Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid was published in 2009. I know that I have taken my sweet time getting to it and I do have an honest reason why I did not read it sooner. It was everywhere and in a way because everyone was talking about it, I felt I knew the book already. Reading it now also brings a new perspective to it because so much has happened around the world in eight years since its release. In this short book she discusses how aid as a development route for lifting people out of poverty has dismally failed. She is quick to mention that the aid she is referring to is not emergency or charity aid because that has its place, rather she is referring to aid towards national budgets. Dambisa states that it creates more problems than solutions for countries that are given aid. It perpetuates dependency, keeps despots in power and little institutional change occurs. She proposes alternatives such as trade, capital markets, savings and remittances. She states, “If the West wants to be moralistic about Africa’s lack of development, trade is the issue it ought to address, not aid.”


I am leaning towards Dambisa’s arguments in the book especially in aspects of trade. She states that there is limited trade among African countries, and in my opinion, that is sad. “Trade between African countries accounts for only 10% of their total exports. By contrast 40% of North American trade is with other North American countries…”. Also, the West opening up their markets would be extremely beneficial for the continent. Another thorn is the existence of tax havens that many Western companies use to avoid paying taxes in African countries. This is something that countries in the West can assist in curbing. In Dead Aid, Dambisa mentions that Africa should court China as it is helping the continent with infrastructure development and their funding comes with lesser conditions. Right as this might be, Chinese investment has not had a glowing report card. There have been instances of labour abuses, environmental pollution, and some underhand dealings. These are all aspects that Howard French and Tom Burgis cover in their books China’s Second Continent and The Looting Machine respectively. Howard French says, “As a newer player on this scene, China was much more mercenary. Its funding in Africa was strongly tied, meaning that borrowers were obliged to employ Chinese contractors, materials, and labor, an arrangement that meant capital it loaned flowed back to the motherland.”


Some of Dead Aid’s most well-known critics have been Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. The latter calling the book as promoting evil. Bill Gates gives a lot of his money to philanthropic causes such as HIV/AIDS, malaria prevention, tuberculosis, etc. However, Dambisa was referring to a different type of aid from the one that Bill Gates donates to. As for Sachs who released a book called The End of Poverty in 2005 his argument centres around ramping up more aid from developed countries for developing countries. Therefore, Dambisa Moyo’s book was essentially rubbishing his premise.


Following Dambisa’s prescription, I reckon she must be mighty pleased with Zambia’s report card so far. When the minister of finance Felix Mutati presented the 2018 budget of K71.6 billion the proposed funding was- 68.5% domestic revenue, 28.1% domestic and external borrowing and only 3.4% from grants and cooperating partners. However, with the recent ongoing IMF discussions could these figures change in the future and aid play a bigger role once again. Plunging the country back into dependency and at the mercy of the aid givers.- PN

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