Top positive review
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Forget the sensationalist title - this is a balanced and serious book
on 21 February 2016
With the title of this book, and the sensationalist subtitle “An insider reveals how good intentions have failed the world's poor”, I was certainly expecting a scathing critique of the entire aid industry. Something following the views of William Easterly or Dambisa Moyo, who criticize the entire set up and almost call for complete overhaul. In that regard I had also waited to read the book, as working in this area myself, I was not in the mood for another pessimist telling how it all of our work is useless.
To my positive surprise the sensationalist title is nothing like the book, which is well-balanced, well argued and consistent in the argumentation: there are enormous problems with development aid, free trade and globalization (because unlike many others, the author, former head of DFID in Rwanda, does understand that aid alone is not the only issue affecting African poverty), but he is correct when he says “In the right circumstances, it is unequivocally true that aid works”.
His analysis is then to state what these circumstances are where aid works, and here there is a clear and absolutely correct criticism of the work he did himself (and the work I am doing), of wrong modalities, lack of ownership, coordination, interests... For an uninitiated into the aid world, this is an excellent introduction to the problems that aid faces; for the initiated, it is an excellent reflection and summary of what we (should) know to be the problems.
But as mentioned, Mr. Bolton does not only talk about aid itself, but also brings up all the hipocrisies and contradiction of (not so free) trade and globalization. As with aid, he does not reject trade or globalization, but says that they have to be managed, in complementarity to aid, to achieve what is best for Africa (this is a caveat in the book, also not clear from the sensationalist title: it is not about the world's poor. It is about Africa's poor. So while some parts can be general to the world, the author, in the book itself, does not hide that he talks from the perspective of his experiences with Africa).
If I have any caveat with the book it is only that it is viewed purely from the development perspective of the West, and only very superficially treats a big dilemma in the development world, which is the commitment of a given government. Surely he mentions corruption and that it is easier to support “successful” countries that have the proper institutions and stability. This is certainly not always the case in many countries, and also accounts for much of the poverty in some African countries, and the waste and unaccountability of aid funds.
However, the book is a refreshing and thoughtful examination of working with development aid, and I would highly recommend it.