Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Bitter-Sweet Chocolate: The Latest Kickshaw of Lazy Journalists

Posted in African Politics, Global Africa, Reviews by ruben eberlein on June 23, 2009

This is the stuff that many media in the West love to publish: Dead Aid, the book by Zambian academic Dambisa Moyo, advocates a stop of all development finances to Africa. The German monthly magazine Cicero for instance, in its July edition, exercises itself in prose dedicated to the beautiful, young exotic coming from the dark, wild continent in a heroic mission.

Cicero is proud of its authors which are certainly considered by the editors to constitute the crème de la crème of keen thinkers. Peter Sloterdijk, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Peter Scholl-Latour (who called in the monthly for the nuclear armament of Germany in 2007) write here. So it does not come as a big surprise that writer Christine Brinck likes the provocative theses by Moyo a lot.

What is to some extend surprising, however, is the racist/exotic gaze of her piece entitled Development Aid Destroys Africa: Moyo’s name, Brinck opens her article, ‘sounds like chocolate, and she is indeed looking like that. Coffee-brown, long hair, graceful figure with high heels, wrapped in an elegant dress.’ This is surely a much more pleasant appearance than the old ‘white men’ which are said to be guilty of a ‘colonisation of the African debate’.

I did not read Moyo’s book yet, but it is fair to say that it kicked off a German debate that is obsessed with dead-simple messages in response to a complex problem. If one discusses development aid (about which is much to say indeed), it is not possible to ignore capital flight, unfair trade relations, the forced opening of African markets by the neo-liberal warriors, the connection between aid and worthwhile orders to companies from the West etc.

If Moyo discusses these aspects I cannot say, but they are plainly not present in the public discussion surrounding the book. This biased debate, in the end only serving the anti-‘Gutmenschentum’ (starry-eyed idealism) attitude en vogue for some time now, should unsettle her if she is really concerned about the socio-economic development of the continent.

4 Responses

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  1. africagrows said, on June 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Hello Ruben, your comments are interesting and I’m curious to hear about the impact of this book in Germany as well; it has certainly caused a stir in the US and the UK!

    You are right that Moyo’s book is simplistic and generalized and tries to present very complex debates to the general public in layperson’s terms. That said, I think it is a “good” book in that it has sparked a healthy debate about aid, not only among the average joe listening to the BBC (even my father has heard about this book!), but also of course providing fodder for the ongoing Easterly–Sachs rift in the development debate.

    To address your point, the book do not cover “the forced opening of African markets by the neo-liberal warriors.” Moyo doesn’t talk at all about the trade and capital account liberalization that has been forced on many developing countries as a result of the IMFs SAPs and the Washington Consensus. It also does not address “unfair trade relations” either; it is very much in the “rising tide raises all boats” category and doesn’t say much about income inequality.

    I hope you do read the book so we can continue the discussion.

    • ruben eberlein said, on June 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks for these informations. Just ordered the book and will publish a review here. So stay tuned.

  2. Heike said, on June 29, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Dear Ruben,

    the Cicero piece was really incredible sexist etc., thanks for picking it up.

    f.y.i.: a smart review of Dambisa Moyo’s book was done right after publishing by her former Oxford economics professor Paul Collier for The Independent – I think it’s a fair, intelligent and adequately harsh review:

    cheers, Heike

    • ruben eberlein said, on June 29, 2009 at 6:30 pm

      That’s a good pointer, thanks a lot, Heike.

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