Millennium Development Goals and debt cancellation

Linked with Demba Moussa Dembele – Senegal.

Published on TransNational Institute TNI, by Demba Moussa Dembélé, 15-16 April 2004, (during Globalisation and Sub-Saharan Africa: International Experts’ Meeting, European Parliament, Brussels).

I want to join my voice to that of the organizers of this meeting and their concerns for the people of Africa. The organizing of this meeting shows your sincere concern for social justice. About 3 and a half years ago world leaders met and pledged to tackle issues of world poverty by setting the Millennium Goals. Yet 3 and half years onwards the Millennium Development Goals have yet to been achieved. This is not for lack of resources but due to a lack of political will among Western leaders and the international financial institutions.

Everybody would agree that one of the chief obstacles to meeting the Millennium Development Goals is the solving of the problem of the unjust debt of poor countries. We remember the commitment made by the G-7 leaders in Cologne, Germany in 1999. They pledged that they would cancel 100 billion dollars of debt owed by the poorest countries. Unfortunately less than 30% of that amount has been cancelled. The world knows that without debt cancellation heavily indebted countries cannot achieve any recovery much less sustainable development and will be trapped in deeper and deeper poverty. These countries will not experience economic recovery.


The external debt of developing countries as a whole and especially of Sub-Saharan Africa has affected their human development and has become a mechanism of net resource transfer of money from poor to rich countries. Last December in New York at a special session of the General Assembly the UN Secretary General, K. Anan said that in 1992, developing countries transferred nearly 200 billion dollars more than the poor countries received from rich countries. And this was on top of more than 120 billion of net transfers over the previous four years.

So everybody understands that if this trend continues the developing countries have little chance of recovering and sub-Saharan African you think is spared from this. You should think again – this region which has some of the poorest countries in the world has also been transferring resources to the richest nations and to multi-lateral institution for the last 20 years. According to a report released by UNCTAD, in the 1990s alone 13-14 billion dollars a year had been transferred from Sub-Saharan Africa to rich countries in the form of debt service. To countries whose per-capita income is 100 times that of the Sub Saharan Least Developed Countries. That is why the economic and social condition are worsening in Sub Saharan Africa.

Out of the 49 Least Developed Countries in the world, 34 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. And these countries spend 14-15% of their export income to pay for debt service. The majority of their government funds are used to service debt and that goes at the cost of the provision of public services like education, public health, transport etc. More than 8 persons out of 10 in the population live in absolute poverty. Referring to the UNCTAD report again in its Least Developed Countries Report in1992, it says consumption per capita in African LDCs is less than 60 cents per day for about 2/3 of their citizens. It also says that life expectancy at birth is less than 50 years. Infant mortality and maternal mortality are all on the rise, mainly for a lack of investments in medical facilities, in medical personnel, not to mention the ravages of HIV-AIDS and so on … (full long text).

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