Aid to Africa is the problem, not the solution, according to Dambisa Moyo, Zambian-born economist and author of Dead Aid. She discusses the issue with Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society, and Standpoint editor Daniel Johnson
Daniel Johnson: Dambisa, your book Dead Aid seems to echo the controversial views of Lord Bauer, who famously said that the point about aid was that it was taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries. Why do you feel it is necessary to stir up debate about Africa?
Dambisa Moyo: The book is actually dedicated to Peter Bauer because, unfortunately, he was ahead of his time. He saw that the world was then so obsessed with the notion of aid on the back of the success of the Marshall Plan that nobody really paid attention to what he had to say. The timing of publication is quite fortuitous. I hadn’t anticipated that we would be in the middle of a credit crisis, but I am actually quite happy that it’s coming out now, because I do think there is an opportunity for African governments to start thinking about innovating away from aid and all its ills towards other sources of development financing.
We can talk a lot about what the problems with aid are but the more important message that I hope people are left with is the idea that there are other ways that have worked across the world in delivering economic growth.
Richard Dowden: Did you look anywhere to see if aid has worked? You’re absolutely right about the Marshall Plan. That was about reconstruction – discipline, skills, everything. All they needed was the money to put the bricks back and then they could continue. But has it worked anywhere else, in Latin America or Asia?
DM: It’s probably worth clarifying what aid I’m critiquing in this book. I’m not talking about humanitarian aid. I agree that if there is a world emergency or a tragedy, whether it’s a tsunami or a Katrina or Mozambican floods, we as human beings should intervene. Nor am I talking about charitable aid-the money that goes directly towards certain projects, like girls’ education. That’s relatively small scale. Although those types of aid have problems, certainly with respect to implementation, that’s outside the scope of this book.
The book is really about a third type of aid, which is the large government-to-government flows or multilateral-to-government flows. What I am really focused on is delivering long-term sustainable growth that can meaningfully alter the number of people living in poverty in Africa. On that measure – delivering growth and reducing poverty – I would say aid has failed.
RD: The one that puzzles me, because I’m not an economist, is Ireland. I remember going to Ireland as a kid on holidays and seeing children without shoes. You know, it was really quite shockingly poor and, of course, Ireland was the butt of all the jokes. They were stupid, poor, drunken, useless and that was the Irish joke. Then, suddenly, they took off and they were the Celtic tiger. And they did it with European Union aid, which went to poor areas. So there it seems that you can do it. Nobody tells Irish jokes any more.
DM: I would consider the case of Ireland as very similar to the Marshall Plan, in the sense that the aid interventions were short, sharp and finite. The aid problem in Africa is that it’s an open-ended commitment. There is no indication at all of when this is going to cease. Nobody says, “You’ve got five years of aid and then it is over, so figure out what you are going to do.” To me, that is very different from what you had in Ireland. One of the critiques of aid that I discuss is the whole notion of disenfranchising the domestic citizenry. The problem in the African context is that the African governments become so beholden to the donors that actually there is no accountability to the domestic citizenry. That is certainly not the case with Ireland. So yes, we can pick one or two scenarios, but this is a continent of over 50 countries which has failed to maintain levels of economic growth or meaningfully reduce poverty after more than 60 years and a trillion dollars of aid.
RD: I would certainly agree with you that there is no sign anywhere in Africa that aid will actually transform an economy. But what I looked for in your book was the direct connection between aid and poverty. You showed really well that this is how much aid has gone in and this is how things have got worse – but I wanted to be absolutely sure that the aid was the real cause and not something else. That’s where I would suggest that it’s African politics that have messed it up. Everywhere I go in Africa I think, “It should be, could be, quite easily so much better.” You’ve got fantastic potential, great thirst for education, great thirst to make life better and yet somehow there’s no delivery. What I can’t work out was how aid plays a role in this that seems to prevent people just getting on with it.
