Human Rights Quote (74): Should We Stop Giving Aid to Africa?

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aid / books / health / human rights quote / poverty
Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo


In this previous post on the same subject, I quoted Paul Collier’s criticism of Dambisa Moyo’s hugely overhyped but enjoyable book on development aid.

Here’s another critical quote:

Surely, Moyo should recognize the difference between aid provided to oppressive kleptocrats and aid given to faith-based organizations distributing AIDS drugs. Michael Gerson (source)

Dambisa Moyo’s reply:

I’m not going to sit here and say the fact that 2 million Africans are on HIV drugs is a bad thing. Of course that’s a good thing. But whose responsibility is it to provide those HIV drugs? American society does not operate by sitting around and waiting for handouts. Why should we as Africans? (source)

Matthew Yglesias’s reply to Moyo’s reply:

For one thing, in the developed world we clearly do offer financial assistance (“handouts”) to indigent people suffering from illness. Even in the United States there’s Medicaid and people get treated at emergency rooms regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, in terms of HIV drugs obviously the reason Africans find themselves needing to rely on handouts is that the continent is so full of poor people. Ultimately, obviously, the ideal solution would be for Africans to get richer. But the per capita GDP of Africa isn’t going to magically reach American (or even Mexican or even Chinese) levels overnight even if Africa does start seeing strong growth. Meanwhile, people with HIV will die really soon unless someone gives them medicine. And even better, the marginal cost of producing extra HIV medication is really low. There’s just no getting around the fact that giving poor people medicine is a useful and important way of making the world a better place. (source)

I understand Moyo’s point about paternalism, about the need for Africans to take matters into their own hands, and about the debilitating effects of aid. But I suspect her of exaggerating her point in order to stir up some controversy and get into the limelight. And if that is really her strategy, she has obviously succeeded. But at the same time she has succeeded in discrediting all kinds of aid, good and bad. However, she can be credited with having started a necessary debate.

Some statistics on development aid are here.


  1. So I think the point that should be taken is that aid, per se, is not inherently bad. The real question is, where is this aid going and to whose benefit?

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