Africa Shouldn’t Eat Up Its Foreign Debt

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A Member of Parliament, Dr Hage Geingob, says African countries that acquire external debt should condemn the notion of using debt for domestic consumption. Geingob said this yesterday, when he addressed a workshop on ‘SADC Parliamentarians Engage Civil Society over Loans, Debt Management and Development’. He said that if countries are to acquire external debt, it should be for developmental purposes and not for consumption or salaries. The workshop, a second one to be organised by the SADC Parliamentary Forum in conjunction with the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD), discussed the question of debt contraction and debt management in the SADC region. Geingob said while not all conditionalities attached to debt were bad, they should not be used as a tool to stop countries from carrying out the mandates given by their people. “Let us have our own demands. Let’s go to them with our own plans,” said the parliamentarian. “Even though they send you back empty handed, they will respect you. Go back not to beg, but ask and act as a leader who has been elected by people,” he stressed. He gave an account of Namibia, which 16 years after Independence does not owe the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Even though donors have been instrumental in giving much needed funds to countries for their development, the relations with their recipient countries remain that of subservience where poor countries are at the mercy of rich countries from which they borrow money. Among some of the conditionalities is the privatisation of public goods, which among others work against the goal of poverty reduction and denies the poor fundamental rights. An AFRODAD publication entitled ‘The legitimacy of external debts. The case of Malawi ‘, says, the legitimacy of Africa’s debt is highly questionable because loans were made without giving attention to the viability of planned projects regarding the capacity of the recipient country to make repayments. And forced repayments by international creditors have had severe repercussions such as malnutrition, weakened health systems, to cope with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Highly indebted countries such as Malawi, Mozam-bique, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, face a minimum shortfall of US$65 billion, without which they cannot achieve the MDGs. Some participants were of the view that poor countries were running the risk of borrowing money because they have no alternative. “If GDP does not allow, what is the way forward, ” one participant wondered. Others felt that African countries have become dependent on donor funds, which has in turn resulted in them developing a master-servant approach. It was suggested in the workshop that African governments should develop confidence in their own people and not run to international institutions for solutions. Another publication, ‘Owning the loan, poor countries and the MDGs’ says African governments should include their citizens in the decision-making processes though their formal representatives in parliament and official watchdog bodies. It also recommends that governments should enact legislation that would require the executive bodies responsible for dealing with external debt to made debt information accessible to the public. Geingob said being in a global village, there is a need to develop partnerships and not live in a country’s own world. “We are in an international world. Even Nepad is talking about partnerships. Let us look at developing partnerships that have mutual benefits and respects,” he said. Normally the case is that the partnerships are one-sided with African governments thinking that if they refuse something they will be disadvantaged.