WHITNEY: In your book, you say that among most Africans, your
message is considered common sense. And yet in the West, we
haven’t heard many calls to cut aid completely.
MOYO: I think it’s quite bizarre frankly, and slightly
laughable, when I hear people say “Oh, the book is controversial.”
My view is that it’s hardly controversial; it’s
very obvious. Someone described it quite appropriately as The
Emperor Has No Clothes. Because I think we all know that aid
is not working. That’s why in the book I draw on literature
from organizations like the World Bank. It’s somewhat
bizarre that all this evidence is out there [that aid doesn’t
work], but somehow we just continue to push for more. Let’s
take the capitalistic system for a second. It’s quote,
unquote, not working now. We have centuries of evidence that
it generates wealth and delivers jobs, and yet here we are after
one bad year and we’re ready to throw the baby out with
the bathwater. So I find it quite worrying that we can look
at aid -- after sixty years and one trillion dollars that haven’t
worked in Africa -- and we still don’t question the system.
It seems the natural thing that when something has as bad a
record as aid does, we should question it and want to overhaul
WHITNEY: You talk about the different types of aid: emergency,
charity and systematic. Your concern is with systematic aid,
not so much charity or emergency aid. Take organizations like
The Gates Foundation or Doctors Without Borders. In your model,
would there still be a place for organizations such as these?
MOYO: Let’s be clear on one thing. My fundamental belief
is that social services and public goods -- roads, infrastructure,
schools and so on -- are the responsibility of government. It
is not the responsibility, nor the expectation, of Africans
that those services should be provided by foreigners or outsiders.
I do criticize any system where social services are provided
by a system that is outside the continent. Because that means
a system where the government is not accountable to its people.
Do I think that these types of interventions help or do some
good? Yes. But just to be clear, we need to know what they can
and cannot do. I do not think that these types of interventions
can deliver long-term sustainable growth or alleviate poverty.
The example I give in my book is that with aid, you may be able
to provide a scholarship for a girl to go to school, but how
much use is that if at the end of the day, the economy hasn’t
grown and there are no jobs for her?
constantly told that we can’t do anything -- we’re
poor, we’re dirty, we’re impoverished, we’re
hungry, we’re corrupt, we’re war-torn, disease-ridden.
Ask any psychologist: that’s not a formula for generating
innovators and entrepreneurs.
WHITNEY: One trillion dollars is a lot of money. Surely all
that aid has helped at least one African country set a strong
foundation for economic growth?
MOYO: No. I’d love to see that place, but I don’t.
I wrote a piece for the Financial Times a couple of
weeks ago, for which I went to Kenya for the first time and
visited the largest slum in Africa. It’s got about 1.2
million people living in it, and it’s been there since
1918. Frankly, it’s a perfect representation of the aid
model. The UN for Habitat is right next door, yet this slum
is spiraling out of control. It’s got no clean running
water; it’s got nothing. It’s a direct example where
they could have gone in and shown that aid works, but the slum
is still there. All across Africa there are countless slums
like it. In my experience -- growing up in Africa and being
an academic who went back to the continent and whose family
still lives there -- I have seen no evidence that aid is delivering
a foundation that could ensure long-term sustainable growth
and alleviate poverty.
WHITNEY: In your book, you discuss the different eras of aid.
The money started flowing in the post-war years to keep African
countries friendly to the U.S. You go on to describe the 2000s
as the decade of Glamour Aid, and you’re critical of Bono
and Bob Geldof, in particular. Do you feel these celebrities
who are beating the drum for increased aid -- and in doing so,
drawing attention to themselves as well as the cause -- are
acting out of paternalism and perhaps egoism rather than true
MOYO: First of all, I talk very little about the celebrities
[in Dead Aid]. To focus on them is to miss the point.
There are three things I want to say about celebrities and Glamour
Aid. First, I don’t think they’re right. I may have
been more sympathetic if they were pushing an agenda for more
trade or more foreign direct investment, but the fact that they’re
pushing for an additional fifty billion dollars [in aid] illustrates
to me that they don’t understand economics and perhaps
do not add value to the debate. It certainly worries me that
they’re getting more airtime than they should. The
second point is that in the aid model, you disenfranchise Africans
because the governments are not held accountable. The fact that
there was a vacuum big enough for these celebrities to step
in and speak, ostensibly, on behalf of the African continent
is worrying. Africans stand in the hot African sun to elect
their leaders, not celebrities. We expect African leaders to
come up with policies about where they want to take Africa.
