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on 12 November 2009
The popular conception of Africa is not a pretty one. We are bombarded with images of civil wars, corruption, senseless ethnic violence and mass-scale poverty. Small wonder then that we are driven by compassion to help those "poor Africans" caught in the quagmire of misery; indeed, our celebrity-obsessed culture has taken up the cause with programmes like Make Poverty History, Live Aid, and Bono's endless solicitations on behalf of Africans. But does all this aid work? In this book, Ms. Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist, challenges the supposed efficacy of aid and demonstrates that aid has failed miserably to deliver economic growth.

Ms. Moyo differentiates among three types of aid:
1. EMERGENCY HUMANITARIAN AID. This is needed in the aftermath of a disaster such as during the Asian tsunamis in 2004;
2. CHARITABLE AID. Administered by organisations like Oxfam, charitable aid is targeted to delivering specific public goods like building toilets for teenage girls in India; and
3. DEVELOPMENT AID. This is bilateral or multilateral (via the World Bank to African governments) aid, which is used to supplement government annual budgets.

Developmental aid forms the bulk share of total aid flows to Africa; therefore, Ms. Moyo focuses her criticism on development aid.

She begins the book with a credible overview of the history of development aid--from its conception at the Bretton Woods conference in 1947 through the oil crises of the mid 1970s to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She argues that development aid was conceived as a means to spur economic growth. Showing growth statistics for Africa in the 1970s and 80s, she conclusively demonstrates that aid-receiving African countries have not grown in the two decades. Indeed, some aid-receiving countries like Niger, Benin, Liberia and Sierra are poorer today than there were thirty years ago. Therefore, on this metric, the aid-driven development model has spectacularly failed to deliver on its objectives.

Ms. Moyo then asks why aid has failed? Her answers are insightful. They include:

- Aid to Africa is an open-ended commitment, unlike other historically successful aid interventions like the Marshall Plan;
- Aid corrodes the incentives system in many African countries (Ethiopia and Uganda, for example). Aid is essentially "free money"; therefore, governments do not see the need to generate revenue by growing their economies. Why work with local entrepreneurs when you can always go cap-in-hand to beg the white man?
- Aid engenders corruption because aid money is easy to steal.

What solutions does she propose? Ms. Moyo proposes tried-and-tested market mechanisms: that African countries wean themselves off aid and, instead, like China, South Africa and Botswana, look to the capital markets to raise money. Nothing radical there, right? She, however, proposes that aid be turned off in five years. That proposal really got her critics' goats and drew their (Jeffrey Sachs and Bono's) derisive ire. How can you turn off the tap, they argue? Doing so would mean certain death for thousands of Africans. Ms. Moyo was subsequently criticised as an out-of-touch lackey of the aid-hating Right, while implying that she (Ms. Moyo) wants to deny the opportunities that she had to other poor African women (Sachs). Her critics also argue that her ideas are not new.

Sachs' arguments are hopelessly flawed and counter-productive. Ms. Dambisa Moyo's proposal to cut all development aid to Africa is a hard one to swallow for people, like Bono and Sachs, who are used to speaking for Africa, but it is one that we need to seriously consider. As an African (a Nigerian), I don't know that all development aid should be cut in five years. However, I agree with Ms. Moyo that development aid cannot be an open-ended commitment; African governments must be incentivised to start seeking other alternatives to aid, as aid cannot deliver the sustained economic growth that African definitely needs. Only the discipline of the market and entrepreneurship can deliver long-term economic growth in Africa.

Even though Ms. Moyo's main arguments are well-supported, the book has one significant shortcoming: it does not appear to be well-researched . The author seemed to 'shoot from the hip' and repeat herself inordinately. Also, Ms. Moyo takes a rosy view of the role that the Chinese want to play in Africa. I do agree with Ms. Moyo that the Chinese engagement model (business) in Africa is potentially more beneficial than the West's (pity, condescension), but I question China's sensitivity to human rights issue on the Continent.

