Economics is not my thing, not my strong point, quite frankly not my delight. Among all the subjects I studied in school, that one fit least well into the mold of my particular brain. I struggled to grasp the concepts presented during the last semester of my senior year of high school. I never took an Econ class in college, but I cracked open a book the other day and all things economics tumbled out: statistics and terms that I don’t use on a regular basis in my own financial context. Although I struggled to make sense of what the author conveyed at times,, I ultimately came away from the book as a grateful reader. Hang with me through the next few paragraphs and I’ll explain why.
Dambisa Moya wrote this book, titled Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, because she tired of seeing her native continent inundated in money that brought harm rather than betterment. (To clarify, the aid she mentions has little to do with international nongovernmental organizational (INGO) work. She refers to governments (generally Western) dumping funds on African governments.) Even if you’re not a “numbers person” this statistic might shock you: “Since the 1940s, approximately US$1 trillion of aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. This is nearly US$1,000 for every man, woman and child on the planet today” (pg 35). That’s 1,000,000,000,000 dollars. Twelve zeros. Wow.
Moya explains the situation by giving a brief history of aid and then explaining why aid has not achieved the goals it set out to accomplish. In a section titled “The vicious cycle of aid,” she enlightens the reader about how this happens:
Foreign aid props up corrupt governments – providing them with freely usable cash. These corrupt governments interfere with the rule of law, the establishment of transparent civil institutions and the protection of civil liberties, making both domestic and foreign investment in poor countries unattractive. Greater opacity and fewer investments reduce economic growth, which leads to fewer job opportunities and increasing poverty levels. In response to growing poverty, donors give more aid, which continues the downward spiral of poverty (pg 49).
Whew! If you’re anything like me, this sounds a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Moya doesn’t stop here. She gives more details about this corruption and its relationship to aid. Then she turns to providing alternatives for African countries: issuing bonds, finding investors, obtaining a credit rating, borrowing from institutions other than the World Bank in part to build credibility, and trading with other countries inside and outside the African continent. Moya spends a good amount of pages on current Chinese investment in Africa (which I found to be very interesting).
Ultimately, her recommendation is to cut out aid incrementally over a five year period until a country no longer receives any. She says that the general population of Africa won’t suffer as much as the reader might think because so much of the aid money is going to a small number of powerful people in African government positions anyway. If donor countries cut aid, African governments will be forced to stand on their own two feet and find ways to replace that money through the suggestions listed above.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, you’re reading this on Mocha Club’s blog, so chances are that you care about Africa and its people. If you truly care about something, you generally invest time, money, or some other element of life into it. I’m not about to suggest that we all need to be economic scholars in order to care about Africa. But what I am suggesting is that education is important. If you care about something and want to see change, educate yourself about that issue. Start by reading one news article per day or following organizations you care about on social media.
Even though I’m not a huge economics fan, this discipline is integral to international development, so it’s worth my time to invest in learning a little bit about it. Take the plunge, friends: Pick up that book, scroll through that article, ask a friend about their life experience. You never know; economics might just be your thing.