Exploding the aid myth: a powerful new book asserts that Africa's dependence on official development assistance, better known as aid, is hugely damaging and ultimately unnecessary. Titled Dead Aid, the book written by a Zambian, Dambisa Moyo, describes how an insidious addiction to aid has crippled Africa and proposes practical ways to break the aid habit developed by recipient nations.

Author:Williams, Stephen

Aid describes everything from emergency humanitarian assistance to NGO programmes, multilateral loans, and grants provided direct to government treasuries. However, Dambisa Moyo, the author of Dead Aid, confines her observations to what is known as "systematic aid", those payments made direct to governments by either another country (bilateral aid) or an international institution such as the World Bank (multilateral aid).

These payments are either transferred as loans or grants and, Moyo contends, have proved ineffectual and downright harmful. She observes that $I trillion in aid has been poured into sub-Saharan Africa over the last half century, yet poverty levels continue to rise relentlessly. "It is these billions that have hampered, stifled and retarded Africa's development," she writes.

Why should this be so? Moyo explains that, invariably, systematic aid reduces a recipient government's accountability to its citizens; chokes the entrepreneurial spirit; creates bureaucratic obstacles that smother business development; has a detrimental fiscal effect as large foreign currency inflows distort the value of the local currency; and, being easily misappropriated, stimulates corruption.

She makes no bones about describing aid as "the silent killer of growth". It is not a totally new argument, but it is new to a general public in the West whose charitable impulse is to help, and generally believes that aid is beyond criticism and the only way to address the problem of poverty. Moyo asks them to think again and presents new ways for Africa to take charge of its destiny.

Her arguments carry the additional credibility of her having been for eight years the head of economic research and strategy for sub-Saharan Africa at the investment bank, Goldman Sachs. Prior to that, she worked for almost two-and-a-half years at the World Bank in Washington DC, co-authoring its annual World Development Report.

But her initiative in writing this new book (which she told me had taken her the last two years) has not met with universal acclaim. There are those who complain that they somehow "own the discourse", as they have been making similar arguments for many years. They resent the widespread media attention that Moyo's book has received when their own commentary has barely registered serious consideration. It must be galling for them, and indeed for those who make a comfortable living from what Josh Kron describes as the 'charity industrial complex' (see NA...

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