of Africa's problems can be attributed to aid. It is, in my view, something of a sideshow. Because it lends itself to a simple morality story of guilt and reparation, it receives more attention than is warranted. Paradoxically, despite her radically different argument, Moyo has ended up with the same punchline as the conventional, politically correct diagnosis: Africa's problems are the consequence of our transgressions. By the same token, I think that Moyo's message is over-optimistic. She implies that, were aid cut, African governments would respond by turning to other sources of finance that would make them more accountable. I think this exaggerates the opportunity for alternative finance and underestimates the difficulties African societies face." - Paul Collier, The Independent

  • "There's much in this slim book that will rankle. Moyo's argument that reliance on foreign aid is the reason for Africa's descent into poverty is less than convincing. (...) And since the book was written before the global economy's slow-mo train wreck, Moyo's supposition that private investors are itching to sink money into emerging African economies is now, sadly, out of date. Nevertheless, she's right, of course." - Sonia Shah, The Nation

  • "One can challenge this book’s thesis, however, and still hail it as marking a turning point. In the past, Africans might privately wax cynical about western aid policy, but they were content to leave the public debate to be waged by Irish pop stars, American celebrities and paunchy white men in suits. Television producers and conference organisers routinely scratched their heads trying to find opinionated Africans ready to argue the issues. Moyo belongs to an emerging generation of articulate, self-confident and angry Africans who are now doing just that. Not before time." - Michela Wrong, The Spectator

  • "Dead Aid is a polemic, but Moyo devotes more than half of the book not to outlining what she believes has gone wrong, but presenting possible solutions. (...) I suggest that Bono buys a copy of Dead Aid and claps Bob Geldof over the head with it, repeatedly." - Patrick French, Sunday Times

  • "There is no new research and her argument against aid is as spurious as the argument that it is bad to go to hospitals because many people die in them. To argue that all aid goes into the hands of corrupt leaders is naive and shows a lack of understanding about how aid is distributed and the projects that do promote good governance and institution building. The lack of any examples of how aid has been used is a huge omission -- instead we have anecdotes about African leaders on shopping sprees with donor money. (...) This is a poorly thought-out thesis and one that is more likely to create poverty than reduce it. Her approaches to trade and foreign direct investment and some of her criticisms of aid are supported by many in the development field, but the argument for the private sector to take over development finance from aid was poor before the financial crisis started -- and is now rendered completely impotent." - Parminder Bahra, The Times

  • "No one writing about "Africa" can escape the charge of generalizing, but Moyo's prescriptions for a better future rest too narrowly and too optimistically on private sector-driven economic growth." - Harry Johnstone, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It is too bad that Ms. Moyo did not stop now and then to draw directly on her personal experience -- not only on her work as an investment banker but on her early life in Zambia. (Her mother is chairman of a Zambian bank; her father runs an anticorruption organization.) First-person accounts might have made her argument even more vivid. Even so, it is vivid enough." - Matthew Rees, Wall Street Journal

  • "(T)he book is something of a marvel: Seldom have so many sound economic arguments been employed to justify such disastrously wrongheaded conclusions. (...) There are other limitations to Dead Aid -- its assertion that decimated global capital markets are a ready alternative to aid for African nations; its naive attitude toward Chinese engagement in Africa; its strange contention that African nations might be best served by "a decisive, benevolent dictator." But Moyo's largest error is an overbroad condemnation of aid itself." - Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Dead Aid Dambisa Moyo argues that it is high time to stop giving foreign aid to African nations. The provocative (if hardly new) thesis is based on what she considers obvious evidence: over $1 trillion dollars worth of 'development assistance' has been given to African nations, and they don't seem to be any better off for it. So she thinks:

