Time to burst Dambisa’s bubble

Many eminent folk working in the cause of international development have been greatly exercised in criticism of Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo’s polemic that foreign aid for Africa is more trouble than it’s worth.

To the best of my knowledge, not one of these anxious defenders of the aid model has identified the simple flaw which destroys the book’s credibility.

The text contains not a single reference to climate change or global warming.

A book about foreign aid cannot be taken seriously if it fails to understand that climate change is about to replace colonialism as the injustice of history that drives concessionary financial flows between rich and poor countries.

In its recent position paper for the December Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, China has demanded that wealthy countries “provide new, additional…..financial resources” of 0.5%-1% of GDP to developing countries. This is the price for China’s participation in a binding emissions reduction agreement.

Even at the lower end of the range, this price exceeds the current average aid budget of OECD countries. Whatever the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations, the aid agenda in international affairs will change radically.

The moral imperative underpinning aid will change; the geo-politics of aid negotiations will be transformed, new global institutions are being established for the distribution of aid and the destination of this new aid will be dominated by energy technologies and the adaptation of agriculture.

Dead Aid is blind to these tectonic shifts in the role of foreign aid. Its prescriptions for the fictional state of Dongo will have more relevance to historians of the 1990s than contemporary policymakers.

A symptom of the book’s irrelevance is its chronic weakness on the crisis in agriculture. It concentrates on a bundle of market-based macro-economic tools which have tended to reward urban elites. Alas, it is in the rural economies of Africa and South Asia that the battle between climate change and poverty will be won and lost.

Rwanda provides a valuable case study. President Paul Kagame is a cheerleader for Dambisa Moyo, empathising with the Dead Aid proposition of a five year exit strategy for aid.

Meanwhile, his Minister of State in charge of Lands and Environment wrote in the forward to Rwanda’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) on climate change: “We take this opportunity to request ….. our bilateral and multilateral development partners to attract more attention to NAPA projects of high priority to vulnerable communities.”

Rwanda’s NAPA is one of the most distressing of the 41 so far published. “High degradation of arable land” already restricts incomes for the majority of the population which depends on rain-fed agriculture. There is limited capacity to respond to the water stress and falling crop yields that are predicted for this region as early as 2020.

Does Kagame really believe that he can deliver food security for his people through the global bond market and foreign direct investment?

The Dead Aid debate is the worst possible mood music for the build-up to the Copenhagen climate summit. Without significant new aid commitments, it’s hard to see how an inclusive global agreement on emissions reductions can be reached.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK