Friday, 3 April 2009

DAMBISA MOYO’S BUZZ

By Gershom Ndhlovu

 

For as long as I can remember, no Zambian has ever caused a buzz in international academic, media, political and social circles such as Dambisa Moyo, author of controversial book published early this year, Dead Aid, has in the last few weeks.

Admittedly, I have not read the book suffice to say that I have placed an order for it and hope to get it delivered before the end of the week.

Dead Aid has been reviewed by publications ranging from the respectable United Kingdom’s Economist and the New York Times, and on blogs ranging from one run by UK-based Zambian economist Chola Mukanga to one by David Roodman, architect and project manager of the Commitment to Development Index since the project's inception in 2002 and he is writing a book on microfinance.

Moyo herself has appeared on numerous TV and channels and radio stations giving interviews about the subject of her book.

The critiques of Moyo’s book have ranged from positive to utterly negative with those on this end saying that the issues Moyo raises are not new and have been raised elsewhere. The question, however, is why her work has generated such interest? Is it because she raises these issues as an African or does she touch the raw nerve of international aid which, actually like its twin, charity, has become big business for people in the west and their representatives in the developing countries?

I will neither go into the merits or demerits nor the nitty-gritty of Moyo’s book—which I am yet to read anyway—as these have adequately been covered by the publications and some of the people cited above.

Talking about charity, I find it to be the bane of Africa and other developing countries which are daily showed in negative light on western television channels by some of the well known international Non-Governmental Organisations which solicit money from the citizens of their countries of origin supposedly to help people in the poorer countries.

These NGOs will station people outside western shopping malls and high streets selling sob stories about Africa, making people to sign up to make monthly donations on the understanding that the money goes to a good cause because of the images they see on TV of people huddled in tents, scrambling for food or drawing muddy water from rivers and ponds.

All that indigenous British people who have never travelled to Africa know about the continent is the wildlife that is almost always romantically, if romantic is the word, shown on some nature channels and African who live in tents, are sick, thirsty and hungry. Even when throwing left over food, they are reminded of the fact that someone somewhere in Africa is going to bed on an empty stomach.

Strangely, even some struggling companies such as one that sells bottled water, want to cash on the negatively portrayed picture of Africa by pasting a message on its products that a percentage of the proceeds from the bottle goes to sink boreholes in Africa for which sympathetic western citizens are always taken in. I am yet to know the country, the province, the town, or more specifically, the village where such boreholes have been sunk by this company.

A British citizen I have regularly been in contact with for the last few years once told me about what he for 25 years knew to be Africa where there were no motorways or highways as we know them, no cars, skyscrapers etc until I explained to him that the Nandos and Subway restaurants in the UK town he lives were the same Nandos and Subway restaurants in Lusaka and similar features.

I personally know of someone in the UK who has signed up with one prominent international NGO which also has offices in Zambia, paying £18 pounds per month for a school girl someone in Katete. The supposed correspondence from the girl to this person does not look right, notwithstanding doubts about how much goes to the poor girl from the money that is dutifully collected from this person’s bank account.

I have no doubt that a big chunk of the money goes to pay mortgages of the NGO staff and service their gas-guzzling 4x4s vehicles back in the UK while most of the remainder fattens the accounts of the NGO workers in periphery countries. Only crumbs fall on the Katete girl’s reed mat.

Is it not high time Africans said “enough is enough” and turned to their rich natural resources which have since time immemorial, been thrown away to the west for nothing? Is it not high time Africa emulated the Middle East which has used its oil reserves as leverage for its own infrastructural and human development?

….

The counsel to newly appointed Zambian diplomats by President Banda could not have come at the right time. The attitude of diplomatic staff manning Zambian embassies and high commissions leaves much to be desired.

When Zambians go to these offices, they are treated as if they are pests who should not have found themselves in that country in the first place and diplomatic members of staff are in a hurry to see the back of them, instead of listening to what it is that has taken them to those offices.

One recent case that has particularly incensed Zambians in the Diaspora is the manner the Zambian embassy in Russia handled the case of 25 year-old medical student Cardson Kabwe who has a heart condition that needs to be operated on. The embassy recommended that Kabwe be sent back home.

A lot of Zambians abroad who felt for the young man’s case, donated money to raise upwards of US$15,000 dollars for the operation which I understand should have taken place last weekend or should be taking place any time in Moscow.

Another case is of a Zambian in the US who, inquiring about the new passports, staff at the Zambia embassy started asking him questions about his residence status there, a matter better handled by the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service.

7 comments:

MrK said...

Hi Gershom,

The problem I have with dr. Moyo and other economist's analysis is that they never ask the obvious and simple question: where does donor aid actually come from? What is the actual source of these hundreds of billions of US dollars that are 'given' to the African continent every year?

The answer is: it comes from Africa itself.

Every year Africa exports $1,000 billion worth of raw materials to the West, and every year the west sends $250 billion worth of donar aid to Africa. It's a shell game.