We expect these leaders to attend G8 and other international
gatherings to articulate a view of where they see Africa. The
African people do not expect their countries to be represented
by celebrities. The third point is that these celebrities don’t
portray Africa in a positive light. This continent suffers from
a very severe PR problem. The world is asking us as to raise
our children in an environment where we’re constantly
told that we can’t do anything -- we’re poor, we’re
dirty, we’re impoverished, we’re hungry, we’re
corrupt, we’re war-torn, disease-ridden. Ask any psychologist:
that’s not a formula for generating innovators and entrepreneurs.
And I don’t see celebrities out there saying: “Let’s
bring in more investments; we can show you African doctors and
teachers and lawyers and people participating in their country.”
What I see is a perpetuation of the negative stereotype of Africa,
which I think is problematic. That’s not how Africa is
going to become an equal partner on the global stage -- which,
ultimately, is my goal. And you don’t get there by being
portrayed as second-rate, desperate and hungry.
WHITNEY: You say that among some people, “the unspoken,
insidious view is that the problem with Africa is Africans.”
Do you think racism is involved in the West’s attitude
toward Africa and in continuing with the aid model?
MOYO: I think the whole aid model is couched in pity. I don’t
want to cast aspersions as to where that pity comes from. But
I do think it’s based on pity because based on logic and
evidence, it is very clear that aid does not work. And yet if
you speak to some of the biggest supporters of aid, whether
they are academics or policy makers or celebrities, their whole
rationale for giving more aid to Africa is not couched in logic
or evidence; it’s based largely on emotion and pity. So
I think for whatever reason, we’re in this cycle -- and
in fact, I consider it intellectual dishonesty where academics
stand up and say when it’s China, India, or Russia, Bolivia
or Poland, we give them market prescriptions, but when it comes
to Africa, we need to give them more aid. It says to me that
there’s definitely this sense that Africans are different,
and the situation there should be dealt with in a different
message I’m trying to get out there is that having an
open-ended commitment for long-term development and long-term
aid is not acceptable.
WHITNEY: One of the more controversial assertions in your book
is that democracy is not necessarily a prerequisite for a strong
economy, and that in some African countries, a “benevolent
dictator” might be needed to push through free-market
MOYO: I wouldn’t say [benevolent dictators] are needed,
per se. What I was saying is that if we really want to transform
the continent, we need to be less wedded to a particular sequence
of events. The evidence has shown, and I give examples in the
book, that there are many countries that have achieved astounding
levels of economic growth and reduced poverty in a short period
without democracy. And I think in a sense pumping billions of
dollars in aid into Africa, ostensibly under the umbrella of
democracy, suggests to me that that could actually be misplaced.
What’s important is that democracy should be a natural
outgrowth, an artifact of economics in the sense that if you
create your middle class, then you will have your democracy
-- and a strong one at that. Studies show -- which I point out
in the book -- that you will never get democracy in a country
where most of the citizens have very low levels of income. I
think that’s borne out in many cases around the world.
WHITNEY: In the foreward to Dead Aid, Niall Ferguson
describes your market-based prescriptions for Africa as “shock
therapy.” That term is alarming in light of Naomi Klein’s
The Shock Doctrine, where she asserts that economic
shock therapy of the free-market type has invariably gone arm-in-arm
with violent repression of the citizenry. If it proved necessary
for economic sustainability, would you go as far as to advocate
something like that -- where a dictator would become necessary
to implement your free-market prescriptions, but they’re
accompanied by some form of repression?
MOYO: Many millions of Africans are living under violent repression
now and have lived under violent repression for the past sixty
years under the aid model. There would be less ability for governments
to run roughshod across the continent were it not for aid. In
the book, I actually prescribe a five-year phase out. I’m
willing to have a debate about whether five years is too soon.
But the message I’m trying to get out there is that having
an open-ended commitment for long-term development and long-term
aid is not acceptable. In sixty years, we’ve had over
one trillion dollars in aid go to Africa. It needs to stop.
