Friday, May 8, 2009

Discussing Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid - the way forward

I was checking my favorite news feed source yesterday - Yes, the name is self-explanatory. They try to aggregate good news about Africa. One story which struck me was that 5 Africans had been named in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of the Year 2009. I was not surprised to see President Paul Kagame in there, I just blogged about him a few days ago. The other name that struck me was Dambisa Moyo's. I thought to myself, this lady is doing it big. Her 'Dead Aid' book is probably the most important book written by an African in the last few years, and no, it is not a novel. Dambisa and Paul are joined by William Kentridge,(South African artist), Hadizatou Mani (Niger), Barbara Hogan (South Africa's current health minister). Congrats to all these individuals and may they spur us all on to become as influential. I want to dwell on Dambisa Moyo, her Dead Aid book and the chatter it has generated at the water coolers in the blogosphere.

I first heard about Dambisa's book through her sister through a Facebook message. What a small world huh? Yes, networking does that for you. She was asking us to support her, publicize it etc. I didn't follow her lead. Later on, people started to tweet about it, a friend was suggesting a story about the book be added to the Stanford Journal of African Studies (SAUTI) Entertainment briefs section, and Dambisa's Facebook page was gaining fans. Just last weekend, while the AU's Ambassdor to the United States, Amina Ali, was giving the closing keynote at the Stanford African Business Forum (SABF) on the subject of foreign investment (and aid), she received two consecutive questions mentioning Dambisa's Dead Aid. The second was from me. Full circle. Just today, I started following her on Twitter; found her through Timbuktu Chronicles' Emeka Okafor.

Dambisa Moyo is Harvard and Oxford educated. 'Dead Aid' talks about how that foreign aid is the fundamental cause of poverty and therefore eliminating aid is critical to spur growth in ailing African states. She argues for the emergence of a solid middle class as well as strong economic growth. The alternative to her is the free market system and job creation. To quote her, "aid does not create jobs". Watch an interview with CNN where she expands on her theories and other videos at her channel.

Why am I not surprised she was asked about China in the CNN interview? What is this crush the Western media has on Sino-Africa relations? Do they think Chinese media are discussing the West's relations with Africa? While Africa is belittled and downcast in the Western media, the Chinese media has great things to say about us. They understand Africa is the new frontier and are pursuing their interests there. But how would we know? Who follows Xinhua News? Africa needs to be smart about this and we need to be smarter about the aid, investment, etc being thrown at us. Dambisa Moyo hopes our leaders would realize that we can fight our own fight.

I agree with Dambisa Moyo. Foreign aid is not the answer to Africa's problems and I increasingly feel it is stifling our progress and ability to be self-sufficient. Aid must be replaced with trade to say the least and African countries must seek to find better ways to get helping hands from the West. The answer is wealth and job creation. We need to increase the purchasing power of our citizens and give them the tools to earn money in this global village. We shouldn't be settling for second. Whoever wants us to be second doesn't have our best interests. Like she argues, our governments must be made more accountable to their citizens and make judicious money of the tax payers' money.

She claims in 1970, 10% of Africans lived in poverty but now more like 70% are living in poverty. Quite unbelievable if you asked me. She is not happy that the people leading the 'help Africa' charge are people like Bono and Bob Geldoff. Look at the way Africa is portrayed in the media. When we do get the publicity to entice 'aid' and 'charity', it's out of pity. That will not get us anywhere we want to be, soon. Dambisa Moyo has a 5 year plan to rid Africa of 'aid', which she concedes is a little aggressive. Her point is clear, Africa has to get off the porch of waiting for manna from colder lands. We should push for more trade (as opposed to aid) and start to look at what we can offer the world, in terms of value-added products. I personally believe we must raise more local direct investment. Let's find a way to keep the revenue generated in Africa in Africa.

Yesterday, I came across a story on TED about Professor George Ayittey sharing his ideas on Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid. He's been pushing ideas like hers and is famous for his rallying call to Africa's "Cheetah generation" to take back to the continent. Check out the story here. Africans need to be empowered. What happens when the girl is sponsored through school with charity funds and reaches an appreciable level of education? Would she have a job lined up for her? Job creation people, I can't say it enough. Job and wealth creation. We've seen poverty alleviation programs in the spirit of aid since time immemorial. It's time to change and teach our people how to fish, not give them fish or have them be spectators while we enjoy fishing.
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