It was last December, in a cozy Ann Arbor bookstore, that I first came across the book “The Shadow of the Sun.” I had finished all the previous books on my list (even succumbing to the chick-lit turned spiritual journey chronicle, “Eat Pray Love”) and decided to pick this one up and read it.

I was floored by its depth and detail. Written by famed Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, “The Shadow of the Sun” outlines the tumultuous growing pains of the African continent in wrenching itself from the jaws of colonialism. In the mid-late 20th century, African leaders from Senegal to Ethiopia, from Eritrea to Mauritania, and Sudan to South Africa forged independent states through  armed uprisings and bloody coups. The tragedy being that many of these liberation struggles did not result in emancipation from greed, exploitation, and poverty. Instead, colonial leaders were merely supplanted by corrupt natives.

What I found most fascinating about this book was the author’s descriptions of the sometidead_aidmes detrimental role played by foreign aid. Wars were waged over grains of rice and packets of dry milk. Hungry adolescents were easily convinced by powerful warlords to snatch aid away from the neediest to fuel their armies.

Apparently, not too much has changed.  This very debate about the efficacy of aid has recently been raging through foreign policy blogs, online newspapers, and even talk shows. The ignitor of this debate is Zambian businesswoman, Dambisa Moyo, who argues in her new book,”Dead Aid,” that foreign aid has plunged Africa into a state of permanent dependency and painful inefficiency. Moyo’s primary arguement – over the past 60 years, a whopping 1 trillion dollars have graced the continent in the form of aid, ultimately, to amount to nothing.

While NGOs such as Mercy Corps and other activists have immediately countered suggestions of reducing emergency and long-term humanitarian aid, Moyo defends her point. She points to the fact that few African governments have developed sustainable policies to bring their countries out of abject poverty. Why?  Because, Moyo argues, NGOs do the job for them – albeit on a relatively small scale. She faults celebrities like Bono, who’ve projected themselves as the public face for African development, for allowing African leaders to shirk their elected responsibilities.

Moyo also cites rampant inflation, debt, bureaucracy, corruption and general government indifference all as residual aftermath of unyielding foreign aid.

So how have aid advocates responded?

The ONE Campaign released a statement thanking Moyo for her efforts while making the following counterpoints:

  • Since 2002, more than 2 million Africans who might have otherwise died are on life-saving anti-retroviral medication;
  • Between 2005 and 2007, malaria cases and related deaths in Rwanda and Ethiopia were more than cut in half thanks to a dramatic increase in bed nets and access to anti-malaria medication.
  • Since 1999, 34 million more African children are going to school for the first time.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs has backed the sentiments of the ONE Campaign, arguing that effective, grassroots, and sustainable aid should not be the victim of this debate. In a recent Huffington Post article, Sachs lambasts Moyo, attempting to expose the inefficiencies of her argument:

“The purpose of aid should indeed be to break the poverty trap through targeted investments in an African Green Revolution; disease control; children’s education; core infrastructure of roads, power, safe drinking water and sanitation, and broadband; and business development, including micro-finance and rural diversification among impoverished smallholder farmers.”

While Moyo’s stance may seem radical to some, I support her efforts in unleashing debate and interest that would otherwise not have been raised. The fact of the matter is the amount of aid dollars cluelessly being dumped into Africa has contributed to a complex political scenario, difficult to disentangle.

While the victor of this debate is yet to be seen, one thing remains clear:  foreign aid must be re-evaluated to hold all parties accountable for creating more sustainable, equitable growth in Africa.

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