A Call for Action

Today is a very significant day in Africa. The Africa Independence Day celebration more than any other event is a reminder to all that Africa has come a long way in her walk to ensure freedom, equality, justice and economic prosperity for millions of her people. Africa as a Continent extends from Cairo to Cape Town, from Cape Town to Addis Ababa, from Addis Abba to Lagos. It is also home to one-fifth of the world population. As we celebrate this day set aside by nationalist Pan-Africanists in 1963 that fought to ensure independence for the African people, we should reflect on our past and strategize for the future

On May 25 1963, when the leaders of the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and took the decision to mark the day, it was a re-affirmation of their unfailing faith and belief in a strong future for the beloved Continent, Africa. Though more than four decades has passed since then, new challenges have continued to emerge, with the future of millions of Africans hanging in the balance as it grapples with several development issues.

Forty-two years ago, the major challenge before Africa was colonialism of the Western imperialist powers that converted Africa into their satellite states across the Atlantic, from whence they stole resources to develop their cities. Today, the colonial days are over, a new form of colonialism has emerged (neo-colonialism or its new variant - GLOBALIZATION with its attendant impacts on development processes in Africa. Even though expressed differently from territorial domination of the past, the new imperialism use the economic instruments of debt burden, unfair trade policy, tied aid, economic models and control of internal political mechanism to hold Africa down.

At the root of these mechanisms that excercebate under-development is the higher goal of ensuring that Africa's development process is stalled by any means necessary.

  Where do we go from here? Across Africa today are the grim realities of poverty, under-development, lack of infrastructures, low capacity of the people to develop, hunger and disease. These outcomes are the resultant effects of structural poverty, pattern engineered by the neo-colonialists to maintain their dominant role in the internal affairs of African states.

The debt profile of the African countries which is over $300 billion  have risen to an all time high to such an extent that experts now conclude unequivocally that it would take over a century to get the Continent out of the woods. The logical implications of this development are that four generations of Africans yet unborn would remain in debt bondage to the Western powers. Another important dimension to this is that Africans may end up in eternal slavery, because it is not even possible to pay back these debts.

Each passing day, the future of the African people becomes bleaker than ever. It is not getting better at all as a walk across the streets of any African city, town or hamlet confirms this.

But in the midst of all this, many have asked the question: how did we get to this sorry state of affairs? What went wrong? Is Africa a perverted continent? This huge question carries with it huge responsibilities. It is central to the question of development in a beleaguered Continent.

Three answers may suffice on this issue. One, the colonial powers raped Africa of her invaluable resources (human and material) for over three centuries and this left her in such a state that recovery was almost impossible. Two, the independence era in Africa was such an arrangement that never encouraged a people-driven leadership to move the new African states to higher goals of public good, except in a few cases, the leaderships were more or less a continuum from the past, hence the emergence of neo-colonialism. The colonialists who cloned their image to uphold their legacy contrived the leadership structure in Africa. In places where true leadership drive by the masses tried to emerge, they were cut short through internal collusion of the elites.

The third point is that the kind of leadership cloned by the West naturally became involved in activities that promoted the economic and socio-political interests of the West, resulting in the contraption of dubious debts and commitments that are as doubtful as they come. With passage of time, Africa is at a crossroads with a huge debt overhang, under-development and poverty. With the active connivance of the countries known as highly industrialized countries, several unethical practices thrive to ensure that Africa remains on the lower rung of development.

Nigeria, for instance, a home to 1 out of every 5 African is said to have a debt profile of over 34 billion USD. By the logic of extension, Nigeria's debt overhang will remain a stumbling block to her development for over a century to come. Why? The rules of the game as set by the Western creditor nations such that these debts are continuously rescheduled. Every year, the government is forced to set aside a substantial part of the national revenue to address debt servicing; which keeps getting bigger each year.

Some patriotic Nigerians have raised the issue in the last few years on what is the actual debt profile of the country. Put in simple terms, "How much does Nigeria owe the Paris club and London club respectively? How much is the worth of Nigeria's debt to her creditors?

