Lunch with the FT: Dambisa Moyo

William Wallis – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
…Parts of Africa, we agree, between mouthfuls of tagliolini, have begun to turn the corner. It is not that poverty has been falling in any way fast enough to merit champagne (she settles for a glass of chardonnay and I order rosé), nor that its causes and symptoms have shown signs of going away. But as China and other emerging powers have competed for opportunities and resources overlooked by former colonial powers, the price for the commodities on which many African economies depend began to rise. In turn this revitalised the interest of European and American investors. Africa – or parts of it – was looking like the last great frontier market, and private capital from across the world started responding – albeit in amounts that only scratched the continent’s needs.
There is, also, a hopeful generation of younger Africans, Moyo among them, who straddle many worlds – Kenyans call them “Afropolitans.” Some of them have seized the opportunity to become intermediaries, harnessing both foreign and local capital and putting it to productive use.
All this has begun to provide African countries with financing alternatives to what Moyo sees as the deadening inefficiency of money-for-nothing western aid. “Africa has new trading partners. It doesn’t have to grovel to the west,” she says, bluntly.
Her book contains a damning assessment of the failures of 60 years of western development programmes, but also focuses on an alternative path. This blends micro-finance and changes to property laws with a grasp of the immense opportunity and freedom that shifting global trade patterns, Chinese investment in infrastructure and bond markets could represent for Africa.
“There has been more private capital coming into Africa; more African countries have been issuing bonds. There are the Chinese … Africa has turned a corner. Now it’s about closing the deal,” she insists with characteristic optimism and a slice of Parma ham, delivered as an amuse-gueule between courses.
Even so, despite hopes that many African economies are better-prepared to weather this global recession than recessions past, recent signs have hardly been encouraging. Mines are closing, markets crashing and foreign money has been reversing out. Even the Chinese, whose appetite for African resources and markets seemed set on accelerating auto-pilot, are slowing down. The most cynical theory I’ve come across in London is that the exuberance about Africa last year was itself the surest warning that investors had overshot the mark and the great global bubble was about to burst.
I suggest to Moyo that it is hardly realistic at this point for African governments to tell their foreign donors to get lost, and go courting international bond markets – a key component of the world without aid that Moyo outlines in Dead Aid.
She is unfazed, her belief in the ultimate power of free markets apparently unshaken by the prevailing gloom. I’m also stirred from darkening thoughts by the arrival of the second course – I chose John Dory, one of the more outlandish-looking fish in British waters. It comes with “a thyme chicken reduction”, which sounds like a discount but must, on reflection, have been a stock or a sauce (there was certainly no sign of a discount – the bill was equal to the per capita gross domestic product of Congo). She has the line-caught sea bass, with white beans, spiced tomato sauce and chipirones.
Moyo’s optimism is counterintuitive and starts with the credit crisis itself – “a great opportunity for Africa,” she says. Yes, there are real and worrying problems emerging, she agrees, and she has just returned from Zambia, where state revenues have been hit by the collapsing price of copper, the country’s main export…”
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