By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO (East African Kenya)-I like former Ghana president John Kufuor. He is a soft-spoken, gentle man who didn’t try to change the constitution so he could stay on when his second term ended last year.
It was therefore a bit disconcerting to hear his criticism last Thursday of Dambisa Moyo, Zambian economist and author of the much-debated book Dead Aid.
Ms Moyo makes an old argument — that aid doesn’t work and Africa has done badly out of it.
Her solution is to close the taps, so Africa can learn how to sit on its own bottom.
The controversy Moyo’s book has caused, therefore, is not in the newness of the idea, but the persuasive way she makes the case.
That perhaps was to be expected from someone who got her PhD in economics at Oxford University and her masters from Harvard University, and worked for Goldman Sachs and the World Bank.
Kufuor argued that aid works, and gave examples of universal primary education and the school feeding programme in Ghana.
Then he went for Moyo’s jugular: “Mrs Moyo is not the voice of Africa,” he said. “She lives in an ivory tower, far away from the reality of Africa. Perhaps she should go back to Zambia to see how much that country still needs help. Maybe then I will pay better attention to her.”
While Kufuor was dismissive of Moyo, that friend of Africa, Prof Jeffrey D. Sachs — director of the Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University — sought to embarrass her, saying that without a scholarship that was given as aid, Moyo would never have gone to Harvard.
It is a flawed argument, because it is like saying you cannot denounce an abusive father just because he paid your college fees.
As for Kufuor, I have driven past his house in Accra. It is so magnificent that, when he was president, he continued to live there and it was still more magnificent than many African state houses.
It is the wrong address from which to lecture a critic of aid.
On aid, I go with Moyo’s currency. I don’t know of any African country that is so poor it can’t pay its way from its own resources.
The reason African countries need aid is because they are badly ruled. Aid does not resolve that issue in any way.
Indeed, it makes it more difficult to deal with it, because it shields corrupt leaders from the penalty of their failures.
The other thing is that whether aid is good or bad, Africa needs to prepare for the day when it slows to a trickle.
Kufour lamented a decrease in aid, and seems to think it is a result of meanness from donors.
He could be wrong. It is not that donors are close-fisted.
The reality is that the global economic crisis of the past two years has left donor nations without the means to keep pumping aid money into Africa, so there will just be no money to give us.
Africa can continue to sit at the street corner with the begging bowl if it wishes.
The reality is that the flow of coins into the tin is about to dry up. Then what? They will need to read “Dead Aid” to find a way out.