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 2009-06-25 03:40 pm Back to NEWS
Dambisa Moyo's Viewpoint

MOST people in the west, in their blogs, have often attacked Dambisa Moyo personally and not professionally. But clearly, she is not interested in personal attacks.

This, she revealed on her recent visit to Zambia, where she held two public talks at the Ridgeway Sun and the Pamodzi Hotel.

A member of the audience questioned her thoughts on aid when she does not live in Africa.

Her response? "Next question." And that is typical of Dambisa. Indeed colouring criticism with personal attacks is a tried and tested way of side-stepping the issues and providing a smoke screen when faced with a valid argument.

Jeffrey Sachs used this tactic recently in one of his postings. In responding to her former lecturer at Harvard, she exclusively argued professionally. In other words, she gave Sachs the professional courtesy that he failed to give his fellow economist.

She talked about how development is not that hard, and how there is now over 300 years of evidence of what works (and what does not) in increasing growth, alleviating poverty and suffering.

For instance, she says it is well-known that there are countries that finance development and create jobs through trade and encouraging foreign (and domestic) investment thrive.

And more importantly for her, there is no country anywhere in the world that has meaningfully reduced poverty and spurred significant and sustainable levels of economic growth by relying on aid.

"If anything, history has shown us that by encouraging corruption, creating dependency, fueling inflation, creating debt burdens and disenfranchising Africans (to name a few), an aid-based strategy hurts more than it helps.

"It is true that interventions such as the Marshall plan in Europe and the Green Revolution in India played vital roles in economic (re)construction.

"However, the key and (often ignored) difference between such aid interventions and those plaguing Africa today is that the former were short, sharp and finite, whereas the latter are open-ended commitments with no end in sight," she says.

The problem with an open-ended system, she argues, is that African governments have no incentive to look for other, and better ways of financing their development.

And how does she know this? Well, partly because she was taught so by Mr Sachs while she was studying at Harvard, during which he propounded the view that the path to long-term development would only be achieved through private sector involvement and free market solutions.

"Perhaps what I had not gleaned at that time was that Mr Sachs' development approach was made for countries such as Russia, Poland and Bolivia, whereas the aid- dependency approach, with no accompanying job creation, was reserved for Africa," Dambisa says.

She also takes issue that Mr Sachs chooses to ignore that relying on aid at a time when the United States is facing 10 per cent unemployment rate and Germany (another leading donor) could contract by as much as six per cent, is a fool hardy strategy.

The aid interventions that Mr Sachs lauds as evidence of success are merely band aid solutions that do nothing to lift Africa out of the mire - leaving the continent alive but half drowning, still unable to climb out on its own.

Yes, she agrees that an aid-funded scholarship will send a girl to school, but that should not delude anyone that such largesse will make her country grow at the requisite growth rates to meaningfully put a dent in poverty.

For her, this is not surprising because Africa is on the whole worse off today than it was 40 years ago citing the case of the 1970s when less than 10 per cent of Africa's population lived in dire poverty and yet today, over 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than US$2 a day.

But her more fundamental point is what kind of an African society is being built when virtually all public goods including education, health care, infrastructure and even security are paid for by Western taxpayers?

Someone has also accused her that she would see nothing wrong with denying US$10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malarial bed net. In fact, the label is that she is cruel.

"I say, if working towards a sustainable solution where Africans can make their own anti-malaria bed-nets thereby creating jobs for Africans and a real chance for continents economic prospects rather than encouraging all and sundry to dump malaria nets across the continent which incidentally, put Africans out of business, then I am guilty as charged.

"Don't forget that the over 60 per cent of Africans that are under the age of 24 need jobs not sympathy," she says.

There has also been a misrepresentation that she suggests the best way forward. But she does.

It is a mixture of trade, foreign direct investment, capital markets, the bond market, remittances and micro-finance. It is basically fostering a private sector investment into these economies so you actually get job creation.

The fundamental problem with the aid model for her is that there are no jobs being created for Africans. It is a band-aid solution.

With over 60 per cent of Africa's population being under the age of 24, and needing jobs, she fears creating a continent of pirates or young people with no opportunities.

For Dambisa, it is critically important that people understand that Africans want what Westerners want.

So how soon should the taps on aid be turned-off? Or how soon, how suddenly and how completely should they be turned off?

This is clearly a question that she appreciates because she feels that she has been completely misrepresented especially by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) community.

"I give a five-year example in my book. Very foolishly, the NGOs have jumped on that and said aid should be stopped immediately or, in the worst case, within five years. I'm not saying that at all.

"What I am saying is we need to have an exit strategy. Aid can, perhaps, only work when we know the tap will be turned off at some point.

"We need a phase-out plan to make sure that African governments can wean themselves off of aid. I have also said that countries have very different levels of economic development.

"My own home country, Zambia, is at a very different level than say, Ghana, or Kenya, or Somalia for that matter. You cannot have one blanket exit strategy for all of these countries," she says.

But with her becoming a New York Times bestseller and being named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, does she have many people objecting to her ideas?

"The pushback tends to come from a minority group in the Western countries.

"By that I mean the NGOs. Some NGOs, rather than have a debate about it, they prefer to label me a genocide maniac or try to take pot shots or make personal attacks ... I understand they are very interested in keeping the status quo because that is where their jobs are," she says.

Now that is a person who has made the survival of Africa her job!

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