     The notion that aid can alleviate systemic poverty, and has done so, is a myth. Millions in Africa are poorer today because of aid; misery and poverty have not ended but increased. Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.
       Not only that, but:
Were aid simply innocuous -- just not doing what it claimed it would do -- this book would not have been written. The problem is that aid is not benign -- it's malignant. No longer part of the potential solution, it's part of the problem -- in fact aid is the problem.
       These are two separate points, and she certainly makes the better case for the second -- that aid can be malignant. Aid-dependency -- and the knowledge that it's coming -- creates bizarre incentives, and rarely ones that help an economy grow. But Moyo doesn't devote nearly enough space to exploring the first point, of why aid hasn't made Africans better off -- nor does she ask how Africans would have fared without it. Indeed, Moyo doesn't even offer much of an explanation of what forms this 'aid' took (and takes) and what it was supposed to accomplish. Examples of throwing good money after bad -- i.e. donor governments and lending institutions such as the World Bank not demanding any accountability and turning a blind eye to the misappropriation of funds -- suggests, for example, that much of the problem isn't with aid per se, but in how it is distributed.
       Moyo's failure to convey what the 'aid' or development assistance' she rails against actually consists of is a fundamental flaw to the book, especially since it seems to be written for a lay-audience (who are most in need of such explanations). Even so, some of her points are obvious and worth making -- such as that aid-dependency and reliance sets up certain barriers to achieving greater gains. So, for example, she points out that it undermines democracy itself:
     In most functioning and healthy economies, the middle class pays taxes in return for government accountability. Foreign aid short-circuits this link. Because the government's financial dependence on its citizens has been reduced, it owes its people nothing.
       Other economic consequences are also undeniable (though, again, they depend on the form aid takes, which Moyo doesn't much go into ...), including the inflationary pressure it exerts, as well as the 'Dutch disease' danger of choking off exports.
       Moyo believes it's high time for African countries to follow the international lead and fend for themselves -- on international capital markets, for example. Moyo sets a five-year window to give African countries time to wean themselves off aid and get used to doing without it, and by that time the global economic situation may have changed, but at this time (early 2009) her recommendations would fall in the face of the new world order (i.e. global credit crisis). Credit markets have largely dried up, lending institutions and credit-rating agencies have been discredited, and even the outlook for cash-flow via remittances looks far less rosy than it did just a few months ago. Neither international finance nor global trade is dead, but African nations surely face an even more difficult time than usual in dealing with either.
       On top of that, recall the extremely low rates of savings in African nations (in part certainly because of all that aid, as Moyo notes ...) -- and now add in the collapse of commodity prices (main revenue generators for African economies) and global trade in general, and protectionist sentiment growing louder by the day everywhere, and the outlook is surely fairly grim.
       Some of Moyo's prescriptions are fairly obvious, including that the best and most obvious way to provide immediate benefits to African nations (and consumers everywhere) would be to sacrifice the holy cows of farm/agricultural subsidies (specifically in the US and Europe), and to reduce tariffs everywhere. As she notes: African nations are often their own worst enemies, with enormous tariffs on intra-African trade. (Among the bizarre consequences she cites: it costs less than a third as much to ship a car from Japan to the Ivory Coast as it does to move it from the Ivory Cast to Ethiopia .....)
       Trying to add insult to injury, or at least to prod (or scare) the 'developed world' to take a different approach towards Africa, Moyo praises the Chinese approach, focused on foreign direct investment and on infrastructure -- a much better form of 'aid' than what Western governments offer. Again, she does not really explore the issue fully enough, but the basic argument -- that the Chinese approach produces more immediate benefits for almost all involved -- seems, for the time being, self-evident. (The future consequences are not quite as clear.)
       Moyo is certainly correct that good government is all-important -- it: "trumps all" -- but she's on very uncertain footing when she claims that it will: "naturally emerge in the absence of the glut of aid". Aid may lead to bad government, but commodity-dependent economies seem to manage to get more than their fair share of bad and corrupt government either with or without it.
       Moyo also thinks that:
Too many African countries have already hit rock-bottom -- ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day; there is nowhere further to go down
       Alas, of course, there's quite a potential ways to go. Even current show/basket-cases Somalia and the Congo could wind up worse -- and the rest of the continent could wind up like them .....
       There is far too little evidence in Dead Aid, and far too much is flung at the reader. Yes, Moyo makes a lot of good points, but the question isn't anywhere near as black and white as she makes it out to be. An important issue, well worth discussing -- but Moyo's book is little more than a very simplistic starting point.

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Dead Aid: Reviews: Dambisa Moyo: Other books by Dambisa Moyo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Zambian-born Dambisa Moyo was educated at Harvard and Oxford, and worked for Goldman Sachs.

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© 2009-2011 the complete review

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