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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a good book but should be supplemented with other books, 13 May 2009
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This review is from: Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Oct 2009 10:57:45 BDT
Strong review.
Another book for comparison: "The Trouble with Aid" by Jonathan Glennie, 2008.
This also critiques aid, but from the left, rather than the right wing.
He doesn't view the answer in economic liberalisation.

Posted on 11 Nov 2009 02:43:18 GMT
Your review was balanced and helpful. I have just read the book and agree with you that Ms. Moyo's solutions for reducing aid dependency are sometimes superficial. Her assessment of China's role in Africa is also a bit too rosy. However, as a conversation starter and as a means to provoke discussion on the aid-driven development model, it is a good book. I also agree that this book should not be read alone.

As an African (a Nigerian), I am refreshed to hear Africans--like Ms. Moyo--debates and suggest solutions to Africa's problems; Bono and Bob Geldof do not have the last word on development on the Continent.

Posted on 10 Apr 2010 07:46:50 BDT
Emeka O says:
Although I agree with much of what you ve said, you need to understand where Dambisa is coming from. Sachs, Easterly and Collier have written purely from an academic viewpoint. Dambisa has attempted to combine intellectual rigour and her emotion as an African woman.

It may surprise non-Africans to hear this, but many African intellectuals loath the condescending/pity attitude directed to Africa. In this context, development aid is no longer just mere aid, it becomes a neo-colonialist weapon, used to ensure that African nations do not go against Western interest on the international scene (UN) or in awarding contracts. This aid-influence strategy is now well known. Witness also China, India, Israel and even Turkey talking up their assistance to African countries as they all vie for the 54ish African votes at the UN.

So with this in mind, many African intellectuals feel that what might work better is to turn off aid and allow the continent to adjust to its coping capacity. Surely some will die. But over 30 million had to die in famine for the Chinese to liberalise their farming. If we continue rushing aid to places that have hopelessly overpopulated the available agricultural land, we shield them from the required learning opportunities needed to create robust societies.

So it is in this context that Dambisa tries to marry her intellectualism with her African identity.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2010 07:49:07 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 10 Apr 2010 07:49:31 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Apr 2010 05:00:53 BDT
Hi Emeka, I appreciate your point. I am however of the impression that Ms. Moyo has not combined the intellectual part very well: academically, the book would score very low, and I would have scored it even lower had it not been for the controversial points, and of course, I hate to admit it, for the messenger. I do in fact find it a pity that many, including many reviewers here, judge the book not for the book, but for the fact that it is written by an African woman.

I am quite aware of the issues she raises, having discussed it with many African friends, as I worked in the very same aid industry in Africa for some years. I understand the dilemmas, and the fact that often the well-meaningness of the aid industry only serves the larger interests. And it is a difficult to argue for or against, but as a humanist, I have a very hard time with the neo-Social Darwinist sentence "surely some will die". In my experience this is said by people who are shielded and safe, and never from people whose loved ones are in the risk of dying. I don't believe human life is the only way to create "robust societies". Anyway, that is a much wider discussion that goes well beyond this book!
Take care!

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Apr 2010 05:06:29 BDT
Thanks a lot. I agree with your points. I also agree that refreshing that it is an African woman that has come to the fore with this book. However, from personal experience, I don't think that Ms. Moyo is by any means representative of African opinion, nor speaks for Africa! I believe that there are already many excellent African opinions on the subject, as well as very diverse opinions (as diverse as the continent itself) about the aid model(s) in Africa!

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jun 2010 22:24:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Jun 2010 22:48:05 BDT
Emeka O says:
Thanks Erik for your points. You see, while I appreciate the altruistic urge that sustains the aid industry, aid is ultimately holding Africa back. All it does is to give Africans fish, rather than teaching them how to fish - or even letting them go hungry so that as 'necessity is the mother of inventions', Africa can figure a way to fish.

Your quip about some humanist principles is nice as an ideology. But in reality, it has not, and will not solve most problems on earth. Today's Western public may not be used to people dying, but they accept the death of soldiers in far flung wars. Poignantly, the moral justification is that it is better for few soldiers to die than for the entire nation to suffer. Mostly too, it is the poor that join the military who then become cannon fodder in wars.

If it is ok for the British & US governments to preach that it is ok for some soldiers to die in Afghanistan so as to protect the homeland, why should we not accept for some people to die to save Africa from the existential threat of poverty? The hypocrisy of some Africans should not stand in the way of the greater good.

I don't wish anyone to die and I don't know what the best way to solve poverty in Africa is. However, I do not like the viewpoint that sees Africa as a perennial basket case, but pretends to wrap Africa in cotton wool to prevent it from taking the required bitter pill.

Posted on 11 Mar 2011 11:48:39 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Mar 2011 08:53:52 GMT
S Wood says:
FAO emika o:
Malthus lives again! Well possibly some african intellectuals might think it a swell idea to bring aid to a grinding halt, but what might the ordinary folk during a period of "famine" think? Perhaps the very same intellectuals might be sent down to explain to them it's for their own good?

Aid has been highly problematic for a whole variety of reasons not least because rather than being pure altruism it is more often than not distorted by the self interest of the donor countries. And the idea that aid is at the root of all Africa's troubles is, like all monocausal explanations for complex problems, simple minded nonsense.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 10:33:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 May 2011 10:24:22 BDT
These "ordinary folk" you speak of see precious little of the aid or it's supposed 'benefits' now Mr Wood, so it's curtailment would hardly affect them. By contrast, an end to the 'Foreign Aid' gravy train would seriously hurt the corrupt dictators and oppressive police/military establishments presently inflicting such misery across Africa. Without an endless supply of Foreign Aid money, largely used to buy the Western weapons and military equipment which keeps them in power, these tyrants would have to earn the respect of their peoples through good government, or be swept from power as the neo-colonialist hirelings they are.

Posted on 5 May 2011 01:04:13 BDT
S Wood says:

I don't disagree with your comment though i would probably have a different emphasis, but in the event of severe food shortages famine relief can be a matter of life or death. The equanimity with which the commentator i replied to viewed this was to my mind disturbing and more than a little reminiscent of the rev. Thomas Malthus, whose views on "ordinary" people were brutal and inhuman.

Part of the reason that Aid hasn't worked is that it is like putting on a band-aid to a patient having a major haemorage. Ten times the volume of aid leaves poor countries in capital flight to shady off shore jurisdictions (see Nicholas Shaxsons "Treasure Islands"). The free market policies pushed on them by the IMF are counter productive, the global framework they operate in is loaded against them.
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