Behind Debt Relief for Africa

Is debt cancellation western compassion or another way to implement neo-liberal policies?

| June 23, 2005

With one decision, finance ministers from seven G8 countries changed the lives of 296 million people. In total, $40 billion in debt owed by 18, mostly African, countries was canceled.

The decision made at this month's G8 Summit requires the eight rich nations to pay $16.7 billion over the next 10 years and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cover $6 billion from its 'existing resources,' The Christian Science Monitor reports. After 2008, the G8 nations are responsible for covering the full costs of the loans owed to the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

The move is huge for countries like Tanzania, where 12 percent of the annual budget is spent servicing debt, but questions remain about the intentions behind the decision.

One issue is the glaring absence of African hotspots Nigeria, Sudan, Congo, and Angola among those benefiting. These countries, deemed too corrupt for debt relief, play a huge role in regional destabilization.

As George Monbiot points out in The Guardian, the IMF and World Bank haven't shied away from lending money to political thugs in the past. The real corruption plaguing poor countries is the policies that place them in an economic straightjacket, leaving their public utilities and commodities ripe for the picking by multinational corporations. The conditions of debt cancellation look to be more of the same. In order to qualify, countries must tackle corruption, boost private-sector development and eliminate barriers to domestic and foreign investment.

Meanwhile, as many dissect the present and future implications of policies, is calling on the media to question and investigate the deeper underlying issues of disease, weapons trade, war, and colonialism that contribute to the current climate of African affairs.