Dead Aid | Book Review Jan 20, 2016

Dead Aid Book Review - Book Cover
Dead Aid; Dambisa Moyo; 2009; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 208

I have been to Africa three times in my life. While I had no idea Dead Aid was published in 2009, that was the same year I went on my first ever mission trip and visit to the continent of Africa. During that time, I served in the country of Zambia, the same country Dambisa Moyo was born and raised in. My time in Zambia engraved memories permanently in my mind. Africa basically stole my heart. This continent is a completely different world from the one I live in. My fascination and love for the people and places of Africa led to two more mission trips back. I simply wanted to help and make a difference to my friendly neighbours across the ocean. While I cannot always jump on a plane to help alleviate the struggles Africa faces, to this day I am in search of practical ways of trying to help from my own home. While there are so many opportunities to send online donations to countless ministries, humanitarian groups, and government agencies, I was not convinced throwing money at the problem is the best solution. Neither does Dambisa Moyo, as she writes her first published book entitled Dead Aid. I discovered this title late in 2015. While it has been 6 years since Dead Aid was published, I was intrigued with its subtitle's premise on "Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa".

Even though Dead Aid was published in 2009, it appears there was a second edition printed in 2010 as the cover is drastically different from the original cover. I actually like this version which has a silver colour, a black African continent in the centre with a white label across the continent with red bold words of its title 'Dead Aid'. The white label appears to have a similar shape to what a band aid looks like as if to symbolically suggest that aid being sent to Africa is only a band aid solution and does not heal (or fix) the actual damaged wound (or struggles) of Africa. The cover also has a rough texture feel to it. It is hard to describe, other than it is less smooth than most common covers. It has a nice feel to it.

As the back cover states, Moyo has a PH.D in economics from Oxford University and a master's from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. A former consultant for the World Bank, she worked at Goldman Sachs for eight years.

Dead Aid is a New York Times Best Seller which is an impressive accomplishment considering this is Moyo's first effort in the publishing world. She states that Dead Aid is the story of the failure of post-war development policy. She also shares that her book will offer a new model for financing development, economic growth, significantly reduce African poverty, and which does not rely on aid. With those statements in hand, the message can be found in the answers of two questions:

1. Why is aid not working in Africa?

2. What is the 'better way' or 'new model' to help support Africa?

Based on reading the introduction, Moyo makes bold confident claims in her book. She is certain millions of Africans are poor today because of aid. Aid has fostered corruption and creates a vicious cycle. This vicious cycle consists of aid, leading to corruptive use of money, to fewer domestic and international investment, to reduced economic growth, to fewer job opportunities, to increased poverty levels which ultimately results in more aid.

What I do appreciate of Moyo's work is that she shares both sides of the situation. She mentions several authors, analysts, or any proponents of those that believe Aid DOES work. She then deconstructs those reasons as to why aid DOES NOT work. I greatly respect when an author can not only state their claim, but state other theories and prove why they are not complete or valid.

"What is clear is that democracy is not the prerequisite for economic growth that aid proponents maintain. On the contrary, it is economic growth that is a prerequisite for democracy; and the one thing economic growth does not need is aid." - page 43

"Just as aid money at poor countries does not work, simply boosting investment is not key to economic growth either. Only when capital is allocated to its most productive uses will an economy benefit, and this can only happen when governments are given incentives to respect and support those industries that can contribute to a country's longer-term potential." - page 113

"What Africa needs is more innovation in the financial sector. We can put a man on the moon, so we can most certainly crack Africa's financial puzzle, jump-start economic growth and drastically reduce poverty. But herein lies the keyinnovation. Innovation means breaking out of the mould, and finding more applicable ways for Africa to finance its development." - page 139

One area I kind of took issue with was the tail end of her final sentence in chapter 3 in which she states that aid is "No longer part of the potential solution, it's part of the problem - in fact aid is the problem". Had she ended with saying 'aid is part of the problem' or even 'aid is the majority of the problem', I would be in full agreement. But the extra line saying that 'aid IS the problem' creates the idea that aid is the sole and only reason for Africa's poverty. Even earlier in the same chapter she mentions how the geographical, historical, cultural, tribal, and institutional explanations are convincing and that it would be naive to discount outright any of those arguments as contributing factors. So she basically says there is no 'one and only' problem for Africa's struggles, but then insinuates that aid is the 'one and only problem' Unless I am completely reading her words incorrectly, it seems there is a bit of contradiction with those statements.

There is a minor issue on page 62 as there appears to be a small printing error. There are literally two letters printed on top of each other as if two words collided into each other. If this is a printing error, I hope it is just on my copy and not on every single copy printed.

I am truly impressed by Moyo's deep rooted education on such a difficult confusing topic. She gives a very well-balanced well-rounded view of all the issues and solutions without taking preference. She is not afraid to criticize both America and Africa's policies. I am no economist, so I really struggled with reading and understanding a lot of the technical terminology, abbreviations, and acronyms used much throughout her book. This made it difficult for me to attest whether her message or ideas will work. After reading about her plan fittingly called 'Dead Aid' which is the slow process of cutting off aid dependency, her idea actually makes a lot of sense. While I am not sure if the 'Dead Aid' plan is the actual solution or if it will actually work, it certainly will not hurt to try. Her model can do no more damage than the current aid model that has been going on for over 60 years with little to show for it.

Others may also find Moyo's writing difficult to comprehend who do not study economics or even political science. That does not hurt its credibility. Dead Aid is a deep intellectual book which leaves some readers the tough task of trying to gain a deep understanding of what Moyo is explaining. To her credit and defence, many times she simplifies some of her explanations and provides examples which does help the reader understand her main ideas. She also provides notes and references to further explain herself. Despite these challenges, the reader can still gain a basic informed understanding of what Moyo is sharing. Alongside her wealth of knowledge is her first hand experience of being born and raised in Africa which provides a deep knowledgeable argument and perspective. Unless the reader has lived in Africa like Moyo has, it is difficult to discredit her bold claims and views along with the research and numbers she provides to argue her points.

There have been mixed reviews of her book, so while I feel Dead Aid is worth reading and exploring its proposed way of helping Africa's economy, I ultimately suggest reading other publications related to this topic to get a well rounded view. Some would argue more of an effective use of aid rather than cutting it altogether. While Dead Aid offers a very credible solution worth exploring, it also should not be easily labelled as the gold standard solution to Africa. This still remains a very complex issue that the whole world clearly has not figured out and there are multiple sides to this situation. The important thing Moyo calls for is something we all can agree on, and that is changing the way aid is done and making the cycle of poverty stop.

Moyo does convincingly answer the 2 original questions I was expecting to be answered. She did answer why aid is not working in Africa and explained a 'better way' or 'new model' which as described earlier called the 'Dead Aid' model. This model in a short explanation is comprised of financing options such as trade, FDI, capital markets, remittances, micro-finance, and savings. These methods would help prevent opportunities of corruption and lead to strengthening of institutions through accountability.

While I gained a very knowledgeable insight of how aid is not working in Africa and how there is a better way, I felt slightly disappointed. I was hoping Dead Aid would guide me or give me advice on how just one person like myself can help Africa in the most effective ways without causing damage. The one practical solution Moyo offered was micro-financing, but that was it. Her writing usually appears to be more helpful towards guiding governments, world leaders, economists, banks, and financial agencies rather than the individual like myself. While change needs to start from the top, change can also happen with the individual too, which leads to my disappointment that there was not many effective ways offered for the individual to make a difference. However, the lack of advice for the individual reader does not disqualify it's worth. This is certainly an insightful book to read, but the target audience is very specific towards the impact it hopes to make.

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