On the same score several Civil Society Groups and Community Based Organisations are also raising the issue in several fora calling for outright debt cancellation, untied aid, and trade justice for Nigeria and other African countries as the only way forward for development in the continent.

Global Call to Action Initiative
We believe that it is time to speak out on this issue of debt burden, tied aid and double standards and rigged rules at the international trade system. It is time to speak against the policies and rigged conditionalities of the World Bank and International Monetary Funds (IMF), the Paris club, London club and multilateral agencies that the huge debt on Africa is akin to the chains of slavery.

Global Call to Action against Poverty Initiative wishes to mobilize Nigerians to press for outright cancellation of Nigeria's debt, demand for trade justice and untied aid.

For us therefore, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly in Nigeria we call for:

… Trade Justice
Unjust trade characterizes globalization, daily denying Africans the right to sustainable livelihoods. The US and the European Union continue to subsidize agriculture on a massive scale, artificially depressing world prices - while insisting that African markets open up some more. Primary produce farmers in Africa are adversely affected as cheap Northern goods are dumped on African economies, squeezing them out of the markets. There is no genuine effort to remove trade barriers that threaten economic growth in Africa, particularly African exports. Deadlines and commitments in Doha on market access/subsidies for agricultural produce and access to generic medicines in the face of HIV and AIDS have been broken, consistently and without exception.

African regional institutions have failed the poor in terms of negotiating on common goals. In the face of unjust trade, African states have argued for national concessions rather than fighting for continental rights. A false sense of 'national sovereignty' defines the basis of engagement and offer an open playing field for regional positioning to be undermined as states are picked off and negotiated with bilaterally. For instance, engagement with the WTO is characterized by mixed representations and interests that do not enable African states to unite and stand firm along a common agenda and front

… Untied Aid
The post 9:11 era AID to the developing world is increasingly tied to an agenda of security and the 'War on Terror'. This has constricted the space for negotiation by states and citizens with priority being given to bilateral demands of donors over the collective interests of the continent. The attendant weakening of international institutions - especially the United Nations - has had a knock-on effect on the capacity of supra-national structures to exercise a strong role in mediating the role of the state in delivering basic services to poor people.

The continued presence of harmful policy conditionalities attached to aid acts to limit and constrain the space, especially in the light of debt stocks, for negotiating joint regional agendas that will benefit the poor. From the Millennium Challenge Account to the FTI, conditionality favors compliance with market-led economics and reduces the space for genuine home-grown alternatives.

… Outright Debt Cancellation
The yoke of debt upon African states severely constrains the space for negotiation and joint action. In spite of the cancellation of multilateral debt stocks by a number of donor countries, notably the UK and Scandinavian countries, the overall debt and debt servicing requirements put a strain on the capacity of African states to meet basic needs. The successes of converted debt in HIPC countries have not led to the expected expansion of the scheme. Debt relief continues to be 'double counted' as part of aid and the growing unsustainable impact of debt on development is self-evident. Many African countries, such as Zambia, Malawi and Cameroon, are left paying more in debt servicing than they invest in socio-economic development domestically. To complicate this, growing privatization and shifting of the debt stock into the private sector is locking states into non-negotiable spaces regarding the remainder of their debt.

Many African countries are struggling to service their debt while striving to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to UNCTAD, Africa received some $540 billion in loans between 1970 and 2002.Despite paying back close to $550 billion in principal and interest; it still had a debt stock of $ 295 billion at the end of 2002. There is thus a robust economic case for a total cancellation of Africa's debt. Low levels of savings and investment in many African countries lead to high poverty and adverse social conditions which two factors are among the biggest constraints on growth in low-income countries. Continued debt servicing by African nations constitutes a nominal reverse transfer of resources to creditors by poor countries that by all indications can least afford to do this. If Africa is to the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, as required by the MDGs, growth levels will have to at least double to some 7 to 8 per cent annually for the next decade, financial requirements of which are incompatible with present and projected levels of debt servicing.

May 25, 2005
Abuja, Nigeria.