I would like to address some of the concerns raised in the blog about an email on Dead Aid that we sent to a small number of people who we have worked with in Africa. I’d also like to flesh out our thoughts on the book – what we agree with and what we don’t. We welcome this debate about the book and more broadly about the role aid has to play in combating poverty in Africa.
In terms of the email, my colleague Tyler Denton contacted Iris Mwanza, who he met on a trip to Zambia last year, to ask if she wanted to comment on the book and on how she has seen aid working in Zambia, particularly given that she oversees an AIDS program funded by US aid. Why did he do that? Dambisa is saying that aid doesn’t actually reach people in Africa and they would not suffer if it were cut off. We know that is not true. We could simply state our belief and back it up by verifiable statistics, but we thought it would be more impactful to hear from people working on the ground in Africa who could speak to their personal experiences with aid. It wasn’t an attempt to shut a conversation down, but an effort to open one up. And that’s succeeded! We welcome a vigorous debate on the book and more importantly on how we can all work together to help those living in extreme poverty. On that front, our concerns with the book will be no surprise to Dambisa. We have met with her several times. Our executive director Jamie Drummond even met with her before her book was published and gave her statistics about the positive difference aid was making – in fighting AIDS and malaria and putting kids in school, for example – but she did not include them. He spoke to her again in the past week. We are in a dialogue with her and we agree with her on the importance of trade and investment in fighting poverty in Africa, two things we have actively supported ourselves. We also agree with her that not all aid is spent well and that many many africans have concerns about aid, because in certain cases if delivered inappropriately it can weaken the accountability of government to citizens. That kind of aid needs phasing out and reform. We’re for the kind of smartaid that delivers results and actually strengthens the accountability linkage. But we part ways when she says that aid is not getting to people and that Africans won’t suffer if it’s all cut off in 5 years. What about the 2 million Africans with HIV who are alive today because they take ARVS paid for by aid? What would happen to them if aid were completely cut off? Or what about the millions more who are still dying of HIV because there is actually too little aid to pay for medicine for everyone who needs it?
I also want to address the comments some have made on “humanitarian aid.” In her interviews and in the book, Moyo says she believes in an exception for humanitarian aid, which she explains to mean the kind of aid provided after a disaster like an earthquake or the tsunami. If Moyo has been misunderstood and also believes in the importance of funding critical poverty reducing programs for combating AIDS and malaria that would be great news and we would be happy to amend our statements on the book. But when you look at her interviews and the book itself there is no evidence that she intends exceptions for these vital programs. In fact, see her comments on health related aid in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation (excerpt below.)
Let’s keep the conversation going! We all have a common goal in wanting to save lives and see a healthy and prosperous Africa. We welcome a constructive debate and suggestions for how to keep doing better.
ABC Transcript 3/17/09 (excerpted)
Reporter: Philip Williams
WILLIAMS: And you’re absolutely confident that removing that aid is not going to leave at least some people without food and medicine?
MOYO: I think the ones that will be effected most will probably be the African elite as opposed to the broader population.
WILLIAMS: What will they lose?
MOYO: I think they will lose possibly their bank accounts in Geneva in the worst-case scenario. But, I think beyond that they would also lose the ability to have leisure time and they’ll be required to actually go out and start to work hard to find money to support their social programs in Africa.
WILLIAMS: If you cut off aid within 5 years, surely that’s going to leave millions of people without the support they are now dependent on – food aid, medical aid – aid that really keeps people alive.
MOYO: I don’t believe that’s the case. Most Africans do not see any of the aid that you are alluding to. It’s…. again, their best case scenario on some projects is 20 cents in the dollar that actually makes it to an African – and that’s best case. Effectively, if we continue down this path, we will have many more Africans living in poverty in many… in a few years to come, and that is really the problem – that there are no jobs coming out of an aid model.