By Morgan Tsvangirai
Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe
With the G8 summit set to focus on African issues, Zimbabwe's opposition leader argues that Africa's political leaders are to blame for much of the continent's poverty and debt. He sees the establishment of deep democratic roots as the best hope of progress.
For more than two decades, the issue of debt and development has dominated debate at local and international conferences, official meetings and social gatherings.
The sources and origins of the debt problem are known; so are the solutions.
Several African countries are unable to show how the money so borrowed was spent.
Severe food shortages, infrastructural decay, unemployment, disease and poverty are commonplace, yet the debt per capita continues to rise. The problem is essentially political.
The accumulated debt could easily have been averted if sufficient political space was available to make allowances for robust national debates and discussion on governance, transparency and accountability of the political establishment.
Post-liberation Africa has, to say the least, been a serious disappointment. The objectives for the liberation struggles have yet to be translated into reality, in particular the extension of freedom and the entrenchment of a rights based culture.
The nationalists who assumed political power at Independence have left a legacy of intolerance, tyranny, dictatorship and corruption.
They allowed an inherited infrastructure to collapse, descended hard on alternative and dissenting voices and discouraged opposition politics.
A significant number turned their nations into one-party states, declared themselves presidents for life, encouraged political sycophancy and patronage and looted their treasuries, often with impunity.
Compounded by the competition for either Western or Eastern backing during the Cold War era, many African leaders fell into the debt trap, borrowing huge sums of money to fortify themselves against imaginary enemies.
The quality of life deteriorated significantly, debate and discussion was muffled - leading to instability as people sought options for regime change.
Up until 1991, a significant number of African countries had never held what could qualify as a free and fair election. Zimbabwe was not spared of the African disease.
Our party the Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC's approach presented immense difficulties to the African political establishment, still threaded together by a common historical set of credentials: colonialism, racism, liberation struggles and Cold War victim images.
Africa found it hard to place the MDC in a defined political template because the party was a post-liberation formation, advocating more freedom, peace and security, and wishing to assume power through democratic means. It was a departure from the norm.
A child born in elsewhere Africa today is often told the continent's debt was accrued in the process of raising resources for infrastructural development and for improving the quality of life.
But it is clear that most African countries are worse off than they were at Independence.
The crisis on the continent arose from the failure to place a range of basic human safeguards to provide an insurance cover over the erosion of democratic practices and norms.
The crisis has now cascaded into a huge humanitarian emergency because of a runaway HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Eliminating poverty requires a deliberate setting up of deep democratic roots in our countries.
Without democracy it is hard to see progress - no matter how much help we get and how rich we are in natural and human resources.
Morgan Tsvangirai is appearing on a special BBC TV Question Time debate from Johannesburg about African issues to be shown as follows.
BBC One: Thursday 7 July 2005, 2235BST
BBC World: Saturday 9 July 2005, 0710 and 1510GMT;
Sunday 10 July 2005, 1210 and 1910GMT.
The programme can also be viewed at any time during or after broadcast from the Question Time website