Some Analysts Recommend African Countries Stop Paying Debt to Focus on AIDS, Famine
Some activists have begun encouraging African nations to stop paying debt payments and instead spend the money on health, education and social programs, such as anti-AIDS efforts, the Boston Globe reports. Although development specialists have suggested that the debt of sub-Saharan African nations be forgiven, others doubt that such a move will happen and have suggested a "more provocative" solution for the nations. Both Poland and Bolivia in the 1980s stopped paying their debts and later had their debts cancelled because they used the money to fund "social causes," according to the Globe. Hajai Katoumi Mahama, president of the Women Muslim Association of Ghana, said at a June meeting of African religious leaders, "We call on our governments to ... immediately withhold debt servicing payments to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and wealthy G8 governments, and to commit these resources to eradicate poverty and implement HIV/AIDS interventions." Economist Jeffrey Sachs, who encouraged Poland and Bolivia to stop debt payment, has also called for the "stop-debt-payments" plan in Africa to start right away. "It's not outlandish or irresponsible for African leaders to put the survival of their people first," Sachs said. "We left [the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain] understanding again that the money for AIDS control is at a dreadfully low level," he said, adding, "We have countries like Nigeria where debt service is three to five times higher than health budgets. It's a life or death issue."
Some African leaders say it is unlikely that African nations will stop paying off their debts out of a fear that such an action would "jeopardize" their aid from foreign donors. Stephen Lewis, special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said that the leaders are "right to be cautious" of such a "backlash." Lewis added that some donors might be "privately pleased" if African nations stopped paying off their debts, "although they would never publicly take this stand." Mozambique Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi said, "If I stopped paying debt service, all my poverty-reduction money would stop from the World Bank and IMF," adding, however, that the nation does not have the "hundreds of millions of dollars" necessary to begin a "frontal attack" on HIV/AIDS. Paul Zeitz, head of the Global AIDS Alliance, said that debt payments should instead be earmarked for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in order to avoid problems with corrupt governments. Senior United Nations officials, however, continue to "pus[h]" increased debt relief and have said that Sachs "does not speak for the U.N. system." Four nations hit hard by AIDS -- South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana -- do not qualify for debt relief (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 8/4).