Book Review: Dead Aid

Well if you have ever wondered “Why do we keep sending money to Africa in the form of aid? It’s been 50 years, so why aren’t things better yet?”  Then you NEED to read Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo an economist that was born in Zambia so she has a ground level view of the problems facing Africa and proposes some very different ideas on how to solve them.

First Dambisa breaks off aid into two parts: emergency aid and on going aid.  She rightly points out emergency aid will always have a place in the world.  A disaster can ruin the lives of thousands and sometimes the country can not  afford to deal with itself.  Aid in that case is fine.  It’s the on going aid in the form of grants or loans that are extended or forgiven that is a problem.

In a rather unflinching view she peals away our illusions about the billions of dollars of aid and points out numerous studies to back up her up on the fact that aid has failed for 50 years to improve the lives of most Africans on a whole.  In fact she points out aid has enabled corruption on a massive scale in many of these countries because we collective keep giving it.  Basically there is no incentive not to be corrupt, if you steal the money they just keep sending you more next year.  Meanwhile the population keeps having the same level of poverty.

Another example is a well meaning donation of foreign made mosquitoes nets to an area would wipe out any local producers of that product which would result in further poverty to those that used to work in making those nets.  Then after the donated nets wear out there is no local manufacturing to buy a replacement net.   The aid ends up in the long run making things worse.

So she proposes an idea: give every leader in Africa a call telling them in five years the on going aid will be turned off.  Then introduce them into other ways to fund their governments or see their infrastructure which do have consequences like: the bond market or foreign investment from China (or other countries) in infrastructure projects in exchange for natural resources.

Will her ideas work? Well actually there is a fairly good chance they would work.  She points out a few examples how bits of the program she is proposing has helped some African nations.  She also points out rightly doing this would be difficult.  She doesn’t hide behind the fact that getting these nations off aid is going to be easy.  Yet in the long run it might be the better way than keep pouring in aid dollars into a system that obviously hasn’t worked.

Overall this was an eye opening read on how good intentions really can pave the road to hell, but at least the author offers ideas on how to fix the problem.  I highly suggest it for reading, but I will caution it’s a bit technical at spots.  Also I can’t help but think of the parallels to conditions on some Canadian native reserves of chronic poverty and wonder if our well meaning programs here at home are also the cause of much suffering.  Of course some of this book’s solutions won’t transfer to here, but perhaps we could start thinking to some solutions in a different way.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Dead Aid”

  1. Your very last phrase hits the nail right on the head. Far too often, every challenge our government faces, they just throw more and more money at it. There doesn’t seem to be anyone thinking of a different way to solve they problem.

  2. Another insightful book on foreign aid is written by NYU economist William Easterly, “The White Man’s Burden”.

  3. BF,

    I totally agree.


    Thanks for the name of the book. I’ll look into reading a copy.


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