I still dream of Africa

Posted Wed 24 Jun
1 comments so far

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago

I was asked recently why I don’t write in my weblog as much as I used to. Well, over the past decade (true! Ten years of blogging) things have changed. These days I like to write extended pieces, not barbie-blogged trivial drivel. It has to mean something these days. So I stick to stories and reviews. This is a review.

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo. A book it itself claims to be of two halves, so saves me saying it. The first, a summary of the problem, the second, a solution.

In some time-honoured chronological method, let’s take them in order and comtemplate them. But first, the executive summary. I like to do this at the start, or thereabouts, as if a review has the summary as the last paragraph, it tends to negate all the writing beforehand.

Well, it was certainly an interesting read, I flew through it, which is generally an indication I loved it. But I have caveats, and I will come to them. The second half, the solutions part, was definitely the stronger of the two. Which is slightly unfair of me, as if you have read any of the literature about aid giving, then you will know the arguments. You can see it as a primer, or prelude, to you going to get White Man’s Burden. That is a review link there, reviewed by Ms Postrel swoon. Actually, Ms Moyo swoon too, but I am trying to make this a serious review. Clever chicks, mmmm…stop. On with the review.)

My main problem with the first section is that it comes across like a sixth-form debating chamber argument. Or, worse, something you would read in The Economist. No, I take that back, Ms Moyo’s writing, thoughts and ideas are way beyond that dirge. I apologise for the offense. Though I guess (here it comes again…) I am not the target demographic for that section, she is preaching to the choir there.

As an aside, before I continue, which is the very nature of an aside, I disliked the whole ‘an African giving Africa and African solution’ quotes from others. That attitude seems quite the reverse paternalism Ms Moyo herself rails against. Me, I prefer that an idea is good if an idea is good, regardless of where it comes from. But yes, those on the ground are best placed to know how to implement the procedures so it works for them, but you can take advice from those old white middleclass dudes, you know. But then again, taking Ms Moyo’s background into consideration, she is eminently well placed to speak on this without coming across in a superiorly imperialistic way. But moving on, as that didn’t come out the way I meant it to…

Glossing over the aid-doesn’t-work section, we come to her solutions. And, I have to say, this was the stronger section. Again, I am an easy audience for the free market/trade solution. Yes, even in the current climate, which says more about governance than markets, and yet more still about human nature.

All her ideas, including leaning more on China, seemed sound to me. Or at least try-able, and see-what-happens-able. Anything is better than aid. Seriously. I have known that probably since I first thought of it, when Live Aid came out, and I asked if this was the first time we had tried to give money to Africa. The answer shocked me, even as a self-obsessed thirteen year old.

Her mention of Kiva, which I was vaguely aware of in a meta contextual way, intrigues me, and I shall probably, once a bit more settled, use their services, as it seems to me exactly what we over here should be doing. I am not a hand-wringing bleeding heart liberal. In case over the years you thought I was.

Given she is talking about a whole continent, it sometimes descends into parenthesised lists of countries (this applies to Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, DRC and so on) quite a few times, but I guess she is just qualifying her statements. Also a bit heavy on percentages, to go with those lists, but hey, she worked for the World Bank, so I guess they love their stats.

I have been saying for years that Africa would be a place to go to make a fortune, but Cassandra wouldn’t stand for that. This book made me wish I was in a position of power to make that phonecall, or try to get into an African cabinet and build up the country into a powerhouse, but the chances of a grumpy white middleclass programmer who reads too much philosophy, politics, theology and physics doing that is slim. Not nil, for I can do what I put my mind to (or what Cassandra allows me to put my mind to), but certainly vanishingly small.

While I don’t think this is a bad book, and yes, it is certainly an important book, I feel it is a stepping-stone book, and that Ms Moyo has more than several more in her, and it would suprise me if they don’t all increase in quality as they go on. You should buy this book if you have even a passing interest in the affairs of Africa, or even if you don’t, and want to complain to Those In Charge about another misuse of our tax pounds. Maybe I read too many dry scholarly tomes, and need to remember that most books aren’t aimed at me. I don’t wish to be negative about this book at all. It is full of fascinating ideas, concisely thought through. Not much I could disagree with, and the articles against it I have read seem somewhat wrongheaded and point-missing. Another caveat, in that I agree with her conclusions, so I am bound to look favourably on it. But even so.

Her ideas need more widely disseminated. Go buy the book. Meet me in the pub and I can tell you more. But don’t ignore the problem. Don’t throw aid at the problem. Remove our self-subsidies and trade barriers. I am no protectionist. But don’t think about it in old ways. They don’t work.

That wasn’t quite the review I meant it to be. A bit incoherent, wasn’t it? Oh, and I will be buying her next book, too.

The second best time is now

  1. I’m so having images of you in a pink car dictating your blog to Ken. mwahahahaha
    Yeah I know, all those words and the one i zoom in on is Barbie. ;)

    Fri 26 Jun, 9:02PM

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