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In an interview with Pambazuka News, Yash Tandon discusses the problems of 'development aid', his differences with Dambisa Moyo's arguments in 'Dead Aid', the importance of Southern countries' right to autonomy and his own book,

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Yash, how did you come to write

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: In light of the current financial crisis, and your advocacy for more South–South cooperation mainly in respect to aid, do you believe that the financial crisis facilitates and brings the wanted cooperation forward? Or does the impact of the crisis inhibit it?

YASH TANDON: It is interesting that the impact of the current financial crisis is directly proportional to the degree of the South’s integration into the North’s globalisation agenda – the deeper the integration, the bigger the negative impact. This does not mean that we abruptly cut off from the North, but it does reinforce the point I made in my book about the imperative of the ‘national project’ as opposed to the globalisation project. Would the present crisis help or hinder South–South cooperation? Well, it is going to be a struggle. There are some in our own countries in the South who argue that we in the South need ‘more aid’ to get out of the crisis. I disagree. I think we need more national and regional ‘self-reliance’ on matters such as regional market creation, regional currency etc. The initiative taken by some Latin American countries joined by a few countries from the Caribbean to create the regional currency – the Unified System for Regional Compensation (SUCRE) – for example, is a step in the right direction. But as I said, this is going to be a struggle. I hope Pambazuka News will open space to debate this matter further.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: As you have pointed out in your most recent article in Pambazuka News, Dambisa Moyo’s book ‘Dead Aid’. Her argument boils down to critiquing aid as a fetter against private accumulation, in essence a re-casting of the tired neoliberal mantra about the free market. That position has been in strong contrast to your own, yet some would say you have been surprisingly silent in critiquing her position. Why?

YASH TANDON: This is a very good question. No, I am not shy of critiquing Dambisa Moyo’s prescription for development. I recognise that this will take Africa backwards.

I have avoided confronting Moyo so far because I want to join forces with her to argue the case against development aid. I agree with Moyo that ‘development aid’ is no solution to our under-development. I agree with her that aid makes our governments accountable to donors rather than to our own people. And so on. At times, she makes an even stronger and more categorical case against aid than I do.

However, her proposed solution of opening up the African market and resources to foreign investment capital is not the way forward for Africa, or for the developing countries. To be sure, we in the South are still behind the West in terms of technology, and we do need technology. But the barrier to this technology is not capital inflow from the North. In fact, there is more capital outflow from the South to the North. The barrier to the South acquiring technology lies in intellectual property rights (IPRs) in which technology is encased. I used to be the executive director of the South Centre from 2005 to 2009. One of the major battles the centre (founded among others by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere) was to break down this stranglehold of IPRs on the universalisation of technology. Science and technology are a heritage of mankind, not a gift of the West to civilisation.

Moyo comes from a different world from where I come from. She comes from the world of finance, and it is not surprising that she should offer solutions closer to her experience. I come from the world of academia and active political struggle for the liberation of my country from the shackles of imperialism, a phenomenon which Moyo does not recognise. Lately, I have been involved in building the capacity of the countries of the South to negotiate in the WTO, the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD. From my experience I can say that the track Moyo is advocating is already losing effectiveness, credibility and legitimacy. She is right about ‘Dead Aid’ – the title of her book – but what she is advocating is a ‘Dead Road’.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: As the former executive director of the South Centre, what are your thoughts on the recent Africa–South America (ASA) summit in Venezuela? Should we see this as a major event in South–South cooperation or as a stepping-stone to future cooperation?

YASH TANDON: What we are witnessing is a milestone in the road to South-South cooperation. Western mainstream media has been attacking President [Hugo] Chavez even though he has been repeatedly winning democratic elections. Hence the ASA summit has been maligned in the press. But we must remain clear in our mind as to what the ASA stands for. It stands for the South’s further liberation from the domination of the North. One of the most important things to have come out of the summit is the endorsement of the Banco del Sur (the Bank of the South) as an alternative financial system to the IMF–World Bank dominated global banking system. Of course, the Banco has to go a long way; its capital base is still small, and it is still evolving rules of financing development projects. But it has a bright future. It is interesting that several African countries have expressed an interest in joining the bank.

Another significant development is the evolving alternative currency in the southern hemisphere. The SUCRE can offer to the countries of the Latin America a real opportunity to break away out of the dominance of the dollar. He who controls money controls the economy. That has been our experience in Africa, where the IMF effectively controls our money. Money is a public good. It is not something that should be handed over to private banking. The Latin American experience may yet usher in a new concept of money, one that serves the people and not a few thousand from the corrupt elites of the banking establishment.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Do you have any future projects with the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI)? Are there any publications on the horizon for us to read?

YASH TANDON: SEATINI, whose chairman I am, is an evolving civil society organisation. It is right now focused on the current negotiations in the WTO, and also the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) being negotiated between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries and the European Union. We are fighting against the EPAs. It is also involved in issues related to food security, land-grabbing in Africa, climate change and regional integration. I am myself engaged in applying my ideas on ending aid dependency to my own country, Uganda. I am taking this opportunity to revisit the history of our monetary policy, and to examining how and why we allowed ourselves to be chained down by aid and an externally controlled money system, and how we might break away from it. I am also doing some research and writing on African integration and regionalism. This is under threat from the EPAs, and continued fixation of our leaders to the flawed neoliberal policies of the Bretton Woods institutions. This is strange, since these organisations are themselves now bankrupt not only of capital but also of ideas. Out of these engagements, no doubt, will emerge some small publications that I hope will have useful policy recommendations to our governments. Through these writings I hope also to join the larger debate on how the African people can unite against ceaseless efforts by imperial forces to divide and conquer us.


* Yash Tandon is the former executive director of the South Centre in Geneva.
* Tandon's 'Ending Aid Dependence' is available from [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.