So if somebody comes to me and says, “Listen, we think
that your five-year program is a bit aggressive, why don’t
we make it ten years?” I’m up for a debate on that.
What I don’t want is for people to say “Oh, her
book is so controversial,” and then they put it aside
and continue to perpetuate a long-term, open-ended cycle of
aid. I don’t want to raise my children on a continent
that continues to spiral downward. And obviously, from a neo-Malthusian
perspective, I’m very concerned that there are so many
young people in Africa who don’t have jobs or opportunities.
Remember that over 60 percent of the population is under the
age of twenty-four, and over 50 percent is under fifteen. This
is what we need to focus on. Because those people are not getting
jobs, and in another few years we’re going to have a situation
-- and when I say a few years, I mean a few years, probably
not more than ten years from now -- where you’ll have
a whole population of incredibly young people with no opportunities.
That is a formula for disaster -- anywhere, anytime.
WHITNEY: The replacement for aid, you write, should be tax revenues:
“A person who is levied will almost certainly ensure that
they are getting something for their taxes.” Is there
evidence for this?
MOYO: I believe there have been studies done, but I don’t
have them in front of me. It’s the idea of “No taxation
WHITNEY: But without real democracy in some of these countries,
isn’t it a leap of faith to suggest that tax revenue,
which would require jobs, will inspire accountability on the
part of corrupt leaders?
MOYO: Let me put it to you this way. Take Kenya as an example.
If aid were given to the Kenyan government by the people, [instead
of the West], then the government lives and dies by that money
coming in. If that link doesn’t exist -- money from the
people -- then the Kenyan government will not stand. Or take
Zimbabwe. Its economy is in ruins. When people believe their
government is run by a despot, the people shut down. In Zimbabwe,
we’ve seen it in the transition from commercial farming
to subsistence farming. The people have stopped producing --
the shelves [in the markets] are completely empty. The economy
has collapsed, they have no tax base, and the government is
still standing only because of aid. If you take away that aid,
then the government would have to rely on taxes -- yes, it might
take some time to rebuild [the tax base]. But if Mugabe continued
to use government revenue, now tax revenue, for corrupt purposes,
the people would stop paying taxes and eventually -- without
money to keep the army in place, to keep a civil service --
the government would collapse, perhaps by a coup or other means.
WHITNEY: I’m wondering how your plan would work in the
cases of some of the more entrenched despots. We used Mugabe
as an example previously, so let’s stick with him. As
we discussed, if aid to a despot like Mugabe were to be cut
off, he would have to rely on tax money to make his government
function. If he continued his corrupt ways and began hoarding
the tax money as he hoarded aid -- stashing it in foreign accounts
etc. -- you said the people would stop paying taxes and . .
MOYO: That’s basically happening now. In Zimbabwe, you
have a situation where there’s a hidden tax on production
because Mugabe has completely stopped investing in the domestic
infrastructure. What [a hidden tax] means is that when the roads
start deteriorating, it’s harder for a Zimbabwean to get
his goods to market, so whatever money he has, he needs to spend
a part of it just to get his goods to market. So it’s
an implicit tax. This is not theoretical; it’s happening
now. The infrastructure there is so poor, inflation is so high,
and because of this implicit tax, there’s no point [for
the farmers] to be growing food anymore. That’s why people
WHITNEY: So the only reason his government is still standing
is because of aid. Let’s take that one step further. If
aid were to be cut off, would you expect the people to just
simultaneously rise up and throw him out of office or . . .
MOYO: Yes, they’d rise up. Look at Madagascar. Some aid
money had been cut and the government was not investing in the
domestic citizenry or even paying the army. So the army staged
WHITNEY: It happened quickly? Not a prolonged struggle with
a lot of bloodshed?
MOYO: Yes, [in Madagascar] it was quick. There was some bloodshed
in some of these [coups]. But Mugabe has been smart by keeping
the army on his side. If you feed the army, they won’t
WHITNEY: That’s my point, really. If you cut aid to Mugabe
and the people stop paying taxes because of his corruption and
attempt to rise up, couldn’t he just borrow money from
a friendly neighboring country -- or somewhere -- to keep the
army in place, and then embark a reign of terror on a terrible
scale? How many people could potentially be killed before despots
like Mugabe relinquish power?
