Dead Aid or Sick Aid?
Dambisa Moyo: Dead Aid, why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa, Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2009.
Moyo’s Dead Aid (2009) has stirred much needed debate over the issue of development assistance. Since the book was published, this discussion has continued in many arenas. Measured through the discussions it has evoked, it has been a great success. Moyo’s book is a provocative and brave attempt to abolish aid.
Book discusses the topic of development assistance from two perspectives; its history and the supposed world without it. The main argument of the book is that development aid should be abolished and replaced by free trade and entrepreneurial opportunities. Development assistance incurs many negative phenomena in the developing nations (e.g. crowding out of capital, corruption) and works as a silent killer of development. Book focuses on multilateral aid and its actors; individual countries discussed include China and the United States.
First part discusses aid on a highly general level, its history and current formations; the many exceptions to the norms are left untouched. Second part introduces world without aid and the hypothetical Sub-Saharan African country of ‘Dongo’. Dongo is used by Moyo as an example to demonstrate how African nations would develop in a world where aid was declared dead. Use of Dongo is clever on one level, but difficult on the other.
The exceptions to the rules are what make aid so complicated in the first place; what works in one country, does not necessarily work anywhere else. The book excels in listing and analyzing the different ways in which aid can be detrimental to a country’s development. In some parts of the book it remains unclear whether the problem is development aid, or the quality of it. Before declaring aid dead, should we focus on healing the current system? Is the problem aid itself, or lack of right kind of practices?
In general the tone of the book varies between solid academic argumentative writing and a more personal, opinionated tone. The main problem of the book is the use of references. Lack of sources irritates the reader interested in checking the data. Moyo aims to speak with the voice of Africa, but mostly cites well-known and already widely discussed western authors. Her American education and work history in both the World Bank and private banking sector comes to play a major, albeit invisible, role in the book.
In parts it seems that Moyo has been pre-set on her argument. She does not discuss most of the known arguments for aid and presents aid mainly as a myth. Book also lists many concrete problems African entrepreneurs are faced with, but does not explain how to fix them, with or without aid. This is a clear shortcoming in a book which suggests replacing aid entirely with free trade.
Despite the book’s weak points, it is a must-read for anyone interested in development assistance, aid industry or the private sector functions in developing nations. The book hardly convinces anyone previously familiar with development aid to think that it should be entirely abolished, but it does succeed in reminding the reader what problems the development cooperation industry is faced with today.