- The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa, and: The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working
Debate over the efficacy of foreign aid in Africa has featured passionate arguments from scholars and other stakeholders. The loudest and most persistent voices have been those of former aid workers and IMF and World Bank officers, like the authors of these two books. Despite the repetitiveness of most of the arguments, these books further the debate, particularly now that the world’s economy is generally prosperous, while Africa remains known for high rates of poverty and disease, and corrupt and insensitive governments.1 The search for solutions to these problems has left little choice but to take a hard look at aid, one of the principal ways that Africa’s economic development has been funded. After more than half a century of aid to the [End Page 97] continent, scholars and experts are bemused by the amount of progress that Africa has made. Is foreign aid really helping or hurting African developmental endeavors? Are foreign-aid problems caused by the donors (rich and industrialized nations, international financial institutions, charitable organizations) or by the recipients (African governments)? Who benefits from foreign aid—government officials or civil society? The disappointment of how little development has been achieved with so much aid, bluntly identifying the roadblocks, and purposefully suggesting ways to stop the “bleeding” are common threads that run through both books reviewed here.
The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid isn’t Working (henceforth The Trouble with Africa) documents how African leaders have made policy choices that run counter to their people’s well being, and how international financial institutions have been complicit in these choices, even in their bid to offer pertinent options, including foreign aid. The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa (henceforth The Trouble with Aid) argues that official aid to African governments and financial institutions has many harmful effects and has actually increased poverty; however, unlike most harsh criticisms of foreign aid, it take no extreme position in the debate, but suggests that African governments and institutions reduce the amount they accept. These books reveal the contextuality of aid in Africa, with nuances of how governments corrupt donors’ good intentions, and they provide useful suggestions. Both books adopt a systematic approach (from defining the problem, through presenting observations, to proffering recommendations), and The Trouble with Africa draws on thirty years’ experience of living and working as an international development expert in sub-Saharan Africa, yet this characteristic by no means singles it out from a plethora of books that recount or incorporate a foreign-aid officer’s expert encounters.2 This review therefore looks at not only the arguments that these books put forward, but the fresh material they bring to the debate.
In The Trouble with Africa, Robert Calderisi bases his arguments on personal observations, contacts, and conversations gathered over the course of his career. His sample frame ranges from “small guys” (farmers) to “big-men” (heads of states). He sets the tone for the book as one that is “blunt” and “direct,” and he states that “Africa is now responsible for its own problems, and that outsiders can help only if they are more direct and demanding in the relations” (p. 7). Though his accounts reflect the painful truth about Africa’s leaders and their unproductive exploits, his assertions run tangential to the current tide of arguments by “aid optimists.” Attempts by these scholars at turning away the wave of “aid pessimism” that peaked in the 1990s are gaining traction as foreign aid to Africa has increased.3
Calderisi divides the book into four parts, filled with imagery and anecdotes of his encounters in Africa. Part one broadly presents Africa’s underdevelopment, touching on its entrenched attitude of “searching for excuses.” Chapters three and four introduce...