DM: I do try very hard to make this connection. Maybe I could be criticised for taking very much an economics perspective on the way the world works, but, for me, the political establishment and the political system in Africa are directly artefacts of the aid model. You cannot expect there to be a system where governments are beholden or accountable to their people if they don’t need to be.
For example, if you are a government and you have as much money as you would like to maintain the military, then you don’t actually worry about being kicked out of office because the military is on your side all the time. Essentially, that is what has happened across Africa over the past 50 or 60 years. I can give you many examples of how aid comes in and supports a massive bureaucracy to work in the civil service. For example, in many African countries, it can take two years to get a licence to start a business.
RD: Is that a job-creation scheme?
DM: Absolutely. So what tends to happen is, not only does it take two years, but also there are a number of procedures – get a stamp from here, take a form there, go and meet so and so. There are layers and layers of bureaucracy, which kills off entrepreneurship, leaves people out of jobs and when a government turns around and says there are people out of work, there are no jobs and people are poor, what is the first thing that the West decides to do? Oh, we’d better give people more aid. The aid system has got people locked into this cycle, where everybody sits back and thinks there is no need to try and raise taxes because we are going to get foreign aid. Or there is no need for anybody to be entrepreneurial because there is going to be more aid. The crux of the matter is that there are no countries on earth that are growing by 10 per cent a year, as China and India have been doing for the past few years before this whole crisis, that have relied on aid. These countries have quickly weaned themselves off foreign aid. They have encouraged domestic savings, they have attracted direct foreign investment, they have fostered trade. That is really the elixir that I am proposing for Africa.
As far as I am concerned, development is very easy. Africa doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, it just needs to copy. The political system that will emerge from having a strong middle class will ensure that there are property rights. It will ensure a stable democracy that really works and will ensure that we will actually get long-term sustainable growth and participation by the local citizenry.
DJ: Richard, in your book Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles you end on quite an optimistic note – you feel that Africa is at last beginning to find itself. Your perspective – less economic but more cultural, perhaps-suggests that Africa is coming out of its post-colonial nightmare and that, although there is still a preponderance of deeply undemocratic and oppressive regimes, the real monsters that we have seen in the past 50 years are becoming few and far between. There is still Mugabe and Congo is still in an appalling state and so on, but you feel that Africa has turned the corner. Why do you feel that?
RD: What I think is that the core of Africa’s problem goes back to the colonial takeover. Everything feeds back to that, in particular the loss of confidence in Africa’s own traditions. I think that colonialism in India was different: by the time the British had left, nobody knew which bits were Indian and which bits were British, because India had absorbed what it wanted from Britain. Whereas in Africa colonialism was there long enough to destroy what went before but not long enough to build something new. Africans were not allowed to lead themselves so there was no political thought and everybody really was reduced to being a peasant. The only way forward was to become like the white man and that was the aspiration. When I first went to Africa, there was this bizarre sight of people parading around in suits with briefcases and bowler hats in villages because they had got some money.
I’ve just come from Nigeria, which I visited with Chinua Achebe, the novelist. He has been saying again and again: “We have to know who we are in order to move on.”
The other key to understanding Africa was again an idea that I picked up from Achebe, which is that independence came very quickly. Nobody really expected it. There was agitation in Ghana, then called the Gold Coast, but in Nigeria there was very little indeed. In lots of countries there was none at all because people accepted things the way they were. Then suddenly they were pitched into independence when they had played no part in creating those countries. Those countries were drawn on the map in the 19th century by people who had never even been there. They sat in London, Paris or Berlin and just drew lines on maps. You had all these different people together, who often spoke completely different languages.
