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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Should Africa ditch its debt?
Grass cutters in Malawi
A special economic adviser to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan has said that African countries should refuse to repay foreign debts.

Jeffrey Sachs has suggested that Africa should ignore the $201bn (£109bn) debt in order to achieve the continent's development aim of halving poverty.

Mr Sachs made his comments as heads of state gather for the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Do you agree with Jeffrey Sachs' comments. Should Africa's countries ignore their debt? Will the Africa Union's summit help to resolve the problem? Send us your comments.

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

This topic was suggested by Brian Coughlan, Alingsås, Sweden:
Should Africa ditch its debts?

Suspend or reduce debts of African countries who are democracies or who govern effectively, aren't corrupt or don't make war on their neighbours, etc.
Rob, UK

According to Sach's figures, Africa pays about two billion dollars a year to service its debts to the west, whilst receiving around 60 billion dollars a year in aid (which he has asked to be doubled to 120 billion dollars a year). Maybe the West should cancel the debts and cease the aid, thus enabling Africa to start taking responsibility for its own destiny and to stop blaming the West for all of its present troubles.
Colin Smith, UK

Africa's leaders have ignored their debt, their people, and have failed to lead. Corruption, vice, being the norm for any African country. This will be my seventh trip to Ethiopia and will be glad to hear the laughter from the folks who have heard the same old song and dance from all the African unity meetings. The meetings are really ways to beg for more handouts so they can steal from the proceeds the idiot westerners give them.
Dwight Kothmann, Hofuf, Saudi Arabia

The West must at least consider any military government debts as illegitimate
Sam Tagoe, Kumasi

Some of Africa's debt was negotiated on behalf of the people by military governments who had come to power by force and were not elected by the people. After the fall of these illegitimate governments, these debts should not still be serviced by the innocent civilian population. The West must at least consider any military government debts as illegitimate.
Sam Tagoe, Kumasi, Ghana

Most of the aid money given to African countries is lying in private bank accounts in Europe. So in a way the debt has already been paid - only it's in the wrong account. Even in my country after the elections last year we thought that things will be better but the stealing is still going on. The West is being fooled and aid should not be given in this way - a better way has to be found.
Ahmed, Mombasa, Kenya

No, I do not agree with ditching our debt. We should pay back our debts with the aim of making the West die of indigestion!
Tadesse A, Ethiopia

Yes as the former colonisers plundered Africa's resources. Now the same people have put up a plan to perpetuate their colonisation by debt. All Africans should refuse to pay their debts.
Velempini Ndlovu, Zimbabwe

A worthy idea in theory, given that half of this debt was incurred on military spending, to the great benefit of ourselves and the US, and various grandiose useless schemes. But given the usual form of African economics, it will probably end up in someone's Swiss bank account, or buying new Mercedes for their relatives and cronies.
Tony, UK/South Africa

Their wealth has not disappeared, it has just been used to fight each other and been misappropriated by the corrupt
Graham Ridler, Hong Kong

African nations asked for independence and got it. Their wealth has not disappeared, it has just been used to fight each other and been misappropriated by the corrupt. When things get too out of control they crawl back to their evil colonialists asking them to sort out their mess. Why shouldn't they have to pay for it?
Graham Ridler, Hong Kong

Don't stop payments, consolidate in a central fund to be used to go back into the countries for schools/education, health and development projects on pro-rata payment basis - but with no say or control from the government in such a country.
Johann, Johannesburg, South Africa

It's obvious that now that this idea has been made legitimate by a UN official it will be done by more and more African countries. Now is the time to stop all future loans, aid and assistance. If Africa wants to be independent, be a grown-up, and shed its debts then I see no reason to give them more money or assistance. Now, it should left to sink or swim - with their own leaders, their own culture and their own choices. At least this way there would be no more room to blame the very evil but very rich west.
Linda, USA

You can't treat the whole continent as one whole unit. In regard to those countries where these loans have been misused by dictatorships (Liberia comes to mind), yes, they should be paid back. In those where it has been put to good use only for progress to be destroyed by exploitation from the USA and Europe, no, they should refuse to pay.
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany

It belittles the positive people in Africa and their efforts
GS, France

It always irritates me when I see people harping about the slave trade. There are more slaves today than there were then. Europeans have been slaves throughout their history at one time or another. It is time for African countries to stop using this as an excuse. It belittles the positive people in Africa and their efforts. Debt is crippling and suffocating. I hope the countries of the west acknowledge its reclamation as usually futile - but that should not stop any future lender putting conditions like striving for democracy and spending on health/education. There have been good and bad lenders, good and bad colonists - lets try to strive for good development and not throw our hands up in defeat! Viva Africa.
GS, France

I don't understand the question Africa is a continent not a country. Are we talking about forgiving debt to oil, diamond and mineral rich countries in Africa who are well able to repay their debts?
Mary, Toronto, Canada

We built our wealth on the backs of these countries. So we are indebted to them, not the other way round.
Athena, London, UK

I wish that foreign aid should be given with the direction of how money should be spent and someone be responsible on how it is used instead of filling someone's pocket.
Jitu, Toronto, Canada (Zimbabwean)

