Listening to CBC Radio's "The Current" a while back, I was enraptured by host Anna Maria Tremonti's interview with Zambian-born economist, Dambisa Moyo.
Maybe it's a reflection on my ignorance, but I'd never before heard of Moyo, an Oxford and Harvard educated economist, a World Bank consultant, a member of the board of Barclay's Bank, and who, in 2009, was one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.
Anna Maria Tremonti is arguably the most knowledgeable radio interviewer around, and she challenged Moyo throughout about Moyo's newest book -- Winner Take All, which delves into how China is scouring the world for all the minerals and natural resources it can.
This Chinese acquisitiveness and investments in developed countries tends to worry some people, but Moyo persuasively argues that China is ahead of the game in anticipating shortages, and is concerned about the growing demands of its middle class and how to provide for 1.3 billion people.
For what it's worth, I think she's right. China's future hinges on the status quo in the world. It doesn't want wars or crises that will cut off its supplies. Looming troubles at home argue against foreign adventuring.
But it's Moyo's first book -- Dead Aid -- that really caught my attention. In it she argues that foreign aid has not helped Africa, but has crippled it, has made the continent dependent on outside help, and (whether she says this or not I don't know) has resulted in support for dictators and tyrants.
She sounds a lot like free market economist Peter Bauer, who has long decried foreign aid as inhibiting self-development in Africa. African leaders like Rwanda's President Paul Kagame have praised Moyo's "accurate evaluation of the aid culture today," and Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade echoes her concerns about aid.
Criticism of her thesis has mostly come from two sources -- those who receive foreign aid, and those who distribute foreign aid. Both have vested interest in prolonging the aid culture. From considerable journalistic work in African countries, it's long been my experience that foreign aid does more damage than good.
In no particular order, I recall being in a remote area of Eritrea when it was at war with Ethiopia (around 1988). In one village where Oxfam was developing a much-needed water supply, a local headman was grumbling that a road was being built from the community to Kenya.
On the surface this should have been a help, but his complaint was that a road would result in a "brain drain," with bright young people who were needed in the village flocking to the city.
That sort of things was endemic.
I recall journalist Bill Stevenson, who worked in East Africa, telling of a large bakery being set up in Dar es Salaam with aid money that would service the whole city. Unmentioned was that the large bakery complex would put out of work the hundreds of small bakeries throughout the city, thus advancing poverty instead of curbing it.
During the Ethiopian famine, aid flowing into the country meant that the Marxist regime could concentrate on acquiring weapons for their civil war, and not worry about feeding the starving populace.
As it was, in the Eritrean war for independence against Ethiopia, Eritrea, with no military aid, was dependent on capturing Ethiopian weapons, tanks and artillery (i.e. Soviet) to use against their enemy.
In captured Ethiopian divisional headquarters, I found sacks of wheat marked as "gift from the Canadian people" diverted to army kitchens and being sold on the black market. When confronted with this "evidence," govenrment and aid people insisted abuses were rare and small.
In the Angolan civil war, Canadian aid was supposedly being funnelled to a shoe factory in a small place called Ucua, which rebel leader Jonas Savimbi insisted was in the hands of his UNITA movement. The aid was phony. Savimbi also had evidence of aid trucks and Red Cross vehicles carrying soldiers of the Marxist regime which had seized control via a coup.
When Isaias Afwerki's Eritrean fighters won Eritrea's freedom -- and before Eritrea succumbed to becoming just another African tyranny -- Afwerki addressed an African Union conference honoring Eritrea as the latest independent country.
Afwerki launched into a tirade against corruption and how Africa's leaders used aid money to buy expensive cars and take trips to Europe, preferring to blame colonialism for their country's plight. He also attacked foreign aid programs, and put strict limits on aid to his country.
A problem with aid agencies is that they hire locally and pay higher wages than the local rate. Bright, ambitious people are attracted to these agencies instead of jobs, and the country suffers from their loss.
What strikes me as unusual, is that Dambisa Moyo is a Zambian, and cannot persuade herself to accept nonsense that is popular and conventional but wrong. In this she is somewhat like Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who escaped to Europe to avoid an arranged marriage, and saw with her own eyes that Islamic teaching about the decadence, corruption, misery and wickedness of infidels was wrong -- that Europeans were content, productive, flourishing in ways that Islam couldn't begin to match.
She wrote of this in articles and books -- and was marked for assassination by Muslim extremists. To this day she requires a permanent body guard.
Moyo is African, and I doubt she's Muslim, and is too honest to avoid the truth. Anyway she's ahead of the curve in her assessments -- and is backed by economic reality.
In brief, she proposes that developing countries plan their own futures and not depend on foreign aid -- that excessive aid fosters dependency, inhibits enterpise, leads to corruption, and too often results in tyrannical governments and massive poverty.
Who can argue with Moyo's thesis that Africa has not flourished as many hoped and expected when colonial powers surrendered to African independence from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s?
I've mentioned a few examples, and left what has happened in the Congo for another time -- a story without hope or an happy ending.