Achebe describes Africa at that time as a house that the white man built and then said he was going to leave. He says that the smart, the lucky, but not always the best, got there first, rushed into the house and slammed the door, and the rest have been left out in the rain. A lot of the blame for Africa’s failure can be placed on its elites who take their money out of the country. They live like exceedingly rich Europeans or Americans with flashy cars and huge houses. Their children all go to British schools and British or American universities and they have no confidence in Africa. They don’t want anything to do with it. In fact, when you drink with them, you realise that they absolutely despise other Africans, especially the poor. They have no interest in developing Africa. They are doing extremely well, as they are living off aid or whatever their income is, and the idea of bringing education or health to their population doesn’t interest them in the slightest. They are often the people that Western business deals with and Western governments deal with. They are the people getting the aid, the political support, even the military support and they are being kept in power.
If Western countries wanted to help they could start by stopping the corruption money flowing back into Britain, as we saw in the case of the two huge Kenyan thefts. With the Goldenberg scandal, it ended up being nearly $4 billion shipped out of the country, reducing Kenya’s growth rate from 4.5 per cent to less than one per cent. It all ended up in the City of London through secret offshore accounts. The present government’s inquiry has implicated the former President Daniel arap Moi and his family and cronies. If we want to help Africa we have to say to its leaders: “What are you doing with all this money? Where did you get it? You’ve stolen it.” Those are the sort of things that we can help with. With people like Moi in power, the idea that you can transform a country with aid is preposterous.
DJ: Dambisa, you actually describe Africa as a drug addict who has been addicted to aid and now has to be weaned off it. How do you do that?
DM: My preference is to do it cold turkey, as opposed to trying to drag it out. It’s been 60 years – it’s a great disaster and shame that many Asian countries were poorer than African countries in the 1970s and today they’re vying for top spots in the world economy. Where has Africa been? What’s happening? Some of the comments that Richard made are very interesting. However, I believe that if we focus on colonialism and tribalism then we’re never going to move on. The reality is, yes, there are some aspects of colonialism that didn’t work, there were boundaries that were misplaced, there’s a whole host of things that colonialism did that have not been great for Africa. However, it happened. It’s a reality. India was also colonised, there are other colonies that have broken those mental shackles.
African countries have now been independent for some 50 years, how long are we going to stand around and say it’s because of colonialism? It’s time to move on.
My parents are from two different tribes who were the first two black Zambians to go abroad to get an education and to get degrees at the University of Zambia. They returned home very committed, they wanted to see their continent thrive. It’s been a failure. They don’t want to live abroad, they want to live in Africa. Yes, the African elite are a problem but I’m glad that Richard made the point that the elite have their snouts in the trough of aid. If you don’t have the aid, then they will actually care more about health care, about generating jobs and showing that they live in an environment where there’s no political stability. If you remove that aid then you could conceive of a situation where everyone has an equal shot at rising to the top, and you will see meaningful shifts out of poverty. Africa will always have a colonial history, Africa will always be made up of diverse populations. If we sit here and say, “Well, that’s really the problem”, and that we don’t really think we can get around it, that’s very pessimistic. As an African who hopes to have children one day, I’m worried that they will be in an environment where the world looks at Africa and continues to think of it as a place that can never develop because of colonialism and tribalism, and can never break out of those cycles.
RD: I’m glad that you said, “We have to move on.” As an outsider, I can’t really say that, that’s for Africans to say. But I think one of the problems is that Africa’s just not violent enough, that all the demands should be coming from below: “Where’s our health service? Where’s our education?” Africa’s so passive in some ways. When they do have terrible wars they fight on an ethnic not a social basis. You need a French Revolution.
DM: I think that it’s ultimately fear. In the book I talk about that Tiananmen Square picture in 1989, with the Chinese man standing in front of the massive tank. That level of defiance is something that you rarely see. The life that many Africans lead is under a veil of fear because who’s to say that somebody won’t walk into your house and shoot you because you spoke out against the government? Who’s to say that your family won’t disappear because you’ve objected to the government’s corruption? These are not tales from my imagination. These are actually things that have happened in Africa. If you get rid of the aid then people can say: “Actually, my government’s not working for me, I’m going to remove them.” That’s how the rest of the world works, by and large.
