Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo believes that the trillion dollars of aid thrown at African development has, for the most part, been a colossal waste. Not just a waste, she says; actually detrimental – “the single worst decision of modern developmental politics”.

In her new book Dead Aid, she argues that aid policy — billion-dollar multilateral government loans; not humanitarian aid or charity aid — continues not to work. In 2009, Africa accounts for a mere one per cent of global trade. despite vast natural resources. amd fully a third of the world’s poor, a level of poverty that increased hand over fist during the boom times of aid.

Dambisa believes aid has stifled economic growth, bred corruption, and turned governments into lazy, unimaginative spongers. New loans to repay old have created a continent-wide state of aid-dependency.

And the fact that the conditions on these loans (often of questionable value except to the donor nation) are rarely enforced has led to the de facto bank-rolling of tyrants: as late as 2006, Robert Mugabe was receiving $300m in foreign aid.

Sixty years, she says, is a long enough trial period: “We wouldn’t give a political party or a business 60 years to flounder.” Meanwhile, our aid policy towards Africa is increasingly reliant on celebrity aid by pop stars.

There are lots of books about the “aid curse”. But former Oxford don Niall Ferguson’s introduction to Dead Aid calls it “an African view of Africa’s economic problems”. So, what does makes her book different? Does it, I ask, have anything to do with her not being a 50-something white man from Oxford? Her race and gender, she maintains, do not matter. She did get her DPhil from Oxford. “Essentially, it’s because I’m offering solutions. Policy-makers in Africa and elsewhere have said, ‘We know aid doesn’t work; but what can we do instead?’ So, this is a list of very tangible options that government can and should do to finance economic development.”

Economic theory can be heavy going for the layman. “If you ask the average person what’s wrong with aid to Africa, often they’ll jump at corruption; but I wanted people to understand that even if corruption were completely eliminated, there are still very fundamental problems that emerge from an aid-dependency model.”

Since it’s the average person’s taxes that are being poured into Africa, this seems reasonable. If we are going to feel guilty about our colonial past, we should know whether our efforts at atonement are doing any good.

What irritates her now is that after decades of stagnant, even negative, economic growth in Africa, “we know what works: evidence not just from developed countries, but from the rapidly developing countries of China and India, has shown what really works – and those are not aid-dependent countries”.

Saying no to aid is difficult, she concedes, but essential. “You can just talk to the World Bank and say ‘Give us more money: we’re poor!’ And it’s free money, really. But when you go to the international markets, you have to be accountable. If you borrow money you have to figure out ways to grow your economy and pay the money back. That whole focus on growing the economy is very important.”

Her prescription is simple. African leaders should be given a five-year warning: aid is about to end. This will encourage them to establish systems of micro-loans, remittances and savings schemes, as well as soliciting foreign direct investment, developing mature borrowing policies and fighting for a fairer trading platform with the developed world. Some already have. Ghanaian policy-makers ignored the World Bank’s advice and went to the international markets for loans, and Rwanda is making similar noises about turning off the taps.

She praises what the Chinese are doing in Africa, is comfortable with the concept of a “benevolent dictator”, and argues that economic stability is a more pressing priority than the establishment of Western-style democracy. You can’t vote if you starve on the road to the polling station.

She believes there is a serious silver lining: the only way is up. “That’s the whole essence of the book: here’s an opportunity that is only upside. I just find it hard to believe I’m the first person to espouse this point of view!”

If Bob Geldof disagrees with Dead Aid it’ll be no great shock. But aid itself is an industry. I point out, only half joking, that if her plan comes off she’ll be putting fellow economists out of a job.

n Dead Aid is published by Allen Lane at £14.99. Dambisa Moyo is speaking at Blackwell’s next Thursday (see Bookings, right) and at the Oxford Literary Festival in March.