Western aid, given from a sense of pity, is very difficult to challenge. How can you fault someone who tries to help you? But the aid-driven development model, as Ms. Moyo argues, has not and cannot deliver economic growth. Instead, aid has supported a generation of African leaders that have become lazy, thwarting the Continent's economic progress, while creating an entrenched bureaucracy (The World Bank, IMF, USAID, ODA)--indeed, an industry (Bono, Geldoff and Sachs)--that have a vested interest in business as usual.

The message in Dead Aid is not new; it has already been delivered--with greater analytical depth--by Paul Collier (The Bottom Billion) and Bill Easterly (The Elusive Quest for Growth and The White Man's Burden). Dead Aid's strongest selling point, however, is the messenger: an articulate, intelligent, well-educated African woman. As an African, I want to hear hard-headed proposals for Africa's development from African leaders, and not unworkable, bleeding heart solutions from Bono, Bob Geldof, and Jeffrey Sachs. For content and delivery alone, Dead Aid deserves only two stars. However, for content, delivery and messenger, Dead Aid deserves a heart-felt four stars.
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on 13 May 2009
Not long ago I went to a presentation of this book at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), and I have subsequently read the book.
If I had not been at the presentation, I would probably have rated the book lower; at the start of her presentation, Ms. Moyo said that the book was not an academic analysis, but was rather intended to create debate. With this in mind, the book is surely worth reading, since the debate on aid to poor countries is in much need of reflection and new ideas.
But that said, this is not such a great book, and its message is not new. In fact, the best thing about the book is its quite provocative premise that Ms. Moyo largely views aid as the cause of all of Africa's problems.

The first part of the book is a fine albeit superficial summary of the history of aid, and its problems in relation to Africa, where she argues that aid to Africa since the end of colonial times has been the major cause for increased poverty, lack of growth, corruption and bad governance, even conflict! This of course leads to the more or less explicit premise that aid should just be done away with (something that the book has been widely quoted for), but in selected parts of the book, you can see that she is not necessarily as extreme as she gives the impression of in that first part: "However worthwhile the goal to reduce and even eliminate aid is, it would not be practical or realistic to see aid immediately drop to zero. Nor, in the interim, it might be desireable." (page 76).
The main problem with the first part of the book is her lack of differetiating between different kinds of aid; she does a simplistic differentiation in the start of the book between humanitarian and NGO aid (regarding the latter, Ms. Moyo said at DIIS that she would write another book, where I would nevertheless expect the overall message to be the same), and there is a big problem in this if a person knows more about aid: issues like how it is provided and to whom, as well as the timeframe (a huge problem she rightly points out), are only implicitly treated, and these are quite relevant discussions in the aid debate, where the discussion between budget-support or project-aid is widely discussed. Also here, it is a pity that while she (competently) talks about the ECONOMY of aid, she barely talks about the POLITICS of aid, which I would argue is the main cause of many of the problems of aid: let us not be naïve to think that Western donors provide aid largely for altruistic reasons!

The second part of the book has Ms. Moyo's recommendations about what should be done to develop Africa, and is quite relevant, but very poor in the sense that there is nothing really new in it; in fact, Ms. Moyo largely repeats a market-oriented liberal approach to economic development: development of SME's, capital markets for investment, free trade and fair and just laws on property and banking. I think many existing development economists will have difficulty not agreeing with her.
Knowing this now, I find it disappointing that at the debate at DIIS there was no more discussion when one of the panelists, Erik S. Reinert, implicitly criticised Ms. Moyo's neo-liberal approach by arguing that Africa needed to develop like the west had done: by nurturing its infant industries through state protectionism and investment.
Although well-informed, and Ms. Moyo clearly being a good intellectual, the book is a disappointment for anyone wanting a more in-depth analysis (and may I add here how annoyed I was that some of her endnotes referred to Wikipedia). Although Ms. Moyo refers to some of the development thinkers that have said similar things such as William Easterly or Paul Collier, she uses them only selectively, when in fact William Easterly has already said much of what she says (and more eloquently) and Paul Collier has given a criticism of many of the weaknesses she mentions about aid, but argues that the main problem is that aid DOES WORK when provided under specific conditions.
One can only have the feeling that Ms. Moyo generalizes as much as any European about a continent of 54 countries and one billion people.

