Leave No Debt Unpaid

Published on 3rd May 2005

Last week, members of the East African Legislative Assembly added their voice to calls to have Africa’s debts written off. The leaders were in Kenya, at Namanga, to welcome the \"Get On Board Bus\" that is moving around Africa collecting views to be presented at the G 8 Summit slated for 6 June 2005 in Scotland.

Africa’s debt stands at a huge $300 billion with more than half the population living on less than a dollar a day. Kenya for instance, has about 18 million people living below poverty line.

The words of an American scholar Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, in his recent critic on the situation of Africa’s debt dubbed ‘Debt for Democracy,’ although not different from what the West thinks of Africa, is right in scope.

According to Diamond, the campaign to convince the donor community to write off the debts of several countries is morally inspiring, politically timely, but one which, in his words, is terribly misguided. When African leaders peg development on debt waivers – that relieving Africa of its debts will help reduce poverty on the continent where resources through aid flow will be directly channeled to education, health and other infrastructure –something must have gone wrong.


A popular belief by many an African, which is rather humanitarian, is that the continent commands a right and moral obligation to get aid, so what’s the justification to have the debts cancelled? Hasn’t Africa been watching over the years as debts pile? Is a given that Africa cannot progress without aid from the West?

Calling for debt cancellation for Africa’s poor nations and hinging the same for the progress of a continent that lives in the dream of industrializing by 2020 reeks of bad economics. Africa’s leaders who support this quest will eventually find themselves agents of Western imperialism and the stringent conditions that African economies have been forced to operate by the Bretton Woods institutions.

Africa’s agenda at the G8 conventions has always been a thing of an after thought. This is evident as is demonstrated in the recommendations of the Tony Blair Commission for Africa’s report released last month. The Commission finds Africa a toddler, who has to be coached on her steps – economically and other dimensions – by Western standards. It diagnoses Africa’s problem as not any unique but one that is a result of ignorance, traditionally ill-vested governments and inability to install institutions as forms of governance.

This has been said before of Africa. How the declining life expectancy aggravated by HIV/AIDS has made good hearing to our Western brothers. We know it is in Africa that access to safe drinking water, preventive medicine and basic education, as well as to markets, credit and justice, is still a nightmare. It will be wrong to attribute Africa’s problems to debt relief. For it raises the question of how Botswana, with its diamond, has recorded positive growth. It is not even the accident of geography or natural resources.

Sustainable development is achievable in Africa with or without aid. The focus in solving Africa’s burden today should shift from the over glorified lows of Africa, whose origins in reality draws foreign participation. Africans should shelve the reminders of conflict, hunger, HIV/AIDS and a number of other negative ills. Aid to Africa has come at a cost. It is through aid that Africa’s democracy has been doctored. Diamond’s suggestion that the cure to Africa’s indebtedness settles is an orgy of even stiffer conditions sounds tragic. He suggests that the West, through institutions like the Congress, should come up with a summit that plays vanguard on Africa’s development in aspects of democracy, governance and human rights, where countries that post good indications are treated to debt waivers.  

It’s time Africa was left alone. Western interference has done more harm than good to the continent. The cries of Pete Ondeng’, in his book ‘Africa’s Harvest’ is a testimony to what Africa has, but which it doesn’t control. Pete tries to showcase that were it not for conflict, hydroelectric power supply and its surplus for export would no longer be a problem. Actually, the Congo basin can supply the whole continent with power.

It is awkward for the West to believe that Africa cannot be trusted with her own democracy. What African countries need are people-installed structures that actively include their participation through institutional devolution. A lot of Africa’s resources have gone into waste. She has been robbed of a good portion of her economic might by her Western masters. 

Today, transition governments in Africa and those considered to be democratic by the West have been forced to adopt strategies scripted by the West in fighting graft. Kenya, for instance, has been forced since 2003, to create institutions to fight the vice, but which are yet to show success because they were not home grown.  African governments must appreciate that Africa’s problem has the solution within. That playing servant to the West does not save a dying patient from HIV/AIDS. Neither does it promote education in the continent. It has never. 

A time has come when Africa must re-organize itself. Middle East stands strong against Western imperialism and its success story in comparison with Africa is a case of two worlds apart. We don’t need a cancellation of debt. Let’s promote systems that empower people.


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