Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020
Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020

There is a better way with Dambisa Moyo


We’re here with one of our most extraordinary guests, Dambisa Moyo, one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People and one of Oprah Winfrey’s 20 Remarkable Visionaries.”

Dambisa came to prominence in 2009 with the publishing of her book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa, an immediate New York Times best seller.

She is joined on the stage by David McWilliams, who has introduced her as “one of the most extraordinary thinkers of our times.”

David starts by asking her where is home?

“There’s many ways to answer that question,” Dambisa says. “Where do I want to be buried? Africa. Who do I support in the World Cup? Zambia. Zambia is where I was born and where I grew up.”_MCX7330

David: “When did you leave Africa?”

Dambsa: “My father was very fortunate to get the opportunity to do a PhD in the US but my primary years were spent in Africa, although I grew up in the US. There’s big things that happened while I wasn’t in Africa – the HIV crisis, the democratisation of Africa – these things happened when I was out of the country.


Dambisa is talking about what it was like to be born in Zambia in 1969.

“I was born in 1969  and at the time I was born blacks did not get birth certificates. It was a leftover of the colonial system. I only found out when I joined college, and when I was signing up the woman told me that blacks at the time of my birth were not issued birth certs,” she says.

“I had to go get a certificate that said ‘Dambisa Moyo was born in Zambia and we know this because her parents told us so.’ ”

She says she grew up very unaware that maybe she was a poor African, or that she was unfortunate, and that it was a blessing. “Don’t say negative things to people, it can really mess them up,” she jokes.

She’s explaining how her interest in aid in Africa came out of her Zambian roots.

“When Zambia became independent in 1964 there were 94 doctors in Zambia – they have a population of 10 million.”

David is talking about how when he was growing up in Ireland there was a culture of ‘giving a penny for the black babies.’ “There was a culture of giving aid that everyone from the UK or Ireland will have grown up with,” he says.

He then asks her how did she come up with the idea that aid was wrong?

“I went to a school in Zambia and then I went to do a PhD in Harvard, and I started to work in Goldman Sachs and the World Bank. I would wonder why there weren’t any other Africans around. I started thinking about that.”

Dambisa describes how she increasingly came round to thinking about the idea of aid in Africa and began to draw her own conclusions.

“Please understand that your approach to helping not only isn’t making things better, it’s making things worse,” she says. “I know people are genuine nice people, and that they want to be supportive and want to help though.”

Why did you think aid methods were retarding efforts to help Africa, David asks.


Dambisa says that when she was marketing the book she kept thinking of her ’10 reasons why aid is bad’, and she’s going to mention a few of them.

“Corruption firstly obviously,” she says. “A lot of the money is siphoned off. Then there’s the dead burden, it means that if we’re having to pay off loans, there’s issues around inflation, and there’s the idea of Dutch disease obviously –  the dollar or other currency floods that country’s market and makes everything so expensive that it kills off trade. What’s more it kills off local manufacturing.”


Dambisa ad that she was very grateful for Rwanda’s President Kagame’s support when the book came out as she had her fair share of haters too.

She quotes what Kagame said in an article he wrote about aid: “No one should ever believe that they care more for Africa than the Africans themselves.” 

She goes on saying, “Our understanding that aid was going to be temporary, it was not supposed to be an open-ended commitment.”

What’s the most critical reason that aid is bad, David asks. Dambisa quotes Kagame again: “It’s about dignity. Unless we have a say on the international stage, we’ll always be viewed as less.”

She goes on to explain how aid ‘breaks the democratic contract in many ways:

“There’s an implict contract in democracy. Democracy says ‘you’ pay taxes, and I deliver roads, I deliver hospitals, and if you’re not happy with that you don’t vote for me again. But these governments are getting money from outside and so that cuts off that contract between the government and its people,” she says. “African government’s exploit it.”

There’s a couple of different types of aid. Humanitarian aid, I think of the woman in Zambia in a tree during a flood.

There’s NGO aid, which is work to grow and help countries through

“Then there’s government-to-government aid, or IMF and World Bank aid, it’s clearly fungible and opens things up to corruption. That government-to-government aid – which is the aid I take most issue with in my book –  is creating instability that eventually leads to things such as the current migration crisis. In over 300 years no country in the world has achieved success or put a dent in debt thanks to aid.”

“The question we need to ask is why is aid an open-ended commitment?” Dambisa says.

“Asian countries have done what African countries have not done – they’ve said they don’t want to take the aid, they are willing to trade but they will no longer accept aid.”


David mixes his metaphors and puts it to Dambisa that her book ‘kicked a hornet’s nest’, and Dambisa acknowledges this.

“Aid is a religion,” she says. ” You’re tapping into people’s real emotional need.”

The opening line to my book is ‘we live in a culture of aid’.

Dambisa ends by saying that there were people who were set against her book and truly hated her – some who may be arriving tomorrow she adds, alluding no doubt to a certain band aid and Boomtown Rats member.

She says that people thought they could shut her down and shut her up. “They were wrong.”