While I would say that this book is very good for reflection and discussion, it should NEVER BE READ ALONE, but should be supplemented by some of the more in-depth books on the subject, as for instance William Easterly's White Man's Burden, for someone who largely agrees with Ms. Moyo, or Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty, for someone who argues that aid can solve all problems, as well as Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion, which has a much more balanced view on aid than any of these, including Ms. Moyo herself.
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on 25 April 2010
Excitedly, I bought this book - with no background in this field - willing to learn about 'why aid makes things worse and how there is another way for Africa'. I was impressed by Moyo's credentials and by the praise from Kofi Annan on the back cover (I subtly missed praise from the Daily Mail on the front cover). What I discovered was an intriguing, insightful and to all intents and purposes, a well-researched thesis (in response to other reviews on amazon) with interesting facts (e.g. there's direct correlation between the level of corruption and a country's GDP).... this is where my praise for this book ends.

I felt that Moyo used the most insidious form of manipulation by presenting only the facts which support her theory, conveniently omitting or playing down information inconsistent with her argument (e.g. Botswana). As a scientist, I want to see all the facts laid out on the table and hear a well informed thesis; this is not the case with Dead Aid. In addition, the concept and solution is dragged out over 150 pages where 50 would have sufficed: it is an essay at best. Moyo does not confront what I feel is the principal problem with African aid mismanagement (and is a central part of her argument): corruption, until a third of the way through the book. Finally, her arguments are not structured clearly, there is a degree of contradiction and too much financial jargon for the lay-person.

Overall, the subject and argument are interesting and I did learn about another way for Africa, even though personally I feel a little dubious about Moyo's proposed 'other way' and I felt more manipulated than persuaded.
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on 15 May 2013
This book is a re-hash of what anybody living in Africa knew already and most of the rest of the world suspected. No self-respecting author would cite Wikipedia as a source so that immediatley turned me off. The suggestion that China is in Africa to do business compared to the West's supposedly entirely evil agenda is just laughable. China is here to tie up resources at the cheapest price possible and create strategic leverage; and China is as corrupting as the West, if not more so. But what got me most was the suggestion that only the evil West (read "white") is responsible for corrupting the Africa continent. I find that an appallingly patronising and juvenile response - to deny Africans have any internal morality. Africans need to take responsibility for their lives, their governments and their countries. Indeed Africans are perfectly capable of doing this but because of people like Moyo and the horrible donor aid business forever telling them they are victims, they often lack the confidence or the conviction or whatever. Of course many are uneducated and just trying to get by. But there are many who just shrug and say "what can we do?" Well there is lots ordinary people can do and even more that the educated middle class can do if they stop for one minute and stop thinking about their own advancement. Whilst we can indeed question the motives behind donor aid and the effects of it, we must also demand that Africans rise to the challenge of connecting with their internal morality in a true partnership to move this beautiful continent forward. Moyo needs to address Africa finding its own solutions in Africa.
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on 28 February 2009
It's not easy to write to the mass market on Africa- there are so many countries there, after all, and to get across them without making every point qualified (or bracketed with a list of nations 0-44 long) is not straight forwards.

So - the positives. The book has a marvelous biography, a modern rarity. The weight of empirical force behind the core of Moyo's argument is impressive. Her argument is convincing: stop aid, it fuels corruption, does more harm than good, and is based on flawed economics. Instead, fund through the markets (bonds, micro-credit, and so on) and overcome political indifference to 60 years of failure. The book is packed with gems, some old but most new- e.g. EU cows are subsidized to the tune of 2.5 euros a day (more than most Africans).

However. This book is perhaps 10 years too late. If one had picked this up in the late 90s or early 00's, this would have been a stunning agenda shaper. Yet, in the financial turmoil of 2008-09, her arguments about how markets would solve most problems, and how tempting Africa is to investors looks shaky. (The only reference to the credit crunch is a paragraph up front). Given such a cataclysmic drop in growth, can Africa really rely on China for the next 5 years?

This aside, whilst the Dead Aid thesis / argument flows through the book, it often wonders & dwells too long. In places, arguments are confused (e.g. don't worry about defaults -Venezuela, Argentina all did it ok over the last 200 years and look how well they did! Next chapter - default at your peril, the market never forgives or forgets!).

