The Guardian January 26, 2000


Cancel the debt!

Near the end of last year, the US Congress passed the "African Growth 
and Opportunity Act". Despite its grandiloquently humanitarian-sounding 
title, the Act actually imposes harsh conditions on African countries 
seeking aid or investment capital  or even beneficial trade  from the 
US. It is a blatant attempt to force conditions of free-trade and 
structural adjustment programs (ending of subsidies to local businesses and 
farmers, privatisation of state enterprises and utilities, etc) on the 
whole of Africa.

Africa is particularly vulnerable to economic warfare of this type. The 
continent is wracked by the devastating legacy of the slave trade, 
colonialism, neo-colonial wars and military coups and a crippling regime of 
debt.

The United Nations Program on Development has warned that in the absence of 
decisive action, average life expectancy in Africa  already shockingly 
low  will fall even further.

While funds that are urgently needed for health care and poverty 
alleviation programs are instead used to service debts to Western banks, 
epidemics of AIDS and malaria spread.

Poverty

Today, half of the African people are living on less than $1 per day. 
Murderous wars and conflicts now affect over half the countries in Africa. 
Because of these wars and conflicts, hundreds of thousands of civilians 
have been killed or uprooted.

There are officially six million refugees, and 12 million others wander 
from one side of the continent to the other in search of work and some form 
of security. There are officially over 300,000 child soldiers.

Poverty, economic collapse, and disintegration are first and foremost the 
result of the burden of foreign debt payment. The total debt for the 
African continent comes to US$350 billion; the yearly payment by African 
countries to "service" this debt is US$33 billion.

This so-called "debt" is mainly the accumulation of the debt service itself 
 interest and further borrowings to enable payments that cannot be met to 
be "rescheduled". Thus, the public debt of the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), 
for example, is US$6 billion, of which no less than US$3.7 billion is "debt 
service".

Taken as a whole, the debt service payments of the African states are four 
times higher than their combined budgets for education and health care.

In 1997, Niger and Ethiopia had to use half of their budgets to pay 
their debt service.

Zambia in the same year used 44 per cent of its budget on debt servicing 
and Malawi used 35 per cent of its budget. Fifty per cent of export income 
is devoted to the payment of the "debt" owed to foreign banks and financial 
institutions for "investment" supposedly intended originally to boost the 
country's economy and improve the living standards of its people.

One of the World Bank's own studies shows that if the amount of money 
allotted to "debt" repayment had been used for real development, annual per 
capita income in Zambia for example would have reached US$10,000 dollars, 
instead of the paltry US$600 dollars it is today.

Destruction accelerating

The destruction of indigenous industry and infrastructure across the 
continent is being accelerated, with resulting mass unemployment. The only 
future offered to youth is poverty or the armed gangs that are tearing the 
African continent apart.

The long-term future of Africa is being sacrificed for imperialism's short-
term gain. Countries spread across the African continent are everywhere in 
danger of becoming another Somalia.

Three plagues

The dramatic devastation of the African continent and the plight of its 
people cannot be separated from the three successive plagues that have hit 
the continent: the slave trade, colonial occupation and the "structural 
adjustment programs" imposed by imperialist institutions such as the World 
Bank, the IMF and the European Union.

The slave trade devastated parts of Africa, bringing physical, cultural, 
economic and social destruction. Entire areas were virtually depopulated of 
young people, social structures and civilisation collapsed.

On the heels of the slave trade came colonial powers preaching racial 
inferiority and seizing African lands and resources, and drowning 
resistance in blood.

With the help and support of the socialist countries, the people of Africa 
were able in the 1960s to launch successful national liberation struggles 
and to win independence for their countries. But in many cases, the 
independence was short-lived, as imperialism sought other means to maintain 
its economic control.

A succession of military coups established governments willing to act as 
servants of the same interests which had created slavery and colonialism.

The faces may have changed but colonial domination is still everpresent. It 
is now the "experts" from the World Bank and the IMF who have taken charge 
of the economies of many African countries.

But with each passing day, as it becomes more and more difficult to 
survive, the people of Africa are standing up and fighting back against the 
devastation and plunder imposed upon them.

In company with the people of other Third World countries, they are echoing 
the demand voiced at every international forum by Cuba's leader Fidel 
Castro: the cancelling of Third World debt.

So strong has the international campaign become for the complete 
cancellation of this crushing "debt" burden and the resultant austerity 
forced onto the people of Africa and other Third World countries by the 
neo-colonial powers, that in the latter part of last year the Group of 
Seven (G-7) most developed imperialist countries had to appear to act.

They magnanimously "cancelled" the debt of the "poorest" countries, but 
under conditions that left those countries not much better off.

The continued impoverishment of African and other Third World countries 
adversely impacts on the workers of all countries. The campaign to cancel 
Third World debt inherently strikes at the heart of imperialist 
exploitation.

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