Dead Aid: A Few Clarifications

As most of our readers hopefully know, next week Terry will have the pleasure of welcoming Dambisa Moyo to the UBC Chan Centre to talk about her book, ‘Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa’. Like many who have read Dead Aid before, I’m excited to see the kind of discussion that Ms. Moyo’s visit to UBC will generate, and I’m hopeful that anyone who listens to the arguments offered in Monday’s talk will walk away with a new, enriched perspective on the topic of African aid and economic development general.

In the weeks leading up to her talk, I’ve found myself reading quite a few reviews of Dead Aid and watching some of the interviews Moyo has given about the book and it’s central thesis. For an excellent condensed introduction to Moyo’s arguments concerning aid, check out her opening statement for last year’s Munk Debate on Foreign Aid:

One thing I’ve noticed about much of the public criticism directed towards the book so far has been the fact that it concerns arguments which Moyo, upon closer inspection, has never endorsed or mentioned in the first place. At one point (after hearing Moyo say “I’ve actually never argued that” for the umpteenth time in an interview on YouTube) I thought that some critics of Dead Aid were being dishonest. In the end, however, I realized that for some the subject of aid is simply a tremendously sensitive issue. Simultaneously encompassing debates in economics, culture, and history, all while involving academics, policymakers and people who have dedicated their lives to certain aid initiatives, the aid question is by its very nature a contentious topic. Add to this the innate human tendency to occasionally read books by looking only at their titles (see Richard Dawkins’ ‘Selfish Gene’) and you get a situation where misunderstanding is almost inevitable.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to highlight three main points about Dead Aid which should help anyone who has not yet read the book better understand what exactly is being argued by Moyo.

1. Emergency humanitarian aid

Contrary to what some book reviewers might claim, Moyo has never argued for a cessation of emergency and humanitarian aid to Africa – indeed, she recognizes that such aid is essential. In the clip below, which also introduces the central thesis of Dead Aid, Moyo points out that she is targeting the much broader problem of aid sent directly from donor governments and agencies to the coffers of African Governments:

2. The ‘non-aid’ model is nothing new

As Moyo explains in the clip below, the arguments put forward in Dead Aid concerning the inefficacy of aid in promoting long-term economic development aren’t necessarily groundbreaking or new – in fact, they’ve been made many times before:

3. The feasibility of alternatives to the aid model

The prospect of relying on trade, foreign direct investment and financial markets for growth in Africa is not as far-fetched an idea as it might intuitively seem. As Moyo explains below, conditions are not as nearly as bad as western creditors might initially think (for example, 16 African countries already have credit ratings and could, in fact, enter capital markets if they wanted to):

Hopefully these videos will give Terry readers a slightly better idea of what Dr. Moyo will discuss in her talk on Monday, and will clear up any misconceptions people might have about the central message of Dead Aid.

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Nick is an undergraduate studying history and economics at UBC. Nick is interested in international relations, philosophy of mind, creative writing, design, marketing, and a bunch of other things. Nick produces music, does graphic design, and sometimes plays tennis.