RD: As we saw, I think, in Ghana. The Ghanaian election was fantastic because you could see that there were areas that had voted one way and they’d had a period of terrific growth, apparently, but they said, “No, we’ve had enough of that.” And they voted in the opposition – amazing.
DM: Absolutely, but Ghana is a very good example of a country that is really struggling and I hope that they continue down the path to wean themselves off aid. I know, from somebody who will remain nameless, but who is very senior in the Ghanaian government, that when they decided they were going to go to the capital markets to issue a bond and raise money through international investors, the multinational institutions were vehemently against it. They said: “Why are you doing this? It’s cheaper for you to borrow from us. This is ridiculous. You’re going to have problems.” The Ghanaians said: “Absolutely not. Longer term, it’s better for us to have much more transparency since national markets are going to bring in more forms of direct investment if people internationally know more about Ghana.” And what did they do? They went straight to the capital markets and issued a $750 million dollar bond.
RD: It was over-subscribed.
DM: Absolutely, by multiples and that’s a fantastic story. Is it perfect? No. Are they going to have challenges? Of course they are. But what an amazing thing for them to actually stand up and say, “You know, we understand that you’ve got this other model but we don’t think it’s worked. We’re going to follow South Africa and Botswana. They don’t rely on aid and guess what? For some reason they have lower poverty levels and they’ve got more economic growth, so maybe their model’s much better than what we’ve been doing.”
RD: The second half of your book, where you explain how African development could be funded, was clearly written before the great credit crash. Am I right? Until recently Africa was ignored by the markets. It was just too dangerous. But then investors were looking for more and more adventurous places, so suddenly they got into Africa and did very nicely. But that money has dried up now, hasn’t it?
DM: If you look at traditional investors in Europe and the US, yes, there are clearly challenges going on. I wouldn’t say it’s dried up, I’d say there are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to come back. Most of the discussions I’ve had with people who are potential investors in Africa, or even globally, are more interested in timing than in whether or not they’re going to invest. They’re sitting on piles of cash, they’re definitely going to come back to the market. So in this type of an environment, what should African countries be doing? What I would argue is that they should be fostering alliances with other countries, non-traditional investors that actually do have money. China has four trillion dollars in foreign reserves. They have seven per cent arable land and 1.3 billion people to feed. Why is Africa wasting its time in Doha, in the World Trade Organisation, round number x, instead of really fostering its relationship with countries that need African food and that are very interested in actually buying African produce? That’s what the Africans should be doing. They should be trying to court and to foster alliances with places like India who do have money and I believe really understand African risks, perhaps in a much more sophisticated way. Western investors have always had a donor-recipient relationship with Africa, whereas the Chinese don’t come to Africa for free. They want something in return. So there’s this whole business culture, entrepreneurial culture that has emerged, which I think is really important.
RD: Yes, Africa’s got what China wants and the Chinese have got the money to pay for it. At that level, it’s brilliant. But because they only deal government-to-government, the Chinese are even more supportive of those elites and bad governments and they don’t believe in accountability, or transparency, or democracy even. They’re not going to criticise Africa for not being democratic because they’re not democratic themselves. At that level, it’s really, really bad. We know they pay considerable amounts in bribes to ministers and others to get what they want and they don’t support an accountable, transparent system, so in the governance department they’re pretty bad news.
DM: I always find it quite, even very, funny that people in the West, but in the Western media in particular, are very critical of China in Africa, particularly on the issue of corruption, and yet some of Africa’s biggest kleptocrats and corrupt individuals have reigned in Africa during the West’s supremacy, the aid supremacy. And a lot of them have now passed on, but the Idi Amins of this world, the Mobutu Sese Sekos, the Bokassas-they’re almost mythical figures.
RD: Sure, that was then, that was the Cold War, you didn’t care what the guy did.
DM: It’s still happening.
RD: Is that right? I don’t want to speak for the British government – as you know I’m pretty critical of them – but they would say: “Now we know how to do aid properly and we no longer support those sort of dictators. We promote democracy, transparency, accountability.”
