Will Africa's Leaders Call for an End to Foreign Aid?

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In 2008, I
campaigned for a presidential candidate who opposed U.S. taxpayer-funded
foreign aid programs. In response to my choice of candidate, a Peace
Corps Niger alumna, a good friend, asked skeptically "Well,
what does he have to say about Africa?" To which I could only
reply, with some contempt, "What could any U.S. President possibly
have to say to any African about sustainable living? There've been
people living on that continent since history began."

We've grown
so accustomed to the belief in American exceptionalism and are so
enamored with the perceived omnipotence of our democratically elected
leaders that we've bought into the belief that the American President
with the full force of the U.S. Government behind him is capable
of solving each one of the world's problems. Never mind whether
or not the American President should be involved in the internal
affairs of African countries, that's beside the point. What we've
come to believe is that he or she actually can solve Africa's problems.
It's simply a matter of whether or not he decides to dedicate his
resources to such an effort.

Dambisa Moyo
— whose credentials read: Goldman, World Bank, Oxford Ph.D. in Economics,
Harvard Masters from the Kennedy School of Government, born to and
raised by African parents in Lusaka, Zambia — has a skeptical view
of foreign aid. In her book Dead
Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is Another Way for Africa
Moyo pleads with Western voters to put an end to the disastrous
cycle of foreign aid in which Africa is stuck.

Aid has helped
make the poor poorer, has made growth slower, has caused life expectancy
to stagnate (in some cases regressing back to 1950's levels), has
hurt literacy rates, and has created an atmosphere of dependency
at all levels of society Moyo argues. As a way to illustrate the
failure of such a heavy reliance on foreign aid, she points out
"Just 30 years ago Malawi, Burundi, Burkina Faso were economically
ahead of China on a per capita income basis."

What is it
that makes Africa such a broken place, while the rest of the developing
world is so full of success stories? It's the foreign aid, Moyo
writes. Take Africa off the foreign welfare, and watch her flourish.
No more grants, no more low-interest World Bank loans, and definitely
no more free mosquito nets. Just let Africa prove herself. To back
up her theory, Moyo shows the Western reader the benefits that China
has brought to the continent with its dollars aimed at investment.
The West wants to bring aid to soothe its guilty post-colonial feelings.
"Morality — Western, liberal, guilt-tripped morality — seeped
into the development equation," writes Moyo. Some of the Western
aid even comes with judgmental strings attached and a plethora of
administrative hoops to jump through. China, conversely, comes with
clear intentions – make money, extract the oil and minerals,
generate trade partners, and build goodwill that will last through
the 21st century. Sixty years of Western help and some
$1 trillion of foreign aid has achieved little in Africa. Throwing
more money at the same problems with the same solutions in place
is not likely to achieve a different end. Moyo proposes solutions
with high praise for the Chinese, who she quite clearly points out,
are in Africa purely for their own good.

In the 154-page
(excluding notes) book, which at times serves as a primer on foreign
aid, Moyo starts us off post–World War II, with the dreaded
Bretton Woods system of international monetary order. John Maynard
Keynes and Harry Dexter White (US Secretary of State) lead the discussions
on the founding of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International
Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank), and the
International Trade Organization (which never received U.S. Congressional
approval and was de facto replaced by GATT, until WTO was adopted).

Moyo takes
us through the implementation of the Marshall Plan, in post-WWII
Europe, and tells us how its mechanisms were rolled over for use
in implementing foreign aid in Africa. Originally, the specific
purpose of these organizations was reconstruction, not development,
writes Moyo. But the World Bank and IMF would eventually become
central actors in the area development. Like many other government
programs, once the World Bank and IMF were created, they didn't
just disappear after their stated mission was accomplished. The
IMF and World Bank took on new missions and turned their focus to
Africa, where they sought to outspend the USSR in hopes of making
new friends in African governments.

Moyo points
out three significant ways that the Marshall Plan differed from
the African foreign aid that followed:

  1. It was
    small (a maximum of 2.5–3% of GDP for the life of the program
    v. 15% of GDP for Africa)
  2. It worked
    in already developed channels and systems in government and civil
  3. It was
    for a brief period of time (five years v. much of Africa having
    received aid for the last 50 years, causing governments to view
    the aid as virtually permanent).

