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MARCH 21, 2009
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Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa
Money from rich countries has trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth
and poverty. Cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial, says Dambisa Moyo.
(See Corrections & Amplification
A month ago I visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. This suburb of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is home to
more than one million people, who eke out a living in an area of about one square mile -- roughly 75% the size of
New York's Central Park. It is a sea of aluminum and cardboard shacks that forgotten families call home. The idea
of a slum conjures up an image of children playing amidst piles of garbage, with no running water and the rank,
rife stench of sewage. Kibera does not disappoint.
What is incredibly disappointing is the fact that just a few yards from Kibera stands the headquarters of the
United Nations' agency for human settlements which, with an annual budget of millions of dollars, is mandated to
"promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter
for all." Kibera festers in Kenya, a country that has one of the highest ratios of development workers per capita.
This is also the country where in 2004, British envoy Sir Edward Clay apologized for underestimating the scale of
government corruption and failing to speak out earlier.
Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our
time -- millions march for it, governments are judged by it,
celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa
are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the
roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes
to Africa each year.
Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has
made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid
culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more
inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency
markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It's
increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over
60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under the age of 24
with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian
Few will deny that there is a clear moral imperative for humanitarian and charity-based aid to step in when
necessary, such as during the 2004 tsunami in Asia. Nevertheless, it's worth reminding ourselves what emergency
and charity-based aid can and cannot do. Aid-supported scholarships have certainly helped send African girls to
school (never mind that they won't be able to find a job in their own countries once they have graduated). This