MOYO: Well, for sure you could see that angle. But . . . in
the book, I give an amount that the West has given Mugabe --
three hundred million dollars in 2006 alone. So where is he
going to get three hundred million dollars? Some people might
say China, but that’s not likely. Aid organizations are
the main reason why he’s still in power.
WHITNEY: Could aid be used to leverage leaders and foster accountability
between governments and citizens?
MOYO: It’s been tried, and it doesn’t work. I’ll
tell you why. There is an incentive structure for the donors,
and African countries know this. They know that the World Bank
can only survive if it’s spending money. So when the conditionalities
are not met, the aid continues to flow anyway. If all the African
countries colluded and said “We’re not taking any
more aid money,” the World Bank would have to shut down.
Look at Ghana. The World Bank discouraged Ghana from going to
the capital markets to raise money because it wanted to keep
the aid flowing. We’ve seen situations where, in order
to keep the system going, the World Bank has lent to countries
just so they could pay off old debts. A friend of mine had a
great quote: “Africa is to the development industry what
Mars is to NASA.” NASA spends billions on a MARS project,
but they don’t really think we’re going there. Same
with aid. Billions are spent, but no one really thinks it’s
going to develop Africa. It’s kind of a scam. We’ve
reached a very low-level equilibrium where it’s not clear
whose interest it is in to develop Africa. What if Barack Obama
read Dead Aid and said, “that’s it; we’re
not sending any more aid to Africa.” It wouldn’t
be in his interest to do that because he’d lose votes.
And it’s not in the interest of those in the aid industry
[to develop Africa] because then there’d be no more industry
and five hundred thousand people would lose their jobs. The
only people whose interest it’s in is Africans, but they
have no voice.
WHITNEY: Regarding alternatives to aid, you suggest African
countries take advantage of the bond markets as well as micro-financing.
Could you explain the concept of micro-financing?
Chinese have created jobs; they’ve built roads. The West
has failed to do that in sixty years in Africa.
MOYO: The actual, practical aspects of micro plans tend to differ.
But the basic concept is small loans to entrepreneurs. In some
cases, you can make loans as small as twenty five dollars. For
example, Kiva.com is a fantastic website where you can send
twenty five dollars to anybody in the world. Micro-financing
targets the small, subsistence-level entrepreneur. So it’s
creating an opportunity for these small businessmen to access
capital to finance their projects, whether it’s beer manufacturing
or food or shoes or whatever. I was just on television here
in Britain with Muhammad Yunus, who started Grameen Bank. He
raised one billion dollars toward micro-finance. The thing that
is particularly amazing is not that he raised a billion dollars,
though that is pretty shocking in this market, but he raised
it within rural Bangladesh. That is the other element of micro-finance,
which is that you don’t necessarily rely on big institutions
to give you money, you rely on a culture of lending within a
society. So in his case he’s raised a billion dollars
from rural Bangladesh, and it’s going to be used to lend
within Bangladesh. But think about it: a billion dollars in
this marketplace. In Bangladesh. It’s not India, it’s
not China -- it’s Bangladesh. And the World Bank and other
multi-laterals have been really strong-arming [Yunus], trying
to get him to take aid money, but he’s been obstinate
about not taking it. The default rate for this type of lending
is about 1 percent. Compare that with the default rates of African
governments with aid over the past sixty years.
WHITNEY: Let’s talk about China’s role in Africa.
You hold it up as one to be admired -- as a mutually beneficial
business arrangement, and you assert that Africa needs more
such relationships. But at the same time you say China is out
to “conquer” Africa with money instead of arms.
Do think that is indeed China’s goal -- to conquer Africa?
And if so, would it really be more beneficial for the continent
to have China’s money controlling it rather than the West’s?
MOYO: From my perspective, China’s goal is to develop
China and to raise the living standards of Chinese people. Fortunately,
there are benefits for Africa, as well. In the very narrow prism
of economic development, I think it is better for the Chinese
to be in Africa because they view Africans as business partners.
