Weighing in on “Dead Aid”

Dambisa Moyo wrote a new book called “Dead Aid” that has received a good deal of press lately. African economist George Ayittey commented on her book on Ted.com, arguing that Africans need to design their own solutions to poverty, rather than relying on Western aid.

As a non-African who runs a social business that works primarily with small African companies, I find some of Ayittey’s views problematic. Here’s the response I posted on Ted.com:

While I generally agree with Ayittey and Moyo, I have a few issues with this line of reasoning when it is applied to areas other than the type of bilateral aid discussed here:

1. Poverty is everybody’s problem– we live in a global community. My actions as an American consumer and taxpayer play a role in the well-being of people in Africa (for example, farm susbisidies, which my government supports, make it very difficult for many small African farmers to sell their goods to people on their own continent.). Thus, I have a moral obligation to do something about poverty. The philosophers Thomas Pogge and Peter Singer have written extensively on this.

2. Given that I have to do something, I should be focused on doing things that poor people actually want in a way that doesn’t destroy existing markets. Sometimes this comes in the form of charity. Moyo supports donating money to Kiva.org, which can be viewed as a form of “aid” designed to meet a genuine need of the poor: access to microloans. All aid is not dead aid.

I’m the founder of a social business, Samasource, that helps small African firms sell their services in US markets. We have taken donations to launch our business, and most members of our management team are American. If USAID would fund us, we’d happily take this money and expand our programs. Does that make our method “dead”? I don’t think so– just ask the Africans who’ve found work through Samasource.

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