Introducing Dambisa Moyo

Globalisation Lecture # 26
Felix Meritis, October 7 2009

Earlier this evening we have screened the film Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens. After seeing it for the first time, I was furious. It is painful to see how Renzo Martens exploits this poor man to show us how we exploit the poor. And it works. He forces us to think about our own compassion.

Renzo Martens shows us the ambiguous sides of aid. Dambisa Moyo takes it a step further. She claims all aid to African governments is detrimental. Here’s our issue for tonight: Does our help necessarily hurt?

There is an old English saying: Alms never make poor. You don’t get poor by giving. It’s a moral lesson that stems from the Old Testament. And it seems to be motivated by the interest of the donor.
It feels good to give.

But as you might conclude after reading Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid, Alms do make poor. Only then it’s the recipient of aid, who suffers.
Moyo’s main message is this: He who receives alms, remains in misery.

Both Dambisa Moyo and Renzo Martens challenge that 2000 year old moral imperative of Giving. According to Dambisa Moyo, the average African is just as poor today as before he was helped by a benevolent donor. Only now he is also tied to an aid-drip.

As a result of aid, he is governed by a predatory elite that was never forced to be accountable to its citizens. Had the money for health, education and roads been raised by citizens, in the form of taxes, the government couldn’t have stolen such large amounts without popular protest. Now it was a gift from international donors. And it was eaten by the men who should have used it to foster development.

Apart from whether you agree with Dambisa Moyo or not, there is little doubt about aid having unintended consequences. There is little doubt about aid having adverse effects. Even stronger, you can’t avoid them. Intervening in a complex system such as an african economy, will always provoke reactions you haven’t foreseen.

And not all of them are bad. In Uganda, where I live, some say the best thing aid has done is it created lots of jobs, it created purchasing power.

But if this is so common, the unintended side-effects, isn’t it strange then that the development complex tends to look away from them? Tragically, it is exactly this attitude, that has made Aid itself so very vulnerable.

And there are more reasons why Dead Aid hit so hard.

1. It’s the way Dambisa Moyo did it.
2. It’s when she did it.
3. And because she is who she is.

1. How did she do it? On the économics of aid she wrote a pageturner light enough to fit in an elegant lady’s handbag. Her writing is crisp and clear and not refrained from sensationalism. Moyo demonstrated how she masters the martial arts of debating.

2. Next, what ads on to the blow, is that she published her book at a time when doubts about aid are mounting up. Several critical reports on aid were published in the last years. At the same time, extreme nationalism is gaining constituency in our country and other European democracies.

3. And then, thirdly, not the least important: it is Dambisa Moyo who wrote it. Moyo was born and raised in Zambia, Educated at Harvard and Oxford. She has the legitimacy of an African, and the intellectual tools acquired at top-universities in the west. Here is an elegant black economist with a pen as sharp as a spear.

Contradictory as it may seem, the aid complex should be grateful for the motion Dead Aid generates. It creates an opportunity.
As soon as the siege is over, aid can reinvent itself.

Hopefully we can draw a first outline for that tonight.


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