02 February, 2009

Amy Winehouse and the housing crisis...

I now have a new favorite quote: “Americans would be put out if Amy Winehouse went to tell them how to end the housing crisis. I don’t see why Africans shouldn’t be perturbed for the same reasons.” Dambisa Moyo, economist.

Moyo, who is in her thirties, was born in Zambia. Her father, the son of a South African mineworker, is an academic and anti-corruption campaigner; her mother, the chairwoman of the Indo-Zambian bank. Equipping herself with a rack of degrees, including a Masters from Harvard and a doctorate from Oxford, she has worked for the past eight years as a global economist at Goldman Sachs. Her book, she tells me, was born of frustration at how few Africans are listened to on an issue central to the continent’s future. (FT article )

Ms. Moyo wrote Dead Aid a new book about foreign aid's role in Africa "She is venturing into a debate that has to date been colonised by white men – be they rock stars such as Bono, politicians such as Tony Blair or the academics Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly." (ibid)

She is not overly optimistic from how the FT article sounds and wants foreign aid out saying, "It crowds out private investment, fosters corruption, fuels conflict and undermines the rule of law." She wants the tap of aid turned off in five years. That, she argues, would allows Africans to get out and do something to improve themselves...

A bit unrealistic to me.

I am perhaps coming at this from the other side of Ms. Moyo. She is the economist, I am the development worker. She is macro, I am micro, she is bashing to down aid (and lumping it all together under the umbrella of aid), I am for grassroots change.

There are corrupt governments in Africa. And since colonialism took the continent by storm foreign powers have funnelled money to fuel these governments. Sometimes there were checks and balances, other times it was stupidity that let the foreign governments assume that money being sent to corrupt, dictator X was actually being spent to build a hospital for village Y.

But that's why you don't send money to the top. Look at rural development work - helping people get seeds loans, doing animal projects to increase wealth and food in a community, drilling a well so people don't have to walk 5 miles, risking attack, wasting their day, and, more than likely, getting dirty water. If someone comes into the community, listens, and can increase food levels and give the people something to barter with or sell - how is that bad and not helping people and undermining the rule of law?

Or microfinance. Our MFI in Sierra Leone has over 20,000 clients most (if not all) could not have gotten a loan at a local bank because (surprise!) they did not have anything to offer against the loan. We're not talking about large loans - most of our loans are for under $100. But, again, this loan, given at the grassroots level, has allowed 20,000+ people to earn a living, provide for their family, increased the economy by creating jobs and increasing sending. Our loan recipients come back to get bigger loans - and we have a 96% on time repayment rate. How is that a bad thing? How is microloans not a form of private investment?

And, one more thing - governments don't care about the poor. Look at the US and the billions of people living below the poverty line. Government funded programs are not the solution - talk about dependence! She points to the investment of China and wants us to examine how foreign investment in African commodities is a powerful thing. The only place I know China is "investing" is the DRC and it's not pretty, actually it's slavery.

I am not challenging Ms. Moyo, and I have not read her book because it's not in the US yet. But I get tired of people throwing everything out because it's flawed in one way. I do thing top-down aid is stupid. I do agree that actors/singers need to get out of the development business. But don't stop all development/aid work entirely because some governments have been able to exploit the process.

And don't split hairs with me and say Ms. Moyo was talking about blank checks to governments and not money to aid work - because they come from the same fund (and it was not differentiated in the articles I read). Outside of personal donations most NGOs get their money through government grants. If the spicket is closed on aid that takes a big kick out of what some NGOs in the region can do - and that would have a devastating affect on the region.