The aid trap in Africa

Stefanie Cohen:

The Kibera slum in Nairobi is roughly the size of Central Park, home to 1.5 million people who live surrounded by raw sewage and garbage. Less than a mile from the slum sits the United Nations office for human settlement. Dambisa Moyo finds the proximity ironic, but hardly a shock.

Kenya, meanwhile, is home to the largest slum in Africa, but also has the highest number of aid workers per capita. Sad, says Moyo, but not surprising.

In the past 60 years, more than $1 trillion dollars in aid has been funneled to Africa, and the continent has only grown poorer and more corrupt.

Moyo, a Harvard-educated economist and author of the controversial new book, "Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa," says it's all because of a simple truth: Western donations to Africa don't help Africa.

"The billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries have not achieved their basic goal of helping to reduce poverty or increase growth," said Moyo. "That couldn't be more clear."

When African governments are beholden only to foreigners, not their own citizens, the population becomes disenfranchised, she argues. Corruption and civil strife thrive.

Moyo was born in Zambia but moved to the US as a child while her father pursued a degree in Wisconsin. She returned to her native country for high school and college, but after a political coup in 1991, her parents sent her back to study at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

At Harvard she took a class with renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, who taught her that emerging economies like Poland, Russia, and Bolivia should develop market-based solutions. She applied that theory to the African model in her book, she said.

But Sachs is now one of her loudest critics, calling her premise "pernicious" and saying it could "lead to the death of millions of people."

"The claim of this book, that aid is bad, just cut it off, is absolutely wrongheaded and dangerous and it's not said by someone who has a child in an African village," Sachs told a reporter with Al-Jazeera.

"People are dying already," Moyo retorts in an interview with The Post. "The worst African despots have come and gone under the aid system, and they will continue to do so."

Moyo said she found it "intellectually dishonest" that Sachs thought market-based solutions were appropriate for Eastern Europe but not Africa.

"The entire African aid industry is couched in pity," she said. "It's not actually designed to help Africa or Africans."

...

I think it is designed to help, it is just ineffective. There is a simple problem in Africa that aid cannot cure. Poor people keep doing the things that make them poor. You could give them all the wealth of the US and in short time it would be as gone as the winnings of a lottery ticket.

Much of the problem is cultural. Certain cultures do better than others. Moyo has achieved success because she has adapted to the US culture and learned how markets work to benefit all of us. Tribal societies have difficulty accepting markets. Just look how Zimbabwe destroyed a thriving economy which needed no aid.

Look at the difference between the Jewish culture and the Palestinian culture. The Palestinians are poor because they do things to make themselves poor. No one has received more aid in the last 60 years, yet they still have a culture of dependency. They have become a beggar society that teaches its young to go out and explode among Israelis or build implements for killing Israelis rather than productive enterprise to create jobs and goods and sevices that others need and will pay for.

Where Jews are busily creating goods and sevices that others want which creates wealth that can buy superior weapons to defend themselves, the Palestinians bypass the first step because they have become depoendent on the aid from the UN and others. In the process they have only made their lives more miserable while they blame the Jews. Cutting off Palestinian aid would be an act of mercy for that culture.

In Africa some forms of aid have had greater impact than others. George Bush's programs to prevent AIDs and malaria have saved lives, but they are not designed to create wealth. In fact the AIDs problem reached epidemnic proportion in some countries becaue of a culture of promiscuity. It spreads primarily through promiscuous sex. Aid can't cure the cultural defects of a society.

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