February 22, 2009
Questions for Dambisa Moyo
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Q: As a native of Zambia with advanced degrees in public policy and economics from Harvard and Oxford, you are about to publish an attack on Western aid to Africa and its recent glamorization by celebrities. ‘‘Dead Aid,’’ as your book is called, is particularly hard on rock stars. Have you met Bono?
I have, yes, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year. It was at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me.
What do you think of him?
I’ll make a general comment about this whole dependence on “celebrities.” I object to this situation as it is right now where they have inadvertently or manipulatively become the spokespeople for the African continent.
You argue in your book that Western aid to Africa has not only perpetuated poverty but also worsened it, and you are perhaps the first African to request in book form that all development aid be halted within five years.
Think about it this way — China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.
Maybe that’s because they have so much money that we here in the U.S. are begging the Chinese for loans. Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.
What do you think has held back Africans?
I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.
If people want to help out, what do you think they should do with their money if not make donations?
Microfinance. Give people jobs.
But what if you just want to donate, say, $25?
Go to the Internet and type in Kiva.org
, where you can make a loan to an African entrepreneur.
Do you have a financial interest in Kiva? No, except that I’ve made loans through the system. I don’t own a share of Kiva.
You just left your longtime job as a banker for Goldman Sachs in London, where you live. What did you do there, exactly?
I worked in the capital markets, helping mostly emerging countries to issue bonds
. That’s why I know that that works.
Which countries sought your help? Israel, Turkey and South Africa, primarily.
Why didn’t you get a bond issue going in your native Zambia or other African countries?
Many politicians seem to have a lazy muscle. Issuing a bond would require that the president and the cabinet ministers go out and market their country. Why would they do that when they can just call up the World Bank
and say, “Can I please have some money?”
I keep reading about a new crop of African presidents who are supposedly free-market guys, including Rupiah Banda, the president of Zambia. There are lots who are nominally free market, but they haven’t been aggressive about implementing those policies.
What do your parents do?
My mother is chairman of a bank called the Indo-Zambia Bank. It’s a joint venture between Zambia and India. My father runs Integrity Foundation, an anticorruption organization.
For all your belief in the potential of capitalism, the free market is now in free fall and everyone is questioning the supposed wonders of the unregulated market.
I wish we questioned the aid model as much as we are questioning the capitalism model. Sometimes the most generous thing you can do is just say no.
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED, CONDENSED AND EDITED BY DEBORAH SOLOMON