The Rise & Rise Of An African: Dambisa Moyo

Many Africans succumb to the idea that they can’t do things because of what society says… Images of Africa are negative – war, corruption, poverty. We need to be proud of our culture.

-Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Felicia Moyo is a world renowned global economist and a four-time New York Times BestSelling author whose work challenges the effects of financial aid on Africa. Dambisa was born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1969 at a time when many African countries, Zambia included, had just achieved independence. It was a hopeful and dignifying time for Africa, many Zambians had big dreams which Dambisa’s father sought to achieve  by moving his young family to America in order to further his studies after graduating from the University of Zambia. After 8 years of living, working and studying in the States, the Moyo family moved back to Zambia where Dambisa had most of her schooling done, a fact that she is most explicitly proud of. “This is a great continent. I went to primary school in this continent, secondary school, university. I’ve worked on this continent” she says, “and I think that it is a great disservice that, for whatever reason, people have usurped an image of Africa that is absolutely incorrect.”

Having spent the majority of her younger years in Zambia. Dambisa was exposed to the harsh economic realities that Africa faces early on in her life. Dumbisa’s family was of diverse origins, each member coming from different parts of colonial Africa, which not only meant they mainly communicated in English but it also brought a larger perspective to her about the different economic struggles faced in different parts of Africa. At the time of its independence, Zambia had adopted an economic policy that was aimed at making the county self-sufficient by replacing foreign imports with domestic production. The plan worked in its earlier years but by the mid-70’s Zambia’s economy saw an excessive decline. Growing up in an educated family that would occasionally discuss African politics and economics over dinner and being exposed to Zambia’s economic crises are a few factors that have molded the woman Dambisa would become. A woman who was first inspired to change her country’s approach to economics but went on to reshape the world of economics today. 

After high school, Moyo studied chemistry in the University of Zambia but her studies were interrupted when an unsuccessful coup triggered a series of events that would cause the downfall of then President Kenneth Kaunda and trigger Dambisa’s departure from Zambia to the USA in 1990. On a scholarship to the American University in Washington DC, Dambisa obtained her BS in Chemistry which was then followed by an MBA in Finance. Furthermore, in 1997 she obtained a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree at Harvard and lastly, in 2002, she earned her PHD in Economics at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, England. Dambisa’s academic achievements are of no small feat and are evidence of the ardent student she was and continues to be. “I have dedicated many years to economic study up to the PhD level, to analyze and understand the inherent weaknesses of aid, and why aid policies have consistently failed to deliver on economic growth and poverty alleviation. To this, I add my experience working as a consultant at the World Bank, and being born and raised in Zambia, one of the poorest aid-recipients in the world. This first-hand knowledge and experience has highlighted for me the legacy of failures of aid, and provided me with a unique understanding of not only the failures of the aid system but also of the tools for what could bring African economic success.”

After completing her MBA, Moyo worked at the world bank for 2 years (1993-1995), as a consultant in the Europe, Central Asia and Africa department and she co-authored the World Bank’s annual World Development Report. Her MPA, PHD together with her impressive co-authorship afforded Dambisa an opportunity of a lifetime when in 2001 she joined Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment firms in the world, as a research economist and strategist. Here she worked mainly in debt capital markets, hedge funds coverage, and global macroeconomics until November 2008. As part of her tenure there she advised developing countries on the issuing of bonds on the international market and she was also head of Economic Research and Strategy for Sub–Saharan Africa. After leaving Goldman Sachs, Moyo worked on several boards starting with SABMiller, where she was chairman of the company’s Corporate Accountability and Risk Assurance Committee (CARAC), overseeing the company’s responsibilities in relation to corporate accountability. Then she went on to join the board of directors at Barclays Bank, Barrick Gold, Seagate Technology, Chevron Corporation. In August 2018, Moyo was elected to the board of 3M Company sitting on its Audit and Finance committees. 

In 2009, Dambisa Moyo wrote and published her first book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa which flung her into the spotlight after becoming the first of what would be four of her New York Times bestsellers. At this point she became a much sought after speaker, specialist and author, who was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, she became one of TIME’s 100 and, she was recognized as one of Oprah Winfrey’s “20 remarkable visionaries”. The book prompted her worldwide travel as she investigated, analysed and lodged her findings on the economic situations of many developing countries. In 2011, she wrote the second book; ‘How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly – And the Stark Choices that Lie Ahead’. Her third book came the following year, entitled ‘Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World’. Moyo’s most recent book was published in 2018, entitled ‘Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth – and How to Fix It.’ 

While her books have earned her prominent recognition, it is her public speaking that has stretched her influence  thus far as she continues to give talks to some of the most prominent audiences in the world. Moyo is justifiably one of the fiercest economics in the world to date, her books and lectures have baited much criticism and resistance from both Africa and America. Many people view her stance on how aid is crippling more than helping Africa as ingratitude. Moyo, however, points out that “aid has inadvertently caused endemic corruption, civil wars and ever economic stagnation in many African countries.” She argues that many government systems in Africa have problems with stability because of their use of Western methods of resolution that do not fit the problems Africa is faced with. 

There is scarcely anything more powerful in the world than a woman who is unafraid to stand by what she believes in. No matter how much controversy her arguments have sparked, how much criticism and discomfort, Moyo does not bend to the will of the distinguished forces who take offense to her opinions. Backed up by her education, experience and world economic insight, Dambisa Moyo calls Africa to stand on its own feet and tackle its own problems without looking outwardly for assistance on domestic matters. Africa’s issues with aid reach beyond its links to corruption, it is also the perpetual childlike state our continent finds itself in when it embodies the charity case image that the world perceives of it. 

As the proverb goes,“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” Let us not waste any more time. Africa’s moment, and our moment, is now. Dambisa encourages us as Africans to have a more deeper and direct involvement in setting our own developmental course. Her life is an example of the great feats we can achieve through education, hardwork and dedication in our chosen craft. She maintains a future focused mindset for Africa, acknowledging the difficulties it will take to truly achieve economic independence but emphasizing its necessity. As a proud African woman with foresight of what the continent is capable of, Dambisa Moyo has never given up hope that Africa can and will be liberated by their own will of fire. What tree we could not plant 20 years ago, we have the seed to start now. What will you do with yours?

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