Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dambisa Moyo's "Dead aid" - Africa's PR disaster

Dambisa Moyo is on a TV book promotion circuit appearing largely to audiences in the UK and the US, who are also Africa's most charitable benefactors and in some part Africa's most unscrupulous lenders.
Her appearances on TV, as her book attempt to call attention to the failure of some aid programs in parts of Africa, to lift the standard of living for most Africans.

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While I agree that some aid programs have failed to meet their intended goals, I fear the narrative Dambisa's appearances and book has generated have now turned out to be a PR disaster for Africa and more specifically Zambia's charity program needs.

It may not be what Dambisa set out to do, but in this case the message and the messenger are gravely tainted. Dambisa has worked for the World Bank and Goldman Sachs in the past, if she views the two entities' activities in Africa as charitable or aid, she may have taken to much boardroom cappuccino and whisk. Most of the 1 trillion Dollars she keeps bringing up was made out in interest loans to newly independent countries beginning in the 1960's.
It is important to remember the prevailing circumstances in much of Africa in the 50's.
The high rates of illiteracy, absence of health care facilities, clean water, decent housing, roads and food insecurity etc. The status quo in Africa may seem out whack for Dambisa after her Wall street boardroom experience, but surely all the money spent in Africa was not in vain.
As a former Munali secondary school graduate, that spent a considerable amount of time learning in classrooms which we popularly called "World bank" because they were built with funds from a World Bank loan to the Zambian government, I take her generalization of mass aid failure with a pinch of salt.
It may be a case of seeing the glass half empty or in her case what she is selling(snake oil). I wonder if she had worked with USAID or World vision instead of the World Bank and Goldman Sachs, would she still have had the some perspective?. There are certainly, always better ways of spending money especially when looking at things in hindsight but "dead aid".

In Lusaka, Zambia for example Irish aid and Jica ( Japenese aid) programs to improve access to clean water in peri urban areas, have had more success than the impact of German loans to the Lusaka water sewage company to do the same. It important for Dambisa especially in her TV appearances to make a qualified distinction between aid funds and loans.  She then needs to explain the difference in impact aid vs loans have had on Africa's social development.
Contributions to aid organizations like the Red cross, one world etc have already being negatively affected by the global financial crisis, Dambisa 's narrative of "dead aid" will do more harm to operations of aid organizations in Africa, especially now, when many need the most help.

Dambisa's book has put Africa's western benefactors in a difficult position, should they withhold aid until the last corrupt African government has  developed a better structure for managing programs effectively or continue the much needed aid with the knowledge that, as Dambisa puts it, that it will be "dead aid". It is like the case of "two mothers and one baby" brought before king Solomon in the bible, only Dambisa in her quest to sell her book, may have chosen to have the baby die rather than risk ending up in the wrong hands.