And even when they don’t -- because I don’t want
to make it seem like the Chinese are perfect -- I believe that
there is scope for having that conversation. So African leaders,
who should be accountable, should be standing up and saying
to the Chinese: “We love the fact that you’re investing
in our continent. However, we need you to employ more Africans
or we need you to have higher health standards.” That,
again, is the responsibility of government -- to regulate --
and so I don’t think Africa needs westerners to step in
and wag fingers at the Chinese and say, “Oh, don’t
go into Africa because you’re being exploitative.”
Some of the worst despots across Africa have been under the
ostensible reign of western interests. Mugabe, for example,
and [Former President of Zaire] Mobutu Sese Seko, or Idi Amin
-- the continent is riddled with these people in historical
lore. The Chinese have created jobs; they’ve built roads.
The West has failed to do that in sixty years in Africa.
WHITNEY: But they’ve also helped prop up a government
in Sudan that’s engaged in genocide.
DAMBISA MOYO: [Sounding irritated] As I said, it’s not
perfect. However, we shouldn’t be pointing fingers after
the list of despots I just mentioned. And the Chinese were nowhere
to be seen in Africa during that period. It’s not perfect.
Of course, nobody likes [the situation in Sudan]. But are Africans
getting jobs and improving their lives because of the Chinese
presence? Overall, the answer is yes. You would hope that then
those Africans would bring the [Chinese] government to task.
WHITNEY: Have you noticed a difference between how Africans
have reacted to your book and how people in the West have?
MOYO: Broadly, yes. If you go onto my Facebook page, for example,
it’s inundated with voices of support from all over the
African continent and the African Diaspora. In general, the
extreme western media says that I’m talking rubbish and
being unfair, though some of the more middle-of-the-road [western
media] just kind of say, “Very interesting book; we like
the arguments.” But there have been very few voices from
the West that support the book to the extent that they’re
saying, “Yes, it’s time to overhaul the system.”
I guess I’m not too surprised. Somebody did say to me
-- an American, last week -- “If you ever see something
that doesn’t look logical, just follow the money.”
I think that’s probably a good thing to say here -- everything
I’ve said in the book is couched in logic and evidence.
The fact that we’re seeing such a ridiculous system in
place, it’s important to follow the money and see who’s
benefiting. Then you can see why the system remains in place.
WHITNEY: Who are you referring to? The only people I see as
benefiting are the corrupt rulers of some of these nations.
MOYO: The point I am making is that aside from the corrupt leaders,
aid supports over five hundred thousand people (mainly in the
West) working in the aid industry and virtually none of it reaches
the people for whom it was intended.
WHITNEY: Isn’t it possible that cutting off aid will make
things a whole lot worse?
MOYO: No. [Lack of aid] has not made things worse for South
Africa, for Botswana, has not made things worse for China, for
India, South Korea, Thailand and the list goes on. It will not
make things worse for Africa. But continuing down this path
will definitely make things worse. Remember that in the nineteen
seventies, Africa had 10 percent of its population living in
poverty; today that number is over 70 percent. To continue down
a path of depending on aid -- which doesn’t create jobs,
or innovation, or alternative and more transparent ways of development
finance -- the number of impoverished Africans could get to
80 or 90 percent in our lifetime.
WHITNEY: Have there been any serious efforts to move toward
the model that you’re advocating?
MOYO: Yes, I think there have been. There’s been some
progress, though not as much as I’d like to see. For example,
Dead Aid is dedicated to Peter Bauer [Bauer, who died
in 2002, was a development economist who taught at the London
School of Economics]. He’s talked about this. More recently,
we’ve seen people such as Bill Easterly [Easterly is a
professor of economics at New York University] talk about the
aid issue. And we are seeing more countries in Africa trend
toward the prescriptions that I discuss in the book. Places
like Ghana and Gabon are looking to raise money -- and have
raised money -- in the capital markets. South Africa and Botswana
have never been aid-dependent in the way in which the rest of
the continent has. Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, has
been very publicly against aid, and he wants to see his country
weaned off of it. I know for a fact Kagame is making specific
strides [away from aid], so it’s more than just talk.
The president of Senegal [Abdoulaye Wade] feels the same. So
yeah, there’s definitely been some progress. It’s
not as much as one would hope, but things are moving in the
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