Live Aid, Dead Aid and Smart Aid

31/07/2010 at 4:57 pm 6 comments

“Live Aid”

This year saw the 25th anniversary of “Live Aid”, the 1985, “multi-venue” concert organised to raise funds for the relief of the famine in Ethiopia. For many people in the West, Live Aid was a seismic event, mobilising energy and funds on a scale not seen before – the concerts raised some £150 million.

The Live Aid Legacy, however, may not be all that positive, in that it was built on, and helped promote, an unbalanced picture of “third world” doom and disaster. Opinion polls of recent years have shown that for many, the mention of Africa triggers images of helplessness and hopelessness – images that in some ways are being fuelled by aid agencies.

The 2005 version of the Live Aid concerts tried to correct this. Billed as “Live8, 10 concerts featuring over 1000 musicians from across the globe – “asked people not for their money, but for their voice” in support of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. This time, the emphasis was not on charity, but on Development.

“Dead Aid”

This is the title of a book published by Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, which declares that “billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations” have not helped to reduce poverty and increase growth. She argues that aid “has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world”.

As so much else in the book, this is an over-statement, but her argument that aid can have negative effect on the political and economic situation of a country is valid. There most certainly are problems with the current aid system, although closer analysis of the problems listed by Moyo show that her claims are exaggerated.

While it may, therefore, produce good sound bites when Dambisa Moyo claims aid is a disaster, the truth is that most aid is not a failure at all. The key issue is not to expect more from aid than it can deliver.

The truth is that much of today’s international aid is given in ways that suit the donors, more than it suits the recipients. Contrary to the popular belief that the main purpose of aid is to assist the poor, “substantial evidence points to political, strategic and welfare interest of donors countries as the driving force behind aid programmes”.

Rather than conclude, on the basis of this fundamental problem with today’s overseas aid, that we must end aid – like Moyo advocates – the solution should be to make aid work for the poor. Aid needs to be made smarter.

Smart aid

“Smart aid” is:

  • Sufficient in scale and delivered in a predictable manner;
  • Measurable so taxpayers and recipients can see results;
  • Accountable to the poor for whom it is intended;
  • Responsibly managed and coordinated at the highest level of donor governments;
  • Transparent in presentation to allow scrutiny by civil society.

Ireland’s development NGOs are actively engaged in the international debate about making aid more effective. A debate that is not helped by simple one-liners à la Moyo, but that needs to be based on a genuine concern to do our utmost to end the scandal of extreme poverty. Don’t expect miracles, but do let us know if you have suggestions on how we can do better.

Reactions to “Dead Aid”

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Entry filed under: Development Effectiveness, Government, MDGs, Overseas aid. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Linda Raftree, Linda Raftree, Linda Raftree, Josep Maria Miró, Tom Murphy and others. Tom Murphy said: +1 😉 RT @meowtree: I like the tone of #SmartAid better than patronizing tone of #LiveAid & extreme tone of #DeadAid. […]

  • […] Live Aid, Dead Aid, and Smart Aid – Dochas Network – A look at three different representations of aid. […]

  • 3. Clare  |  02/08/2010 at 1:57 pm

    First off, let me say that I’m not an economist. I read Dambisa Moyo’s book and thought she made many valid points. $1 TRILLION of aid has been poured into developing African economies and we’ve very little to show for it. There are huge amounts of waste and corruption. It stifles entrepreneurship and cripples enterprise. It creates a culture of dependency. I’m not sure that either Moyo or those who advocate endless streams of aid are entirely correct. But, I do think it’s worthwhile to honestly address the limitations of aid and Moyo’s book ia a great way to do that.

    P.S. I reviewed the book here, if you’d like to take a look. (

  • […] not gotten any deeper or more realistic in most cases than the 30 second television commercials or LiveAid concerts that shaped perceptions of the developing world 25 years ago. The myth of the simple story and […]

  • […] not gotten any deeper or more realistic in most cases than the 30 second television commercials or LiveAid concerts that shaped perceptions of the developing world 25 years ago. The myth of the simple story and […]

  • 6. Owen Barder  |  09/02/2011 at 1:53 pm

    @Clare – I’d be interested if you can find evidence to support the claim that $1 trillion of aid has been given to Africa. (Dambisa Moyo makes this claim but, like much else in her book, her facts are wrong.)

    According to OECD DAC statistics, since aid began in the 1960s donors have given a grand total of $502 billion to sub-Saharan Africa, which is worth about $866 billion in today’s prices. (Table 29; excludes debt relief.)

    The G-20 countries have, over the whole history of aid, given less aid to sub-Saharan Africa than they spent on fiscal stimulus in the single year of 2009.

    The surprise is not that we have little to show for the aid we have given, but that developing countries have achieved so much with so little.



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