DM: So why, may I ask, would Britain and America continue to give money to
RD: Well, I don’t think they do.
DM: They absolutely do, they absolutely do, and besides, they maintain diplomatic ties.
RD: They maintain diplomatic ties but I don’t think that they support him financially.
DM: I have statistics from the Department for International Development that they have provided…
RD: Well, they do provide aid to the people and sometimes the government tries to interfere with that but I don’t think they would want Mugabe to remain in power. I think if they could find a way of getting rid of him, they would do it.
DM: Well, my view is, he comes to Rome, he travels wherever he wants. I was in New York for the UN meetings in September, he was there. He was in Rome for the Pope’s funeral, he was at the FAO meetings last year, I mean personally.
DJ: You do make the point that Zimbabwe received $300 million in aid, just in 2006.
DM: Yes, but I think the more fundamental problem with respect to the Chinese is that if African policy-makers were beholden to African citizens, they would not tolerate an environment where the Chinese can come in and bring in their own people to be employed.
RD: Exactly, but I mean that’s what the Chinese do, they do secret deals with the bosses and they don’t encourage any accountability from Africans.
DM: The reason I’m more sympathetic to the Chinese model is because as an African you can see a road that has been built by the Chinese, there’s a bridge, people have jobs because of the Chinese. The Pew surveys which were done out of the US, they went to about 15 countries in Africa and they surveyed Africans. What do you think about the Chinese being here? Better or worse economically for you? Who do you think is better, the Americans or the Chinese? Consistently, contrary to media reports, Africans – whether they’re in Ethiopia, Ghana or Zambia – said they preferred the Chinese.
RD: What’s wonderful about the Chinese – and here I would completely agree with you – is that when they go to Africa they live with Africans, they don’t require 4x4s and air-conditioned houses, they just live as ordinary people and they don’t have that poisonous colonial relationship and they treat Africans fairly straightforwardly and equally. I think that’s really, really good. But how is it that they are already, in Zambia and lots of other places, doing jobs that Africans should be doing? They’re running little shops, they’re starting to cultivate little plots of land.
DM: Absolutely, but, again, this whole aid dependency model creates a situation where Africans just sit there and have somebody else come in. This whole notion of foreigners coming into Africa and setting up businesses and being part of the mercantile or the middle class, it’s not a new story, the Indians have done it for a long time, the Lebanese in West Africa are very well known. It is a great tragedy and I do in that sense defer to your point about the culture but Africa is suffering from a very serious PR problem. When you think of Africa, you think of what I call the four horsemen of Africa’s apocalypse: you think of poverty, you think of war, you think of corruption and you think of disease. That is what people think of Africa and until people start to think, “Wow, this is actually a place to go and invest, there’s an opportunity to go and meet Africans who are interesting, who want the same things that – guess what? – we all want.” Until we change that fundamental model we are being asked to raise African children in an environment where they are constantly being told they can’t do something. They’re poor, they’re dirty, they’re not smart, they’re beggars and they’re always going to be at the bottom.
RD: I’m glad you said the model because so many people talk about the image and they attack journalists for reporting famines, or wars, or whatever, which is their job. No, the word for what Africa needs is “reputation”.
RD: And that’s where Ghana was really good because they said, “We’ve got to establish a reputation for being able to pay back.” And that’s what so many African countries don’t even think about, their reputation. I’ve just come from Nigeria, a country that really doesn’t reflect on how the world sees it, or what to do about it.
