Courtesy Reuters

Banned Aid

Why International Assistance Does Not Alleviate Poverty

In This Review

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
by Dambisa Moyo
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009
208 pp. $24.00
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Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. By Dambisa Moyo. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009, 208 pp. $24.00.

If you live in the affluent West, no public policy issue is more likely to produce conflicts in your conscience than foreign aid. The humane impulse, fueled by unceasing televised images of famine and pestilence in the developing world, is to favor giving more aid. But a contrasting narrative has the opposite effect: Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic used Western aid to buy a gold-plated bed, and Zaire's dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, spent it on personal jaunts on the Concorde. Such scandals inevitably lead many to conclude that most aid is wasted or, worse still, that it alone is responsible for corruption.

These debates have largely been the province of Western intellectuals and economists, with Africans in the developing world being passive objects in the exercise -- just as the 1980s debate over the United States' Japan fixation, and the consequent Japan bashing, occurred among Americans while the Japanese themselves stood by silently. Yet now the African silence has been broken by Dambisa Moyo, a young Zambian-born economist with impeccable credentials. Educated at Harvard and Oxford and employed by Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, Moyo has written an impassioned attack on aid that has won praise from leaders as diverse as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Moyo's sense of outrage derives partly from her distress over how rock stars, such as Bono, have dominated the public discussion of aid and development in recent years, to the exclusion of Africans with experience and expertise. "Scarcely does one see Africa's (elected) officials or those African policymakers charged with a country's development portfolio offer an opinion on what should be done," she writes, "or what might actually work to save the continent from its regression. . . . One disastrous consequence of this has been that honest, critical and serious dialogue and debate on