This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

April 5, 2009

“Aiding” Africa? The Helpers Have No Clothes

One of the things I loved about the HBO broadcast of “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” is that it portrayed a different picture of the African continent than what we usually see: either a place where only exotic wild animals roam the land or a place where only famine, disease, poverty and war characterize the people.

Of course, this is not to say that the continent is problem-free. So often, however, these problems are painted as endemic to the countries and their people, with Americans and other great Westerners as those who will come in and save the day.

So it is nice to get an alternative view of the problems on the continent and what is and is not helping–and a view that is not from a non-African, White, male. Dambisa Moyo provides just such a view:

Dambisa Moyo is a unique voice in the debate over African aid. In a conversation dominated by white, male westerners—and most conspicuously by celebrities such as Bono or Bob Geldoff—Moyo is a black, African woman. Born in Zambia to a banker mother and a father who now runs an anti-corruption organization, Moyo earned her master’s from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Economics at Oxford. She’s worked as a consultant to the World Bank, and for the past eight years was the sub-Saharan economic expert for Goldman Sachs. It was at Goldman Sachs that Moyo began work on her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, released just a few weeks ago.

Moyo does not see the premise of her book as controversial, saying that to most Africans it is simply common sense:

I think it’s quite bizarre frankly, and slightly laughable, when I hear people say “Oh, the book is controversial.” My view is that it’s hardly controversial; it’s very obvious. Someone described it quite appropriately as The Emperor Has No Clothes. Because I think we all know that aid is not working. That’s why in the book I draw on literature from organizations like the World Bank. It’s somewhat bizarre that all this evidence is out there [that aid doesn’t work], but somehow we just continue to push for more. Let’s take the capitalistic system for a second. It’s quote, unquote, not working now. We have centuries of evidence that it generates wealth and delivers jobs, and yet here we are after one bad year and we’re ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So I find it quite worrying that we can look at aid—after sixty years and one trillion dollars that haven’t worked in Africa—and we still don’t question the system. It seems the natural thing that when something has as bad a record as aid does, we should question it and want to overhaul the system.

I readily admit to not having a very good mind for macroeconomics. That is why I depend so much on the analysis of others–those who I must trust with their expertise–to get a handle on such issues. I’ve only recently begun reading books on economics, starting with two by Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World and The Future of Freedom. I’m looking forward to adding Moyo’s book to my self-imposed syllabus.

1 Comment »

  1. I just saw a press release for an upcoming film which shows the “other side” of Africa. Its a documentary which chronicles a host of African Americans who have made South Africa home and are doing well financially as opposed to here at home. I can’t remember the name of the film right now but it is soon to come.

    The problem with “aid” is that it is politically driven. Much of those loans from the World Bank (which us heavily U.S. backed) are given with the understanding that they’ll never be repaid. Hence, it opens up an opportunity for outside control of the territory and its resources. Sadly, just like here in America, the money never trickles down as expected.

    Something to look into so as to gain another perspective on this, is to do some research on National Security Memorandum #200 that was U.S. policy signed and enacted in the 70’s. The aim of it is population control. Much of by design has hurt the continent. It is only through a renewed interest in cheap oil (that China is heavily invested in) that this country has stepped up and formed AFRICOM under the guise of providing much needed aid to the continent. This is why Bush is credited as being the only president to spend as much as he has to the continent.

    Comment by RiPPa — April 8, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

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