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Zambian Economist says Africa Too Dependent on Aid

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo told a Washington audience on Monday that African governments need to be held accountable for their failures to bring higher living standards to their citizens.

Moyo's new book, Dead Aid, has caused a stir among aid donors. Its central premise is that well-intentioned aid programs have failed to improve the lives of most Africans and have created a damaging mutual dependence between donors and often corrupt African governments.

She spoke at a forum organized by Washington's American Enterprise Institute.

"It's not good enough to let African governments have a free pass," said Moyo. "African governments should be coming up with their proposals. We need to hear from African governments. You don't need to have me sitting here. You should have African presidents explaining to us as global concerned citizens what the hell their plan is for Africa going forward."

Moyo, who has degrees from Harvard and Oxford, and experience at the World Bank and as an investment banker, says Africa has little to show from more than $1 trillion of assistance received during five decades. In many cases, she says, aid has done more harm than good.

Moyo says that in her own country, Zambia, the government has abdicated its responsibility for health care, turning much of its administration over to foreign donors. African countries, she says, too often flounder in a cycle of corruption, disease, poverty and aid-dependence. Educated young people have few opportunities.

Moyo distinguishes between open-ended assistance, which she opposes, and bail-out assistance from the International Monetary Fund, which she supports.

A principal challenge confronting policy-makers is how to incentivize African governments to put in place measures that will stimulate growth and provide hope for citizens. Deploring what often is called "the development industry of donors and recipients," Moyo related the observations of a Nigerian friend who predicts her book will have little impact.

"He said, in fact, 'Africa is to development what Mars is to NASA [the U.S. space agency], she said. "We spend billions of dollars every year analyzing and researching this, but nobody really expects us to live on Mars. And no one really expects Africa to develop,' which is why we end up in this low-level equilibrium and not really debating the issues we should be focused on."

At the same forum, former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz defended assistance programs, praising the 12 to 15 African countries that are doing well, with several years of economic growth exceeding six percent.