So - this book is not without its flaws but you cannot deny the merit of its arguments. Well worth a read to anyone new to the subject.
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2010
A book that argues that Western Aid (and in particular Government to Government Aid) is actually bad for rather than good for Africa. The author makes her case pretty convincingly; decades of Aid don't seem to have improved Africa's lot. Rather - the book claims - it has made corruption worse and distorted African economies.

It's when she presents alternatives that the book struggles a bit. African nations should borrow on the international bond markets rather than accept Aid. Perhaps, but now is not the best time for that. The author is keen on Chinese investment in Africa, yet it is not clear how this is different from or better than western investment.

Overall the book has a slightly dry academic feel to it, Moyo is an economist not a journalist and it shows. While much is made of her being African, yet she doesn't seem to have lived there since she was a child, and there is little personal in a book heavy on economics.

A book anyone interested in the issues around Aid should definitely read. But a bit thin on hard examples to be quite the devastating critique of Aid that some credit it with being.
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on 9 July 2009
This is a very important book that rehearses a compelling argument in favour of abandoning traditional Western aid to Africa. However distastful this may seem to the caring wealthy Westerner, or to their politicians, Ms Moyo is right. It is a pity that it takes an African woman, rather than a Western male, to get this point of view out there and being discussed.

The book has some significant shortcomings in its detailed solutions, in particular the rather odd chapter on bond financing (relevance ?). However, Ms Moyo deserves a wide audience, and I hope that she will have paved the way for more insightful authors to work up these ideas in other ways.
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on 14 June 2010
Finally someone has clearly laid out why aid doesn't work. I don't fully agree with Dambisa Moyo's assessments on China's role as I believe there will be some damaging long term consequences, but that aside this is an excellent book, and a real polemic against patronising and damaging Western policies, such as Europe's preposterous Common Agricultural Policy that costs taxpayers millions while bankrupting African farmers. It is also an indictment of political corruption in Africa, and rains criticism on the ill-informed involvement of rock stars and other self-declared experts. Read it.
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on 31 August 2012
Worth a read as it raises very important issues about aid. However some of the alternative solutions to aid are a little suspect (at least to me!), while others have been implemented and have proven a failure in other parts of the world. There is also a lot of financial jargon which can be a little difficult, for those who like me have very little background knowledge of the subject. Nonetheless, the book got me and a couple of friends debating, which is something every good book should do. It also forced... I mean enabled me to read around the suject to get more of an understanding of how the global financial system works. I would definately recommend this book to anyone with an interest in financial aid, politics and public administration and policy
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on 6 April 2015
This is both a highly dangerous and potentially transformative book.

There is on one hand, enough for an uninformed reader to take the view that aid is of no benefit and that free markets, free trade and deregulation are the only solution - this is dangerous.

On the other hand, Moyo is right, there is absolutely no doubt that the current aid model in Africa does not function effectively. There is no doubt that a lack of incentives to reform has held Africa back. There is no doubt that there has been some element of exploitation in the west's relationship with Africa over the past 40 years of aid. There is no doubt that the current international trade model is horribly twisted. Having these these issues highlighted articulately (I vehemently disagree that she is not a good writer, although her Ha-Joon Chang inspired hypotheticals leave a lot to be desired), forcefully and succintly by a black African woman is no doubt transformative.

As a result, I've given this book 3 stars. As others have highlighted, many of the ideas are not new. However, the debate was not taking place in the public arena. What Moyo has done is write an impressively short, accessible and argumentative book, which has launched this debate well and truly into the public sphere of debate. This is to be applauded.

As highlighted, the book has the potential to be dangerous. which explains the 3 rather than 5 stars. The three main potential dangers of the book are: 1. to give fodder to exploitative, anti-aid, neo-liberal, free market crusaders who have no interest in the real development of Africa but who want access to their resources; 2. to present heavily one-sided view to the uninformed reader, who will take all that is written at face value; 3. To place the blame for Africa's lack of development as squarely the fault of the "do-gooders". These issues would not be so problematic had Moyo not been so single minded and prescriptive in her articulation.

However, no book is a one stop solution. And this one has a lot going for it.
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