Economist Dambisa Moyo spoke at the Modlin Center for the Arts on why she believes aid has worsened the economic situation in Africa more than it has helped, as part of The Jepson Leadership Forum 2009- 10 Season on “The Common Good.”

Born and educated in Zambia, Moyo brings to her subject a rare combination of academic expertise and world experience. Her training in economics took her from the World Bank to Harvard University and on to Oxford University, where she obtained her doctorate. She also worked for eight years at Goldman Sachs. The author of “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better way for Africa,” she was named one of Time magazine's most influential people in the world for 2009. 

“The fact of the matter is,” she said, “we know there is not a single country on earth today that has achieved long-term economic growth and has meaningfully reduced poverty by relying on aid, and yet we continue to push an agenda of aid on the African continent.”

Moyo said there were more impoverished people in China and India than in Africa, but the portrayal of Africa is harsher and focuses on war, disease, corruption and poverty.

“Portraying a continent of a billion people in that manner is not helping our young people to have confidence in themselves to become partners on the global stage with the rest of their peers,” she said. “Nor is that portrayal a good thing to attract investment, which we so desperately need across the continent. Nobody wants to invest in a place which is viewed as disease-ridden, full of poverty and corruption.”

More than 60 percent of the population in Africa is under 24 years old, Moyo said, and they are desperate for jobs. She said even high school and college educated people were reduced to selling trinkets on the side of the road because there were so few employment opportunities.

Moyo said the United Nations estimates that Africa needs to grow at 7 percent per year to create enough jobs to see significant poverty reduction, but this year Africa is expected to grow by about 1.8 percent.

“Aid is making our governments in Africa underperform,” she said.

There are three types of aid: humanitarian or emergency aid, dispensed in response to disasters; charity-based aid, disbursed by organizations; and systematic aid, paid directly through government-to-government transfers or through institutions like the World Bank. In the past 60 years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Since the arrival of aid, Africa’s growth prospects have declined; income has worsened in the past 40 years and today more than 70 percent of Africans live on less than $1 a day.

 “The types of interventions that NGOs and charities are involved in are Band-Aid solutions,” Moyo said. “We in Africa are desperate for ways in which we can overhaul the system so that Africans can actually find ways of creating income and jobs for themselves.”

Moyo argued that foreign aid should be phased out and replaced with innovative ways to finance development including trade with China, accessing the capital markets, and entrepreneurship.

She said an aid culture has disenfranchised Africans. Public goods like education, healthcare, infrastructure and security are provided in Africa not by their governments but by the international community. Government officials spend their time courting international donors, and celebrities take the place of elected officials on the global stage when describing the situation in Africa, she said. Unfortunately they use negative stereotypes to promote awareness, which can psychologically burden the African people.

“A woman in Kenya said to me: ‘How do you expect us to raise young Africans to be great citizens of the world, when you’re constantly telling us that we’re not good enough, we’re too poor, we’re not smart and we’re not equal partners on the stage of the world?’”

The Jepson Leadership Forum is an annual speaker series organized by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. The 2009-10 season of the Forum explored “The Common Good,” the the complicated tensions between the individual and the community, cooperation and competition, regionalism and globalism, and partiality and impartiality. The conceptual roots of THE COMMON GOOD run deep in history, in society, and in the study of leadership. Just what is best for a group may require sacrifices by some group members. Sometimes, these costs are borne by few and sometimes, by many. Almost always, The Common Good asks that we constrain or rethink self-interest. How can the resulting good be truly common if some people suffer in the process of achieving it? And who decides who sacrifices? 


Watch the video of Dambisa Moyo’s speech here

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