Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The spat between Dambisa Moyo and Bill Gates and its relevance to Mrs Kenyatta’s #BeyondZero

So Bill Gates claimed that Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid ‘promotes evil’ and that she knows little about aid. And Dr Moyo responded (in her blog) that she got a PhD in economics and wide experience, how about Bill?

Reading through the articles about this confrontation, I couldn’t help but relate with the ongoing debate in Kenya regarding the appropriateness of the #BeyondZero campaign aiming to mobilise donations to improve maternal health sponsored by Kenya’s 1st Lady Mrs Kenyatta. There are those who laud the good lady for such a noble initiative. Then there are those like my friend Rita Oyier who rightfully ask: ‘Why should I pay taxes then run again” – alluding to the fact that if public finances were better managed, we would not need marathons and donations to fund maternal health.

The tragedy with the aid debate remains the fact that there are a bunch of skeptics (the likes of Bill Easterly and Dambisa Moyo) on one side and another lot of maniacs (the likes of Sachs and Gates) on the other end shouting at the top of their voices and preventing honest, factual debate on aid.  We know that neither of them is absolutely right.

Whilst aid has alleviated suffering (especially in humanitarian crises), improved infrastructure and promoted better institutions for governance and management of the public sector in Sub-Sahara; it has also distracted governments from effective Domestic Resource Mobilisation, economic diversification, or private sector development that would provide sustainable solutions to the problems aid has dealt with.

But aid skeptics (like Dambisa Moyo) fail to provide practical, logical, credible alternatives.

Dr Moyo benefited from aid in the form of scholarship to earn her Havard education (like many Africans continue to do). Bill Gates should know that countries like Burundi have up to 40% of their budgets funded by Official Development Assistance not because they cannot increase domestic revenues but more because aid has been made available.  

So calling aid ‘dead’ (Dr Moyo) or claiming that the book ‘Dead Aid’ promotes evil (Gates) does not help.

On the Kenyan example re - #BeyondZero. I think the campaign is well intended but the First lady could use her influence (being the person who goes to bed every night with the holder of the policy pen), to institutionalize a stronger, more effective and sustainable solution to financing maternal health in Kenya. 
She could begin with sponsoring a bill to increase and ring-fence maternal health funding in the annual budget. 
What happens when another 1st lady comes who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about maternal health? Michael Jackson and a constellation of stars sang ‘We are the world’ in 1995 to mobilise resources for Sudan. Is the problem solved today? Billions of dollars was donated to support Haiti after the devastating earthquake, but has the problem been addressed?

I am for complementarity. Neither aid nor the market/growth focused approaches will succeed in isolation. But if we complement prudent Public Finance Management with effective development cooperation, we have a chance. 

My 2pence!