Watch out Bono, here comes Moyo

Bono, the U2 singer, believes that western nations should give aid to Africa. Dambisa Moyo does not. Dambisa_Moyo She may not be as famous as Bono, but just wait. The Zambian-born, Oxford-educated economist is going places — and making a lot of people sweat.

Galled by the ease with which Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist and former investment banker, has suddenly risen to prominence this year, activists are circulating detailed critiques of her ideas and mass mailing African non-government organisations to mobilise support against her.

Yet it is proving hard to suppress the hyperactive graduate of Oxford and Harvard, who pops up weekly in a new capital to promote her book Dead Aid– the title itself an affront to rock star Bob Geldof's Live Aid campaigns.

The former Goldman Sachs strategist has become something of a phenomenon. In April, she hit the New York Times bestseller list; this month she was named on Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people, and has been appointed to the board of brewer SAB Miller.

Within days of reading about her, Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president, flew Ms Moyo out to address his government. This month, Col Muammar Gadaffi, the Libyan leader, invited her to Tripoli. [Link]

Dambisa, please don't go to Tripoli. Gadaffi may say he's interested in your ideas, but what do you think he said to those other pretty women he invited to Tripoli? Trust me, you aren't going to sell a lot of books with the name "Dambisa Gadaffi."

Broadly, Ms Moyo argues that official development assistance has fostered dependency and perpetuated poor governance. She proposes a blend of commercial debt, microfinance, fairer trade and investment in its place.

Her ideas are not especially new. But the publicity she has attracted poses challenges to an industry accustomed to having the most vocal campaigners on its side. Activists fear that in Ms Moyo, developed countries seeking an excuse to slash aid budgets, have found one at a time that Africa is especially in need. They dismiss her book as simplistic – even dangerous. Some critics claim her ideas are gaining prominence because of the novelty of a passionate, young African woman taking on the aid establishment. [Link]

She's not just young and passionate, she's also smart, attractive and eloquent, a deadly combination. Not that I agree with her. I think that aid can work — if it goes to the right projects, if it doesn't end up in politicians' pockets. Those are big IFs. Here's a bigger IF: Bono could easily win a debate against Moyo – if she happens to have a bad case of laryngitis.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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