Dead Aid : The Wrong Prescription for Africa

Ms. Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid takes the approach of lumping together all of Africa's 50 years or so of post colonial history and its troubles and blaming it on only one thing -- Western aid. I was born in Uganda 50 years ago and have studied, lived and worked as a physician in Africa all my life and can clearly and honestly state that Western aid, if provided in a smart way, will literally awaken the dead -- the Lazarus effect seen with antiretroviral therapy. There are 2 million Africans alive today because of ARVs provided by Western aid who would take offense at the title of Ms. Moyos book!

Ms. Moyo has a clever writing style using anecdotes and largely unproven statistics to justify her central theme, that aid is bad and that Africa will not only survive but thrive with no further aid. Furthermore all of the countries of Africa receive a simplistic broad brush approach from Ms. Moyo with a naive and frankly insulting message that those of us who have chosen to live and work in Africa and serve its peoples, exist in corrupt, dead beat, donor-driven economies and states which are a heartbeat away from civil war and chaos.

While there are several countries both inside and outside Africa that have that characteristic, I am happy to say that overall the recent scorecard for Africa is good, with steady economic growth in the majority of countries, increasing democratic governments and better education and health. In fact the current economic turmoil is a very immediate concern for Africans with anticipated reduced aid but more seriously reduced remittances from Africans like Ms. Moyo who live and work outside of Africa!!

While we continue to have serious problems here in Africa, the alternative solutions provided by Ms. Moyo from her perch in the USA, of mimicking India and China reflect a shallow analysis of the real challenges here in Africa. In addition the open endorsement and justification of undemocratic methods to achieve economic progress would not go down well in modern Africa -- ask any African who lived in apartheid South Africa! Frankly I would rather be free and poorer than rich, but living in an oppressive regime. As for the naive assumption that China or the Middle East would line up to invest in Africa, particularly in these times of economic turmoil and low oil prices, smacks of a daydream.

Africa's problems are predominantly those of a systematic failure to harness the full potential of its people. Countries that first invest in their people by educating them, protecting their health and providing opportunities inside and outside their countries are those countries that have progressed, with stable economies, a higher GDP and "happiness factor." In addition countries like India and China have huge internal markets which give these countries considerable insulation from export-driven economic vagaries.

Africa needs to focus on social development -- health, education and job creation, while at the same time developing its production capacities and as large an internal market as possible. The other necessary ways forward are, of course, visionary leadership, eradication of corruption, good stewardship of natural resources and, for a while at least, management of Africa's burgeoning population till generated resources can support larger populations.

I do share the same aspiration for a prosperous Africa that is not dependent on crumbs from the rich. Nonetheless we are now in an interconnected global economy and global destiny and the solutions to underdevelopment do include aid -- albeit aid that is linked to social welfare and development, rather than aid to build up armies or aid in return for mortgaging the natural wealth of a country to another "model" development partner.

Ms. Moyo you are not the sole voice of Africa and yet your voice is currently being listened to. Use that voice responsibly and spend more time at the grassroots in Africa and see where we have come from, where we are today and where we would want to be tomorrow. For the vast majority of Africans, our priorities remain food security, health, education and economic self sufficiency. We do not aspire to have flat screen televisions or even holidays -- we just wish to live in dignity with our families and continue to hope that with each passing generation life will get better and there will be more opportunities for our children and grandchildren.