Includes comments by Ghanian Academics Professor Akilagpa Sawyerr and Dr. Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa.
When Bob Geldof interviewed Tony Blair earlier this month he said “We’re able to say to Africans, you know, here is the bargain. If you introduce accountability and transparency we will help fund infrastructure and grow your economies.”
However, Africans are keen and fully capable of governing themselves, Geldof’s and the G8s concern reflects their contempt and treats Africans like children. Yet the incapacity of G8 leaders and self appointed anti-poverty campaigners, to have faith in African states to act freely without strings severely constrains African economic and social possibilities.
As Dr. Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa concludes in the WORLDwrite documentary Damned by Debt Relief: “… Everything rotates around what donors want”. And what the donors want is short-term poverty reduction measures to make poverty tolerable rather then facilitate economic growth to eradicate it.
These donor inspired strategies “are looking at poverty as if it was a thing unto itself,” says Professor Akilagpa Sawyerr in Damned by Debt Relief. He remarks: “Poverty is a consequence – an important factor, but a consequence. If you don’t solve the problem of growth and development, you will not solve the poverty problem.”
Matt Phillips from Save the Children claims: " … as a result of debt relief measures agreed, 4 million people in rural Zambia now have access to free healthcare." However, in stark contrast the reality is that Zambians are unlikely to receive qualified medical treatment in a country that has only 600 doctors and 24 pharmacists for a population of over 11 million in 2006.
NGOs and donors make flattering claims for minimal improvements in basic needs as this fits what they see as a pro-poor agenda. As Dr. Yao Graham pointedly remarked after Gleneagles that 'a toilet, a school, emblazoned with the 'HIPC fund' gives the impression that we're getting something ... [but] if you cannot even develop agriculture, then even your capacity to create jobs, which generates incomes, is lost.
The real contest at Heiligendamm is not over the agenda but between African aspirations for the freedom to borrow and develop and G8 concern to call the shots.
Two years on, anti-poverty campaigners are again demanding that Africa be the subject of G8 deliberations. Under their umbrella coalition The World Can't Wait (the new name for the defunct Make Poverty History campaign), they have highlighted the double-counting of debt relief as aid and broken promises
The headline figure of $40 billion debt write-off seriously over egged the benefits for African Heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs). Their hypothetical savings in debt repayments to the World Bank and African development bank are deducted dollar for dollar from their allocations from their respective International Development Assistance (IDA) and Africa development fund (AfDF).
The campaign to portray Ghana or other poor countries as crushed by the weight of excessive debt repayments omits the full picture. Many African countries struggled to repay debts, but this was a symptom of economic atrophy through a lack of investment in infrastructure and industry.
African economies are in dire need of finance to create the conditions for economic growth. New borrowing to finance roads, railways, dams and power plants has the potential to generate real growth in agriculture and industry and it is clear that African governments are in the best place to know what's responsible or sustainable.
The incapacity of G8 leaders and self-appointed anti-poverty campaigners to have faith in African states to act freely without the strings of poverty reduction, good governance, or debt sustainability severely constrains African economic and social possibilities.
Demanding freedom and autonomy from G8 regulations rather then looking to the G8 as saviours would be doing our peers in Africa a favour.
Researched by Steve Daley’s & edited by Saleh Achhala for the charity WORLDwrite and Chew on It productions.
Join WORLDwrite on Thursday 7th June @ 7:30pm for a screening of ‘Damned by Debt Relief’ followed by an interrogation of prevailing myths by a panel of experts. For details visit www.worldwrite.org.uk
The WORLDwrite Centre
201 Millfields Road
London, E5 0AL
Tel: 020 8985 5435
WORLDwrite and Chew on It have re-cut and released their documentary short Damned by Debt Relief part of their Pricking the Missionary Position series to coincide with the G8 summit.