A woman who said ‘something’ important…

...in 2009; this woman said something important. Maybe she was wrong, maybe she was right - but I'm just glad she had the guts to say it!(pic by lfla.org)

The name ‘Dambisa Moyo’ is one I vaguely recall hearing here and there, but my disinterest was such that I cannot even pinpoint where or when. I just have a fuzzy notion that the name has been said in my hearing on many an occasion.

Until recently; it is not one that would have piqued my interest, never mind galvanizing me into writing an entire blogpost on her.

This sudden interest was sparked by the fact that I befriended a Chartered Accountant a while ago and he is an engaging conversationalist whose only fault is that he just won’t shut up about how remarkable Dambisa Moyo is.

Now seeing as how Dambisa Moyo’s awesomeness was becoming a recurring conversational theme and how she was a constant reference point in our discussions- I thought it wise to find out who the hell this woman really was and what all the fuss was about!

Well, I did my research and I still cannot answer who the hell she is but I think I have a good idea what all the fuss is about.

If you’re really interested in specificities regarding Dambisa Moyo you are welcome to ‘google’ her; I am not really writing authoritatively on her – so for the purposes of this post I’ll identify her as Zambian-born author and economist.

Now, I am not an economist, have never been particularly concerned with that field of study and having come across the storm of controversy Dambisa Moyo’s books have stirred – I think I should read around the subject a bit.

A disclaimer before I go on – I have NOT read Dambisa Moyo’s books (I hope to do so soon) hence the title of my post… as far as I know she is a woman who said ‘something’ important in one or both of her books. I say ‘something’ because I have no idea what exactly she said I am just convinced it was important.

The reason why I think she said something important is because while doing my research I came across a lot of praise for her book and insights on economics, Africa, aid and what-not. The praise was lavish and made for some entertaining reading.

However, it was the harsh criticism that really caught my attention. Oh, didn’t they just shred her, tear her to bits and pieces, flog and flay her views; stamp and spit and spew venom in response to whatever she had opined in her book (specifically Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa published in 2009).

It was the criticism, the meanness and the vileness of it that convinced me (as nothing else would have) that this woman said something important. Again I am not at liberty to state categorically what the important thing she said is for the reasons given above.

I am just of the opinion that you have to have said something pretty damn important to grab that kind of attention, stir that sort of controversy and attract that kind of brutal criticism.

Sometimes even when what we have to say is wrong… if it is important – it will get a reaction precisely because its wrongness points to what is right. I don’t know if that’s the case with Dambisa Moyo but a lot of learned people disagree vehemently with her and a lot of equally learned ones agree with her views.

Whatever it is they are quarrelling about (what do I know about economics?) – it must mean she said something important.

Below are quotes from various reviewers including Donor Organizations on the contentious matter of Dambisa Moyo’s writing:

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who advocates scrapping aid to Africa, creates a sensation wherever she goes. Her critics say she is nothing but a media hype, but she is nevertheless an African voice in a debate dominated by white men. – Critics dismiss Dambisa Moyo as 'media hype'

One suspects that behind this book is a remarkable woman with an impressive career and very little time for learning how to write a good book. The result is an erratic, breathless sweep through aid history and current policy options for Africa, sprinkled with the odd statistic. There are so many generalisations skidding over decades of history, such frequent pre-emptory glib conclusions, that it is likely to leave you dizzy with silent protest. This is Moyo at her weakest; she is an economist by training and her grasp of the political economy of Africa is lamentable. Time and again, she fails to grapple with the single biggest factor determining the poverty of the continent – how the state functions, and has failed to function. – The road to ruin

…here we have a Zambian academic weighing in on a subject that has been the preserve of self-appointed “development experts”. I have always found it challenging to review papers or books penned by fellow Zambians as my natural propensity is to cheer every sentence and offer support. But of late I have found the call to review Dambisa’s book too loud to ignore…Dead Aid falls far short of what is expected of a book advocating such a radical proposal of “turning off the aid tap”. If there’s any consolation in this assessment, it is that Dead Aid will hopefully not find any intellectual traction. – A Zambian Economist Review

The book is sporadically footnoted, selective in its use of facts, sloppy, simplistic, illogical, and stunningly naive…Moyo’s concerns are old and poorly argued, but I close constructively. For her concerns are also serious. She is passionate and authentic as she tries to tackle and explain big ideas. This is an early effort, and she can improve. Going forward, she must give up the search for easy answers. – Dambisa Moyo Discovers Key to Ending Poverty

“Mrs Moyo is not the voice of Africa”, he said. “She lives in an Ivory Tower far away from the reality of Africa. Perhaps she should go back to Zambia to see how much that country still needs help. Maybe then I will pay better attention to her” – John Kufuor, former president of Ghana</a

The big opponents of aid today are Dambisa Moyo, an African-born economist who reportedly received scholarships so that she could go to Harvard and Oxford but sees nothing wrong in denying $10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malaria bed net – Jeffrey Sachs, American economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

I could go on and on… but the bottom line is I am inspired. Inspired to go right ahead and write my own book about whatever the hell I like and state whatever the hell I think and fearlessly express my own opinion and not be afraid of the critics. They could be right and I could be wrong. But I’ll have my say regardless. Thank you Dambisa Moyo, for whatever it is you said – that seems to have been so damn important!

