A few years ago, I was invited by a brother in the struggle for the progress of humanity to join a book discussion session at the American Embassy. I remember vividly he gave me the book for that month, ‘Between the World and Me’ – a book written by the American journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. I enjoyed that book so much that I videoed myself reading it at sea. Interestingly, I could not attend that book discussion because it clashed with my worktime.
Discussions happen on the last Thursday of every month. Some members of our book club (Success Book Club) honoured the invitation and became a prominent feature in the embassy’s monthly book discussions. Other youths from other organisations also joined to keep the idea and spirit of this wonderful initiative alive.
It has been almost three years since I got to know about this wonderful initiative, and though I could not join in the monthly discussions I got copies of the books. And it has been a journey of reading great books, interaction with great minds, conversations with sages and men who shook the world, and an eye-opening activity for participants. Some of the books that have been read and discussed so far include but are not limited to: Born a Crime – Stories from a South African Childhood (an autobiography by the South African comedian Trevor Noah); We Should all be feminists (a 64-page book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that argues all should embrace feminism); Think Big by Ben Carson; and Not That Bad by Roxane Gay.
The others include Becoming by Michelle Obama; The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and many wonderful titles which are thought-shaping and life-impacting.
With the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic’s advent, discussions had to be moved onto a virtual platform in order to observe the protocols. So, discussions happen on the Zoom platform and this has been favorable to me, as I have gotten the chance to join in some monthly sessions.
Last week, I joined for discussion of the book Dead Aid – why aid is not working in Africa and how there is a better way for Africa, a book written by Zambian economist Dambisa-Moyo. When was my turn to speak, I offered a pedestrian point that we Africans are far behind on the development ladder because of one simple truth: we are just not honest. We are not honest in everything we do as a people. And that has been our bane. But that is another matter for discussion on another day. For the real discussion and content of the great book, my colleague Khadijah Iddrisu (Associate Director of Initiative for Youth Development), a participant in the discussion, gives us an expert review of the book. Enjoy.
My first year in the ‘Africa in world politics’ class at the University of Ghana was the first time I heard of ‘Dead Aid’ written by economist Dambisa Moyo. A lecturer I greatly admire, Dr. Afua Yakohene, mentioned the book that carries an important message for Africans and African policymakers, and for those in the West and broader international community who truly wish to see Africa progress. Dead Aid is the story of post-war development policy and aid-free solutions for development. The ‘maybe’ controversial book carries an important message about the state of African countries relying so much on aid. It seeks to address the billions in Aid which have hampered, stifled and retarded Africa’s development.
The state of Africa has three factors at the core of its revival, according to Dambisa Moyo. First is that the surge in commodity prices – oil, copper, gold and foodstuffs – in the last several years has fuelled African exports and increased export revenue. Secondly, on the back of market-based policies instituted in the late 1980s, African countries have benefitted from a positive policy dividend. This has left Africa’s macro-economic fundamentals on the up (growth on the rise, inflation down, more transparent, prudent and stable monetary and fiscal performance).
Finally, there have been some notable strides in the political landscape across the continent; more than just on paper. For example, the occurrence of democratic elections and decline in the levels of perceived corruption in a number of countries (for example, Angola, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania and, yes, even Nigeria) point to a vastly improved investment climate.
Africa is addicted to aid, For the past sixty years it has been fed aid. Like any addict, it needs and depends on its regular fix; finding it hard, if not impossible, to contemplate existence in an aid-less world. According to Moyo, aid is the problem and has not effectively promoted economic growth in Africa. The end result of all the above is that aid leads to Aid Dependency – to the extent that aid makes up 13% of the average African country’s GDP. She outlined that aid makes Africans lazy, leads to bloated inefficient public sectors, reduces savings and investments, can be inflationary, chokes-off the export sector, comes with bottlenecks (absorption capacity) and leads to Western donors being able to call the shots.
The startling words of Moyo are: “Aid has been and continues to be an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world”. In short, it is (as Karl Kraus said of Freudianism) ‘the disease of which it pretends to be the cure’. There exist three types of aid: humanitarian or emergency aid, which is mobilised and dispensed in response to catastrophes and calamities; charity-based aid, which is disbursed by charitable organisations to institutions for people on the ground; and systematic aid – that is, aid payments made directly to governments through government-to-government transfer (in which case it is termed bilateral aid) or transferred via institutions such as the World Bank (known as multilateral aid).
Moyo recounts some of the egregious examples of aid fuelling corruption; notable among them being the provision of loans and grants on relatively easy terms and the receipt of concessional (non-emergency) loans and grants. She argues that nations descend into a vicious cycle of aid. A cycle that chokes off desperately needed investment, instils a culture of dependency and facilitates rampant and systematic corruption, all with deleterious consequences for growth.
Moyo offered four alternative sources of funding for African economies: First, African governments should follow Asian emerging markets in accessing the international bond markets and taking advantage of the falling yields paid by sovereign borrowers over the past decade. Second, they should encourage the Chinese policy of large-scale direct investment in infrastructure (China invested US$900million into Africa in 2004, compared with just US$20million in 1975). Third, they need to continue pressing for genuine free trade in agricultural products – which means that the US, EU and Japan must scrap the various subsidies they pay to their farmers, enabling African countries to increase their earnings from primary product exports. Fourth, they should encourage financial intermediation
According to me, Africa holds the key to its own development. Africa can find its way around depending so much on aid. There should be job creation for people of the continent to foster business growth. Policies created by government should not only be implemented but enforced and monitored as well. Special attention should be focused in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, education, climate action, SMEs, good governance, banking and finance, commerce and natural resources, to mention a few needed to get Africa’s economies running.
Intra-market trade among African nations will boost trade among Africans and deepen market integration. Also, there should be transparency in trade so that it doesn’t foster rampant corruption. This will aid Africa’s economy growth.
Africa needs to learn from Asia. I believe foreign direct investment and rapidly growing exports, not always aid, will be among the keys to Africa’s economic miracle. So, as such, Africa should put policies in place which allow a friendly environment for business. Finally, it will be advantageous for the continent to have more African brain-gain instead of drain to foster development on the continent.
The writer is a Youth-Activist and Student of knowledge.