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Dambisa Moyo counter-attacks Bill Gates’ critique of her work as ‘evil’

You will remember from yesterday, that Bill Gates is not a fan of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (see below video). Responding to a question about Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which criticizes Western aid interventions in Africa, Gates claimed the book is ‘promoting evil.’

Well, it turns out that Moyo is not happy with what Gates has to say about her book. Moyo issued a pithy response to what she described as a personal attack by Gates.

“To say that my book ‘promotes evil’ or to allude to my corrupt value system is both inappropriate and disrespectful,” writes Moyo in a blog post this morning.

The short blog post makes two points to refute the remarks made by Gates. First, Moyo says that the book serves as a debating point on aid. She says that both she and Gates agree on the goal to improve the livlihoods of Africans in a sustainable way. Her goal was to raise concerns about the limitations of aid.

The second point made by Moyo addresses Gates’ claim that she does not know much about aid. Moyo is quick to point out her experience in the classroom, a PhD, and out, World Bank Consultant. She concludes that her experience being raised in Zambia provides her with a unique first-hand insight into poverty in Africa and the impacts of aid. It is the very same selling point that Moyo used in promoting her book.

“To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day,” says Moyo.

Gates is not alone in claiming Moyo’s analysis is seriously flawed.

Economists have cited problems in the economic conclusions made by Moyo and pointed out that some points lack factual evidence. The proposition to immediately cut aid has huge ramifications if it is considered given the impact it would have on the lives of individual people, argued Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development, in his review of the book. If Moyo is wrong and people follow her advice, the results can be devastating.

“There is a debate to be had about aid, but Moyo’s book, sadly, does not advance it. Dead Aid is poorly researched, badly argued, mendacious in its use of evidence, and pedestrian in its suggestions for alternatives to aid,” concluded Barder.

Zambian economist Chola Mukanga came to similar conclusions in her review of the book, also citing a lack of evidence and calling the proposed solutions by the book ineffective.

“[O]n both theory and practice, Dead Aid falls far short of what is expected of a book advocating such a radical proposal of “turning off the aid tap”. If there’s any consolation in this assessment, it is that Dead Aid will hopefully not find any intellectual traction.”

Colombia academic and aid superstar Jeff Sachs took umbrage with claims made by Moyo, in a 2009 Huffington Post blog post. He criticized Moyo and other aid critics, including Easterly, for their narrow views on aid and use of government funding for research.

I begrudge them trying to pull up the ladder for those still left behind. Before peddling their simplistic concoction of free markets and self-help, they and we should think about the realities of life, in which all of us need help at some time or other and in countless ways, and even more importantly we should think about the life-and-death consequences for impoverished people who are denied that help.

Moyo shot back with her own blog post saying that Sachs played a crucial part in her understanding of aid by serving as one of her professors in Harvard. There, she says, he touted the need for private sector and free market solutions to long term development challenges.

“Perhaps what I had not gleaned at that time was that Mr. Sachs’ development approach was made for countries such as Russia, Poland and Bolivia, whereas the aid- dependency approach, with no accompanying job creation, was reserved for Africa,” wrote Moyo.

Sachs and MVP head John McArthur again replied saying that the evidence shows that aid has made lives better. Bednets, for example, have helped reduce malaria cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Concerns by Moyo that they nets are not produced in Africa misses the larger point of the health gains from their use and the economic benefits of a healthier population, said Sachs and McArthur.

Moyo is not offering a reasoned or evidence-based position on aid. Everybody that deals with aid wants to promote financial transparency and market-led growth, not aid dependency…The purpose of aid should indeed be to break the poverty trap through targeted investments in an African Green Revolution; disease control; children’s education; core infrastructure of roads, power, safe drinking water and sanitation, and broadband; and business development, including microfinance and rural diversification among impoverished smallholder farmers.

Academic Edward Carr found Moyo’s book to be rife with problems and lacking in evidence. “Dead Aid, in the end, is not a contribution to conversations about development for those of us who actually do the work – it is a non-sequitur that does not deserve the attention it has received, or any further attention,” he wrote in reviewing the book.

ONE supporter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson is yet another opponent to Moyo’s ideas. Like Sachs, Gerson makes the case that aid has done good across a spectrum of health indicators. Ending aid would cause more harm than good, he argues.

“If Moyo’s point is that some aid can be bad, then it is noncontroversial. If her point is that all aid is bad, then it is absurd. The productive political agenda is to increase the good while decreasing the bad. The productive academic debate is distinguishing between them,” writes Gerson.

Gates is not the first and certainly will not be the last to tangle with Moyo over her ideas of aid. Who’s next?


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]