"Too many African countries have already hit rock-bottom -- ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day; there is nowhere further to go down." - Dambisa Moyo (pic by wikipedia)

Poverty speaks louder than the law

Several weeks ago a woman threatened to strip naked in court. That’s not all she did – she cried, hurled insults at the magistrate and threatened to dump her children there. That’s not all she did – she demanded that the magistrate toss her and her brood in the jail cells. Why?

Because her husband who was facing charges of rape had been denied bail and the woman was anguished by the fact that she did not have the means to fend for herself and her children because she depended solely on her husband.

...half in the light, half in the shadow - women face the dilemma of straddling customary & statutory law

The fact that he was accused of rape was immaterial. The fact that his victim was a 15 year old neighbour’s child was immaterial.

The fact that he had betrayed her in a most despicable manner was dismissed. The fact that he habitually bashed her was rendered irrelevant.

This woman was prepared to defend that brute’s right to walk as a free man on the basis that she would not starve and her children would be cared for.

More and more women choose survival over justice – they would rather keep their criminal spouses in society as a guarantee that they don’t starve than see them behind bars paying for their crimes.

This economic dependency of women in marital relationships has resulted in the Domestic Violence Act being rendered void as few women are prepared to let justice take its course due to economic considerations.

Now entering its 4th year, the Domestic Violence Act was hailed as the most progressive legislative instrument of the past decade; passing laws that criminalize violence in the homes.

By recognizing marital rape (hitherto considered to be non-existent) the Act is the first tangible statute that asserts the sexual rights of women and underscores their inherent right to exercise autonomy over their bodies regardless of marital status.

...the books law mean nothing if they cannot translate into lived experience

But these benefits are on paper, in terms of lived experience; few Zimbabwean women have succeeded in translating what is promised by the Zimbabwean law into a reality in their lives because they constantly succumb to the pressure exerted by the patriarchal customary norms that are deeply ingrained in them through socialization.

In many instances women report abusive spouses to the police and then return to withdraw the charges having made a cost/benefit analysis and adjudging that they cannot survive financially without their partners.

Besides economic considerations are also social pressures that inform them that being abused is a normal characteristic of marital life and should be endured, excused and more importantly concealed.

What is particularly infuriating is that so many women are disempowered and we have a generation of women raised to expect to be “taken care of” rather than to acquire skills and participate as citizens of the world rather than appendages of men.

Too many women were raised to grow up and ‘find a man to take care of you’ as if there were anything hindering them from taking care of their grown up selves.

..before we celebrate the 'strength' of our mothers we must question why suffering seems to be the prerequisite?

It is this crop of ‘take-care-of-us’ women that end up subverting the course of justice for the sake of ensuring the men they depend on stay out of jail and remain on our streets, free to victimize, abuse and violate others.

I am very skeptical whenever I hear people go on ad nauseum about how marriage were so strong in the ‘old’ days when the reality is the typical marital set up was so unbalanced as to leave women dis-empowered, dependent, enslaved and totally without any option except to stay in that marriage even if it was a nightmare.

I get nauseous every time I have to listen to people describe the struggles of their mothers, grandmothers or aunts in marriages – detailing unimaginable acts of cruelty inflicted on them by their spouses and in-laws then applauding them for having been “strong” enough to stay in the marriage.

Like where else they going to go? What options where availed to them? Did they have the means and resources to start a new life away from the abuse and violence they faced daily?

..the balance of these scales can be tipped by those who choose survival over justice

And I always wonder whether these eager narrators ever stopped to ask those women if that was the life they wished to live; if that is the life they would settled for given the choice?

Now we have laws that give women options, which give them avenues to get justice – some recompense for their suffering and a chance to escape from the clutches of their tormentors and yet they are unable to enjoy what liberty is promised them by this Act.

They refuse to act on an Act whose consequences could spell hunger to their children, poverty to themselves, and desperation in their circumstances as well as disgrace in the eyes of their in-laws, families and societies.

Justice becomes a luxury they cannot afford to indulge when the practical matters of having food on the table, clothes on their backs and roofs over their heads take precedence.

It becomes fickle for a woman with 5 children to report an abusive husband because she will suffer alone trying to fend for them as none of the extended family will step in to lend a hand; rather take the abuse than face the prospect of poverty.

In another incident some months back; a woman broke down and wept when her abusive husband was given a custodial sentence and begged for leniency before insisting that she wanted to withdraw the charges because she had a young baby and needed her husband to fend for it.

To disempowered women, the law is of no consequence if it threatens their survival in terms of economic stability – because they were raised to find men who would “take care of them” – they have never acquired skills to take care of themselves.

Lived experience proves that the Domestic Violence Act will only be effective to the degree that women are empowered and to the degree that their status in society is elevated; beyond this – it is merely an Act that none of them will act on.