DM: And this is important. I don’t want to overstep and speak on behalf of Africa, but one would hope that Africa and Africans want to be equal participants on the global stage. Right now, that’s not the case. Africa is considered a secondary citizen, a drag on economic growth, on the world economy and everybody else is shooting off into five, six to ten per cent economic growth rates. Africa’s sheering off into, in some cases, negative growth, it’s contracting. So how do you get to the place where Africans can walk into a room and they’re equally respected as business partners? They’re not going to get to that point if they continue to depend on aid, where you’re constantly with a begging bowl. Places like India and China – they still have an enormous part of their population living in poverty, and yet nobody feels sorry for the Chinese, nobody feels sorry for India. We treat them as equal partners on the global stage. We want to hear what they have to say. That’s because they aren’t sitting there, waiting for a big cheque to come in from abroad.
DJ: Is part of the problem that Western politicians still see aid as a sort of badge of their own moral superiority? So for example, if you want to get elected here in Britain or in America, you boast about how much aid you’re sending to Africa. George W. Bush, even, boasted about how much aid he was pouring in, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown do exactly the same – no one gets elected by saying “I’m going to cut all the aid to Africa”, that would be a very unpopular thing to say.
RD: But I think there’s going to be a sudden tipping point, because this aid is being wasted, and suddenly one day somebody – maybe it’s Dambisa – is going to say, “The emperor has no clothes. This ain’t working.”
DM: I don’t know if I’m the person.
RD: I just think there will be a sudden tipping point, and I’m afraid of that. I never knew Peter Bauer, but there was that feeling at that time, when Mrs Thatcher made him a peer. It was: “We don’t have any responsibility for these people, it’s their problem, and they should sort it out.” And what I find difficult in all of this is that there is a great tradition in Britain, in Europe, for helping “the poor”, and it’s a very Christian thing, and I think it’s a good thing for human beings to feel like that, when they turn on their televisions and they see somebody starving, and somebody says, “Can you raise some money to save them?”, they say yes and they want to give some money to save them. I not only understand that, I think that’s really good, and the trouble is, if you just say, “Aid is really bad”, then people will just become completely immune to the bad stuff that’s going on. But there is something you can do about it.
DM: That’s a very important point, because I’m not saying that Africa should be left alone to solve its own problems. We are part of a global society, and what I’m saying is that we all need each other. We breathe the same air. If we let Africa continue to spiral down into this abyss, or if we allow too many unemployed youths in Africa, who will then get involved in terrorist attacks, or if we ignore rampant diseases that start to spread globally – those are not things that are necessarily confined just to Africa, so that you can say, “Oh well, we don’t really care.” We are part of a global community. What I’m recommending in the book is, “Yes, we want Western help, but not through aid.” There are other ways to intervene, there are other ways in which Africa can be helped and supported on its agenda to become part of the global society. So I’m not saying, “Read my book and don’t ever help Africa again, let them get by on their own.” I’ve given examples of how governments can get involved through increasing trade. If the Western markets don’t want to trade with Africa for reasons of protecting their own markets, Africa should focus on China and India. Let’s make environments in Africa conducive to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) from Western markets, but also from the rest of the world. Things like the capital markets, issuing debt in the capital market, which offers an amazing chance to showcase a country, and also provides transparency and accountability. Those are things governments should and can do. On the individual level, you and I, trade and FDI and capital markets might seem very lofty, but rather than sitting here and watching another Africa campaign and feeling sorry for it, go on to things like Kiva, which is a fantastic organisation. You lend money to African entrepreneurs who are starting businesses, who are looking for capital. It’s a fantastic programme. You can lend as little as $25 to a woman in Kenya who is making clothes, or a man who’s got a chicken farm in Zambia, and so on. They post reports on what the challenges have been, and how they’re growing. That acts as a direct way of providing support, and really being part of the development process, which is more credible than aid. I think there’s been one default since they started Kiva. That’s really much more useful in the longer term.
DJ: Africa’s problems, though, sometimes seem so vast that they’re intractable. Aids, for example, has dominated the lives of not one but many countries. Civil war has become endemic in large parts of Africa. Simply leaving African governments to solve their own problems seems to people in the West to be inhuman and unlikely to work. So how do you persuade people that actually they’re doing more harm than good by pumping in aid?
