`Yoke of International Debt' Holding Back Africa

Article excerpt

The voices were urgent and angry, calling for the forgiveness of international debts owed by African nations to give them a "fresh start," and also for a new economic order based on mutuality rather than exploitation.

An intense three-day consultation dealing with trade, aid, and debt drew a wide variety of people committed to economic justice for Africa, limited not just to experts but including students, former missionaries, government officials and church leaders.

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane gave the keynote address for the consultation this summer in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Increasingly recognized as a leading spokesman for economic justice for his continent, the archbishop was blunt in calling for the "cancellation of unpayable debts as a first significant step towards a new economic beginning for the developing world, in particular Africa," providing "a springboard to new hope, to a new dispensation of economic justice."

Archbishop Ndungane traced the debt crisis, beginning with the liberation movements of the 1960s when leaders "grasped at economic lifelines thrown out by developed countries," not aware that "they were being caught up in the net of foreign debt that would drag them further into a sea of poverty."

As a result, he said, "millions of people in developing countries now live in abject poverty while a massive transfer of wealth takes place, from the people of the south to the industrialized nations of the north." It is now estimated that Africa owes over $227 billion to creditors, about $400 for every man, woman and child on the continent, by some estimates.

In many instances, he noted, the debt was incurred by oppressive governments. In South Africa, for example, the apartheid regime racked up a debt of about $62 billion, debts which "should be declared odious and written off."

"Poor countries are obliged by the International Monetary Fund and other representatives of rich creditor nations to prioritize debt payments and to do this by diverting funds from health, clean water, sanitation and human development," the archbishop said. …