BAMAKO, Jan 20 (IPS) – Mali, one of the international community’s poorest nations and host of the World Social Forum (WSF), presents the picture of a country that has been overburdened by debt. Government spends much of its budget repaying what is owed to international creditors – at the expense of development, by Joyce Mulama, IPSnews.
This financial outflow has prompted Malian campaigners to call for debt cancellation. On Friday, these activists teamed up with others from across the world to lobby rich nations to cancel all debts owed by poor nations.
“Debt is a stumbling block to our development,” said Diarra Sekou of the Coalition for African Alternatives to Debt and Development.
“Health facilities are run down, with a very insufficient number of health workers. There are no teachers in schools (and) schools cannot progress because the quality of teachers is very bad; this is because they cannot be paid well, as the government is concentrating on paying off its debt.”
Sekou, whose remarks came at a meeting of anti-debt activists attending the Bamako WSF, said Mali paid out about 109 million dollars last year in servicing its debt: “The total funds allocated to education and health is nowhere near even half of this amount, while education and health are vital sectors of any country.”
Mali is not alone in having to face this burden: its situation reflects that of many other African countries saddled with debt.
According to Demba Moussa Dembele of the African wing of Jubilee South, an international coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Africa’s debt in 2003 stood at a massive 315 billion dollars. Jubilee South is calling for unconditional cancellation of the debts owed by all developing countries.
Dembele said that structural adjustments programmes imposed by the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialised countries through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had not realised their stated aim of pulling Africa out of poverty.
“All these conditions, which have been in exchange for loans, have been a total failure. They have not offered any solution,” he noted.
The conditions include privatisation and trade liberalisation, which certain analysts say have caused more harm than good. Dembele believes trade liberalisation has cost sub-Saharan Africa 272 billion dollars over the last 20 years – the period over which much of the region’s economic reforms were rolled out.
Faced with mounting pressure from campaigners for the debt of poor countries to be halved, the G8 – composed of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States – cancelled the debt of 14 African states in July 2005.
Activists gathered in Bamako said this was not enough as it accounted for only 10 percent of the total debt owed by Africa.
They also called for the problem of corruption to be addressed.
“There is a direct relationship between indebtedness and corruption. Most African countries do not have the capacity to check how the money given in loans is spent. Because of this, some of the money may easily be spent on corruption,” Sekou said.
“When you fight debt without resolving corruption and monitoring how funds are used, you cannot get very far.”
Lamin Nyangado, policy and advocacy manager in The Gambia for NGO ActionAid, also pointed to the need for the spending of funds freed up by debt cancellation to be monitored.
“It is important that citizens are involved in the process – to make sure that in the event that debts are cancelled, the money which would have gone into repaying it is used for boosting services that will improve the living conditions of citizens.”
The Bamako WSF marks the first instance in which a World Social Forum is being held in Africa. For the most part, the forum has taken place in the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre.
Now in its sixth year, the WSF was initiated to provide an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This international gathering of political and business leaders is viewed is being in favour of the global political and economic order, something the WSF questions.