Sunday, July 27, 2008


Foreign debt that African countries carry bothers me greatly. In a Time Magazine article on Tony Blair and his life and work after the prime ministry, Bono is quoted as saying that Tony Blair was the first world leader he has met who understood that debt cancelation or debt forgiveness was a matter of justice not charity. It’s a powerful statement. Do you understand that?

Imagine it. You’re in a stereotypical country that has achieved liberation from the controlling colonial powers, but they did not leave or acquiesce under the best circumstances. You are now left with a dictator or some totalitarian regime (in President Johnson-Sirleaf’s speech she said “Africa is not poor, just poorly-managed.”). This regime abuses the people, takes money from rich resources and does not use it on the people, fills the pockets of government-military officials, wages wars (usually internal-civil) due to an unborn national identity lost before conceived, some genocidal killing off ethnic groups. And guess who feeds or supports the dictator. Yes, foreign countries, big countries. And none of the money loaned by these corporations, countries, or multinational organization is even benefiting the people.

Then one day, the civil wars end. And then, maybe later or at the same time, the dictatorships end, and you are finally able to have a democratically elected government. Your country has all these issues or problems and you have to address it. But instead of feeding your poor, providing better health infrastructure and trained personnel and medicines, instead of housing the homeless in your country (not to mention fighting pestilence in your country or creating access to clean water, etc.), you as president must pay interest on outstanding national debts accrued under the reign of a dictator benefi0ting only him and friends and those around him. Is that fair? Forget about fairness because it has a connotation. Is it just? This is normally what happens. You cannot address the needs of your people because you have to pay interest payments, minimum payments or installments on a loan that you can never repay anyway. It’s ridiculous. And there are many examples including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. That was one of the issues that President Johnson-Sirleaf had to face as she could not pay for everything she must including promised pensions to ex-soldiers while she was under the weight of this crippling debt. It really isn’t charity. And it reminds me of war as well. Outside of tribal, civil wars, many wars (like the debt situations over here) are not due to issues between peoples but due to issues between leaders or a few people. Yet those leaders or people are not the ones who must fight. The peoples do the fighting for the leaders or few people with the issues. And that’s the situation with the debt. People are paying for mistakes over others and the justification for lending to such militaristic regimes and dictatorships is questioned by many.

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