While Moyo
is a fan of the Marshall Plan and views it as a successful foreign
aid project, she is quick to point out that little critical attention
has been paid to the drawbacks of the plan: "The idea that
the Marshall Plan is hailed as a success has remained, to a large
extent, unquestioned." For this, Moyo is to be commended, because
even when it leads the reader to question her point of view, Moyo
still makes it a point to address opposing arguments. It gives one
the feeling that he is reading an author concerned not with her
own argument or even assuaging some committee, but instead an author
concerned with arriving at the truth.

She tells a
story of decades of over-influential Western central planners (from
Keynes to Milton Friedman). Reading the many horror stories reminds
one of the axiom: "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts
absolutely." Western academicians probably should never have
been permitted the influence over Africa that they were allowed
to hold. Decade after decade, new methods of foreign aid are introduced,
each relying on the same foundation of dependency on the West. As
academic fads go in and out of style, Africa becomes the testing
ground for them. Fundamentally, they are the same dependency inducing
ideas with a new label, a new face.

At the same
time, the aid brings with it an obsession with democracy, a governmental
form that took European nations hundreds of year to grow into. That
system, which was allowed time to grow into place in the West, is
being shoe-horned into Africa. She attacks the holy cow of democracy
and accepts that she might actually prefer a benevolent dictator
because at least a benevolent dictator can and has brought about
some of the promises that democracy has failed to provide: "…each
of these dictators, [China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore,
Taiwan, Thailand, Pinochet's Chile, Fujimori's Peru], whatever their
faults (and there were many), was able to ensure some semblance
of property rights, functioning institutions, growth promoting economic
policies…and an investment climate that buttressed growth — the
things democracy promises to do. This is not to say that Pinochet's
Chile was a great place to live, it does however, demonstrate that
democracy is not the only route to economic triumph." A careful
reader will notice the theme of property rights subtly mentioned
in the book over and again. Property rights are a simple concept
that many Westerners lightly take for granted while touting the
benefits of short-term assistance.

As she analyzes
problematic situations in the foreign aide equation, Moyo does not
leave entertainers off without blame. We all know who they are.
She blames Bono and other rock stars for silencing all meaningful
debate. She criticizes Hollywood for being unthinkingly destructive
with their influence. "We were just trying to help" is
the kind of thinking that Moyo stands ready to denounce. Step back,
try something different, please. She tells us. And if you won't
do that, then just stop trying to help. "Were aid simply innocuous
— just not doing what it claimed it would do — this book would not
have been written. The problem is that aid is not benign — it's
malignant. No longer part of the potential solution, it's part of
the problem — in fact aid is the problem." Moyo tells
how a well-intentioned Hollywood-inspired private donation of a
million mosquito nets from America will, overnight, turn 150 people
into beggars by inundating the local market for mosquito nets, thereby
driving down demand and running a local producer of mosquito nets
out of business. This forces his employees and their families to
beg for food. Within five years, those million mosquito nets will
be in useless tatters, and there will have been no added economic
infrastructure developed to replace those mosquito nets.

What we are
left with is a Rube Goldberg machine of foreign aid, as if it were
built by a doctor whose modus operandi was to prescribed a cure
and after realizing that he'd erred, instead of taking a patient
off of the original medicine just kept adding treatment upon treatment
to deal with the additional problems caused by the original cure
and each successive treatment. As long as no other doctors see the
patient, the patient and her family will perceive the doctor as
hard working and brilliant. But in reality, an oppressive leviathan
of treatment is slowly killing the patient.

Moyo calls
for a different course from this point on, a course similar to the
one the Chinese seem be taking in Africa — investing. She wants
the goodwill to end, and wants the West to invest in Africa, ready
to put trust in its people and hire them as workers, ready to trade
with its businessmen, ready to mine her for her mineral wealth.
She spends half the book making quite the convincing argument for
how Westerners might be able to make a great deal of money investing
in Africa.

If looking
at this from a Marxist-influenced perspective everything Moyo is
calling for could also be referred to as "exploitation."
Exploit Africa, exploit her workers, exploit her natural resources.
Do it. Once you're done, Africa will be a continent of strong, developed
nations. Stop being guilty about Africa, and making her into nothing
but a welfare queen. Yes, this is an African woman begging bleeding
heart Westerners to stop seeing Africa through the soft bigotry
of low expectations.

This book is
the most damning argument against foreign altruism that I've ever
read. She asks us to please stop doing good just for the sake of
doing good. You only hurt people with that attitude, and you only
benefit yourself and nurture your own ego. Well-intentioned meddling
is still meddling.

Moyo closes
with a fitting African proverb:

The best
time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
second-best time is now.

Stevo [send him mail]
a writer who spent several years serving as a missionary overseas.

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