Seven of the world’s top ten “failed states” are in Africa*, the most visibly troubled countries on a continent that seems locked in a cycle of dysfunction. Despite the fact that more than $1 trillion in development-related assistance has been dispersed to Africa over the past five decades, the money has “failed to deliver the promise of sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction,” asserts Dambisa Moyo, whose new book proposes a radical, counterintuitive solution to the continent’s economic problems.
According to Moyo—a native of Zambia who left her homeland to pursue educational and professional opportunities in Europe and America—the trouble is with the “vicious cycle of aid,” which, among other things, “instills a culture of dependency and facilitates rampant and systematic corruption.” Her solution? To gradually wean the continent from its “addiction” to aid, with the ultimate goal being an “aid-free world.”
While Moyo isn’t the first critic of aid (economists Peter Bauer and Bill Easterly are other notable examples), she is unequivocal, not to mention convincing. After distinguishing between humanitarian/emergency-based aid, charity-based aid, and systematic aid (“aid payments made directly to government”), she makes clear that her primary concern is with the latter, demonstrating how African countries that have rejected systematic aid have prospered, while those that accept it have become dependent. Not surprisingly, she emphatically rejects the idea that aid could and would be effective, if only Africa received more—much more.
In the end, though, the trillion dollar question is whether there exists the political willpower to implement Moyo’s proposal. At the moment, the answer appears to be no. Western nations are currently preoccupied with their own economic problems, and gluttonous African leaders have little incentive to refuse money that goes directly into their own pockets. Yet Moyo has a point when she argues that it couldn’t hurt for world leaders to give her proposal a try: “Too many African countries have already hit rock bottom,” she says. “Ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day, there is nowhere further down to go.”
* per The Fund For Peace’s 2008 Failed States Index, Somalia is #1, Sudan #2, Zimbabwe #3, Chad #4, D.R. Congo #6, Cote d’Ivoire #8, Central African Republic #10.