This is why these companies pay no taxes in Africa - you can bet that they pay taxes in their home countries though.

And that is why the term 'donor aid' is so misleading. It make it sound like it is part of the charities and NGOs you mentioned in your article, when in reality we are talking to money that is a magnitude of orders greater than anything collected by charities - $250 billion dollars per year.

It is a shell game. African elites receive some perks and part of the $250 billion, while the West gets raw materials, and keeps control over their supply to their economies through 'donor aid', which they can withhold at the drop of a hat, unlike revenues collected by the government.

Is it not high time Africans said “enough is enough” and turned to their rich natural resources which have since time immemorial, been thrown away to the west for nothing? Is it not high time Africa emulated the Middle East which has used its oil reserves as leverage for its own infrastructural and human development?

Absolutely, but that is what Patrice Lumumba's struggle was all about. There is nothing benign about donor aid, it is part of a deadly shell game that keeps Africa exporting raw materials and importing finished goods, and remain poor in the process. All those finished goods should be manufactured locally, so all the costs are continuously repsent and reinvested in the local economy. This is also why there are such high levels of official unemployment, and in fact, why there is so much poverty.

By the way, the continuous and relentless negative portrayal of Africa and the blocking out of any positive news is part of the toolbox of neocolonialism. Just as unscrupulous investors try to run down a neighborhood to lower realestate prices, the West continously portrays only the negative aspects of African countries and leaders they don't like, so it is easier to justify foreign invasion to reinforce the continued exploitation of Africa's raw materials for their benefit.

Gershom said...

MrK,

Thanks for your usual insightful comments.

In my student days reading courses such as Fundamentals of Social Sciences, we learnt that for every US$1 that came into Africa, US$1.80 went out.

Africans need to up the ante if they are to claim their rightful seat on the table of the world, but there is need for leaders, academics, journalists, writers and indeed everyone to change not only their attitude but their mindset to meet the challenges.

Yeah, I agree with you entirely.

Yakima said...

Indeed! The CEO of Goldman Sachs gave a speech this morning in which he warned the US against "protectionism" by citing the vast numbers of americans with overseas income on which they currently pay taxes to the US government. He was quite animatedly concerned that, "other countries would retaliate," and that would "slow the engine of growth."

A quote from Moyo that I saw recently claimed that private capital was "intolerant of corruption," which nearly made me spray my drink all over my computer screen. Since when? Maybe if it is preventing them from getting paid, but in my experience, if corruption reduces costs of complying with expensive regulations, then private capital supports it quite eagerly. I am still trying to figure out how loans started getting called "aid" in the first place. The way I was raised, if you give a gift, you don't expect it back, and if you share something, you don't charge interest. For Moyo, the solution is harsher loan terms for African governments; some sort of fiscal "tough love" perhaps? How is paying higher interest and/or default penalties supposed to improve African balance sheets?

I keep reading comments that marvel at the supposedly huge sum of US$1 trillion dollars in "aid" to the entire continent of Africa over a period of 50 years. Living as I do in the middle of the US$14 trillion per year US economy, I have more difficulty seeing this as some sort of impossibly huge number. That's less than 4 weeks worth of business as usual over here. Sure the numbers would require some adjustment for inflation, but still a paltry share of 50 years worth of global economic output. As MrK has pointed out, an equivalent value worth of raw materials is flowing out of the continent every year.

Instead of asking whether or not the nations of Africa need more oxymoronic "aid loans" and "free trade" to "lift people out of poverty," I would rather see an sincere effort to redefine "development aid" as "reparations owed" for centuries of colonial repression, decades as a cold war "hot zone", and more recent IMF-led loanshark tactics masquerading as "structural adjustment".

The big problem is not, as Moyo asserts, that African governments don't pay off their meager multi-billion dollar debts. The big problem is that somehow the significantly larger debts owed to the peoples of Africa are ignored. Perhaps it is time to finally collect, with interest.

Zedian said...

A quote from Moyo that I saw recently claimed that private capital was "intolerant of corruption,"

She should ask BAE and some other multinational companies doings business in developing countries.

MrK said...

Yakima,

A quote from Moyo that I saw recently claimed that private capital was "intolerant of corruption," which nearly made me spray my drink all over my computer screen. Since when? Maybe if it is preventing them from getting paid, but in my experience, if corruption reduces costs of complying with expensive regulations, then private capital supports it quite eagerly.Perhaps dr. Moyo should have a look at the past and present of mining in the DRC, for instance during the government of President Mobutu, and then decide whether private capital is intolerant of corruption. She might even consider that private capital is one of the main drivers of corruption.

Or just read up on Enron, Worldcom, etc.

Nsiku said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nsiku said...

Hi Gershom while you wait for Damisa'a book to arrive, I thought you might want to see this clip on "youtube". She talks all about her life and the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3hZAgbuWsM