Ever heard of the ‘development-aid debate’? Well unless you are a follower of politics, news, or a scholar of the humanities, you may not recognize the debate in so many words. While the average African citizen has most likely questioned the motives of international agencies dishing out aid and the method used in dishing out aid to developing countries which constitute most of the continent, the layman wouldn’t necessarily term it the ‘development aid debate’. Terminology aside, it is one and the same thing, and this debate is what Arrey E. Ntui delves into with his inaugural publication Murdering Poverty: How to fix aid.
With this book, Ntui sets out to offer a simple, creative rendition of the development aid debate and initiatives for the turnaround of aid for the successful ‘murder of poverty. The author situates his book within the fields of development, development economics and international relations. However there is no definition of these concepts nor is there a guiding theory for his debate within these fields. On the contrary, in certain areas the author proposes his own theories, and creates analogies to better outline his personal opinions on the topic. It is exactly as he states at introduction, his creative take on this long-winding debate.
With a mixture of casual language and political jargon Ntui resurrects arguments against donor aid as we know it under the subheading ‘The 24 Sins of Development Aid’. He goes on to assess the possible efficiency of the 0.7% aid target which was set by developed countries (and is yet to met) for donations to the global south.
The author makes three main arguments; poor people as a result of their poverty have certain characteristics which contribute to their continued predicament, Africa cannot be developed from the outside, and aid must be a two-way street as the African continent has a lot to contribute to other countries as well. As the work is not written with academic guidelines in mind, there is little in terms of method or evidence to prove the veracity of these arguments.
Nonetheless the author’s values (and this is a very value-laden piece of work) are clear; the African continent cannot continue to be a short-sighted recipient of aid. Our dependency on aid as is robs us of our dignity and nothing is worth that. If the reader had yet to comprehend his stance, the author closes off by drawing lessons from a fable, specifically the Churchill-Fleming myth, which illustrates both the power of being charitable as well as the necessity of that charity being given and received with finite principles. Principles which would assure the benefactor as well as the beneficiaries are satisfied and fulfilled at the end of the day, the aid being fully thought out.
Frankly, I would have preferred some theoretical background showing what has been covered thus far by scholars and clear outlines of what the author agrees/disagrees with. I would have liked more of a Cameroonian take. The use of Cameroon to illustrate problems with aid and practical suggestion on how Cameroonians need to approach aid. This of course would be the scholarly approach, not what the author had in mind.. This was an attempt at offering the layman a simplistic and creative perspective of this global debate is laudable and the author is commended for it. We definitely need a “Development Aid for Dummies” book; something you can give young people who hunger to know more but are put off by the long string of citations and academic lingo. Necessary though this is, it is far from easy to achieve. It is difficult to simplify and condense arguments on development aid which cut across geo-politics, economics, sociology, history and international relations and in my opinion the author fell short of his laudable goal.
In avoiding theoretical jargon the author still used political lingo, analogies to Shakespeare, and made references to theories and schools of thought which are not common knowledge. Midway into the book, I was grateful for background knowledge on development theory and literary devices, they undoubtedly facilitated the read. As such I felt the book should come with a warning: If you have followed the development aid debate and would like the unique opinion of a not-so anti-intellectual Cameroonian, here you go 🙂
In all, Murdering Poverty makes a unique contribution to wider literature on development aid, offering a casual op-ed style to an overly drab and serious topic which concerns us all.