Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
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Gordon Brown, in a very Prime Ministerial speech, today announced that the G8 finance ministers have agreed, subject to conditions, to wipe out 100% of the debt owed by eighteen countries with immediate effect. Those countries are Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. A further nine (Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Sao Tome, and Sierra Leone). This will cost, in total, around about $55bn.
That. at first glance, seem relatively laudable. But really it’s not that helpful. Adding all of the debt African countries owe to external countries and bodies, we get to $300bn. This is aid worth $55bn, and Bolivia, Guyana, and Honduras aren’t actually in Africa. So it probably leaves Africa around $250bn in debt. ActionAid reckon that there’s another forty countries that need immediate 100% debt relief.
And as a sidenote, how many of those people walking round wearing white bands supporting this kind of action could point on a map to any of the countries named above? Some people would say that’s irrelevant, and that they are showing caring for people rather than demonstrating their knowledge. But the campaign is a political one. How can they possibly support a particular political campaign if they don’t understand it’s mechanisms and implications, and can’t even place the countries on a map?
Back to the point… Compared to what’s gone before, this debt relief is a pretty big leap. But far more needs to be done to make a huge impact, and I hope that the G8 will throw up some bigger and brighter ideas. Whether debt relief is the best way of helping these countries is also open to question, and I have to say that I’m not convinced. We need much more open public education and debate on these issues. The campaign should be raising awareness and educating, not just asking people to send letters that they quite possibly don’t understand to Tony Blair.
Essentially, whilst the action that’s been taken is clearly laudable, a lot more must be done, and it’s not time yet to rest and feel good about ourselves. Hundreds of thousands of people die needlessly every day, and this won’t stop that. We just have to hope that one of the great minds of our generation can think of a real solution, and that the conscience of the world will lead us to implement it – even at great cost.