It was standing room only during Damisa Moyo's lecture on friday at the Veerstichting, a student organisation in Leiden. Just like on Wednesday in
Her book, Dead Aid, in which she makes the case against development aid, propelled her to The New York Times best sellers list early this year. Time magazine included Moyo (40) among the 100 most influential people on earth. African leaders ask for her advice. Everywhere she goes she creates a sensation, including in the Netherlands, where her book has just been published in the Dutch translation.
'She's cute'The question is why. The criticism that development aid isn't working, or is counterproductive, is almost as old as development aid itself. And experts have torn Moyo's book apart because of its juggled statistics, one-sided interpretations and lack of a credible alternative to development aid.
Ton Dietz, scientific director of the institute for development issues at the
Farah Karimi, director of
Karimi compares Moyo to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch anti-Islamcrusader. "In the end, what has Hirsi Ali really accomplished with her harsh criticism of Islam? She offered few solutions for the integration issue, and she polarised people. Who still talks about her now?"
Dietz is afraid the media's portrayal of Moyo as an expert has undermined the support base for development aid at a time when more nuance is what is needed.
'Very naive story'
The Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) is about to publish an evaluation of 60 years of Dutch development aid. Politicians and aid organisations are preparing for a debate about the fundamentals of policies. Development minister Bert Koenders has anticipated the criticism by announcing his own cuts in what he called the "aid industry". The right-wing liberals in the Dutch parliament want development aid cut by half; the anti-immigrant
Jan Willem Gunning, a professor of
Gunning: "It is good that Moyo's African voice is being heard, because until now the debate has been monopolised by white men like me." He thinks readers will see Dead Aid for what it's worth. "My students browse through it to stay up to date, but they are not fundamentally changing their opinion because of it."
But Dietz is more worried about disgruntled voters who will never read Dead Aid or attend a Moyo debate, but only remember the sound-bites they picked up on the internet. He compares Moyo with Dutch anti-immigrant politician
The subject of all this controversy sighs deeply when she is confronted with the criticism. Then she responds like she does during all her public appearances: driven, firm and self-assured. "I stand by everything I have written in Dead Aid," she says. "Western countries have had their chance in Africa. It is time for different solutions."