DM: Well, I would say – look at the past 60 years. Africa is worse off than it was before. A trillion dollars spent in 60 years and Africa’s gone into reverse. Africa’s life expectancy – in my own country, Zambia, it’s 37. You look at education: literacy levels are down. You look at infrastructure: falling apart. So if you want to become passionate about really doing something for the continent, let’s look at the figures and say: are we really helping?
RD: Do you think then that in 2005, when Tony Blair did the Commission for Africa, and got the G8 to sign up to doubling aid to Africa, that was actually the easy option? The really difficult one would have been to sort out the trade barriers. I know Bono and Geldof support all of this, but their song should not have been more aid, but more trade.
DM: Absolutely. And look, again I put my economics hat on and so maybe my view is quite cynical, but I believe in rational actors, and you look at Western governments – it’s in their interest to keep the barriers up. Why? Because first of all, God forbid, if there’s World War Three, does Britain really want to be relying on Zambia for food? No, probably not, it would be better to have some British farmers.
In addition, the British voter is most likely to say: “Hang on a second, my uncle Robert who lives in Oxfordshire, you want him to be out of a job because of some Zambian I don’t know? No.” So again, governments are behaving as rational actors, and that’s fine. All I’m saying is that African governments should understand that, and not waste their resources trying to push an agenda of trade.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Britain can’t do anything to help Africa, of course, it can help to get African countries to come to the capital markets – Britain has done it over so many years.
They know how to go to the capital markets, how do you speak to investors and get more money to come in? They can talk about foreign direct investment, how do you get the Confederation of British Industry to get involved? Why don’t we try to get British businesses to go and invest in Africa? Africa is right next door, there are countries that speak English, what’s the problem? Why is that agenda not being pushed? Why are we always in default mode to fall into “Let’s discuss aid some more.” That’s really the issue. I look at things like G8 meetings as lost opportunities, to really say, “You know what? We’re not going to get rid of aid immediately, but we’re really here to try to come up with a package, a new package to get Africa to participate in the world debate.” And that’s really what this book is about.
DJ: Richard, you end on a rather optimistic note, with a wonderful description of a funeral, which as you say brings together Christianity, which is a European phenomenon, and very African ideas-but on the other hand, a radical form of Islam seems to be on the march in large parts of Africa, and that’s a huge problem, isn’t it?
RD: It was a funeral at which a real, old-fashioned Catholic Mass was interspersed with traditional rituals to install the son of the man who died as the heir to the family. It was very moving but also funny, because many of them had forgotten the words of the rituals, they had to be guided through them, and mobile phones went off in the middle of it all. It was a wonderful mix of ancient and modern, but everybody was very relaxed about it. And I know that would not have happened 30 years ago. They would have said, “That stuff may go on, but we do not do it in public, and we certainly don’t do it in the middle of a Catholic Mass.” And that reconciliation is really important for Africa.
DJ: Dambisa, what’s the single most important message that you would like to get out to Western readers? How can they avoid doing more harm than good?
DM: The message would be aid is not working, but the good news is that there is another way. You can go on the internet tonight and start to give money towards entrepreneurship.
DJ: So it’s better to do that than give money to charity.
DM: That would be my view. You give jobs, people have jobs, they can send their kids to school, they can provide better healthcare to their children.
DJ: Isn’t this a slight threat to the NGOs? Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?
DM: What is it that we are trying to do here? Are we trying to help Africa get to its feet or are we just trying to perpetuate an industry where people are really poor?
RD: With the NGOs, there are some good, some bad, on the ground. They are quite local in that way. But they have become far too dependent on government aid donors. Sometimes, more than 50 per cent of their budgets come from DFID or other state agencies, which makes them beholden to the whole government strategy. A friend of mine tried to write a mission statement for the NGO he headed, stating: “Our aim is our own abolition.” My friend had to leave fairly quickly, after a huge row. The response was: no, they were not going to make that their mission statement.
DM: That mission statement would have been brilliant, actually.