If the debt burden was the only obstacle to a burgeoning Africa, then there would be a great deal to this suggestion. Sadly, it is the ingrained corruption plus the tyrannical elements such as Mugabe that keep this continent in a Third world status. Clean up the status quo and then help will come flooding in to what could be the next new market opportunity for the West.
Keith, US/UK

If Mr Sachs wants to be helpful, he should tell Africa's leaders to govern on behalf of the people. Nearly all of Africa's problems can be blamed on leaders who look at their countries as though they are their personal possessions. Mr Sacks has been working diligently to expose the hoax that is the international financial system. He should work just as hard at selling the need for strict accountability of government to the governed.
Tsehai, Atlanta, USA

I consider it a good idea but nothing in life is as simple. I think debts should be frozen or forgiven until Africa get in a stronger financial position backed up with monitoring from World Bank or other International Organization.
Brinsley Johnson, Freetown, Sierra Leone

If the debts were honest then they should be paid back.
Jo Bella, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Before we think about ignoring debts, we must first consider its cause and effect. Corrupt leaders and inefficient methods of distribution must not be accepted and are the main reason for this cyclical problem. In addition, debt can serve as a disincentive to development, but ignoring debt can serve as an even greater incentive to corruption and irresponsibility.
IYH, Trinidad and Tobago

Of course they should pay it back, they borrowed it. That's the whole idea with borrowing/lending money. For what they used the money is not our business, that's their responsibility. But it might be a good idea to stop lending money to these countries. They can't pay it back anyway so what's the point?
Virpi, Helsinki, Finland

How come that when these countries were colonies, they never had these economic problems? The answer is simply that they were competently governed, and corruption was virtually unknown. As a former Kenya colonial, and proud of it, it breaks my heart to see the destruction of once thriving nations by their own people.
John Atkins, Bridgwater, England

Most loans to Africa's poorest nations are nothing more international loan sharking. Poor and desperate governments are forced to accept outrageous demands for repayment interest well above the norm for business loans. The West makes costly demands such as greatly increased security measures or we will cancel all air links etc. In desperation to grasp the coat tails of the developed world governments accept what are bad loans. These in turn become bad debts.

From colonisation exploitation to international conglomerates who pay little for their raw materials and labour to governments and institutions who make bad loans and outrageous interest repayment demands Africa has not had even the vestiges of a fair deal. However, don't just refuse to repay. Use the threat to get some reasonable interest rates and sensible repayment demands. Thus showing the West that Africa, given a level playing field, can compete.
Clive, USA/Ex-Kenya

This debt, if not cancelled, should be frozen or suspended indefinitely. I would not undermine Jeffery Sachs suggestion. As an African living here in Poland, I have seen him help to transform the economies of some former communist countries including Poland in the early 90s. These economies are now relatively booming and have since become part of European economy.
Allen Aramide, Warsaw, Poland

Unfortunately debt is debt and it's a lose, lose situation for the African people. The West profit from our natural resources and at the same time corrupt African governments profit from these loans and contracts while their country starves. It's bizarre to expect a country to suffer for something that was supposed to help them in the first place but that the sad situation of certain African governments. It would be in Africa's best interest to only channel loans, aid etc through the AU at it seems to be the most credible organisation we have and it would know exactly where to channel it to, for the best interest of the African people.
Chris, Johannesburg, South Africa

Interesting, delicious-sounding, intoxicating idea! But, like most intoxicants, ultimately self-destructive! But Argentina ditched most of its debt and seems to be doing ok, so why not? Desperate times, these - hence such a desperate measure!
Peter Wanyonyi, Nairobi, Kenya

They took the money on loan, and must pay the money back
Ezeoke Tochukwu, Germany/Nigeria

No! I think I disagree with that. They took the money on loan, and must pay the money back. That was pure business. If these loans are written off, it will make them ask for more and just deposit the money in various European banks. All the money by most of African's past Presidents deposited in foreign banks could pay this debt and Africa will still have some more to live with.
Ezeoke Tochukwu, Germany/Nigeria

They (Europe and America) tactically stole our wealth through the slave trade. I strongly believe that the debt should be a bygone issue otherwise Africa will remain a slave forever.
Niyi Yusuf, Nigeria

It's true that African countries will continue to incur debts whether they ignore their current debts or not. In my opinion I don't think ignoring their debts will help solve the problem. It will instead open ways for their leaders to incur more debts, as such by-passing Jeffery Sachs's ideology.
Rolland Bongbi, Bamenda, Cameroon

Most of the money borrowed from the western world were paid back to them for their services anyway. African countries should ditch their debts. They also should cancel their membership with the Commonwealth (an organization that reminds us that we were slaves once) and also any fee due to UN (organization busy with the whites' world). This would save billions of dollars which can be utilized for our well-being.
PJ, Lusaka, Zambia

Africa should ditch it's leaders.
Mark, Arizona, USA

Africa will go on asking for more if forgiven, at least for now - African leaders are foolish.
Majid Oziaminu, Jos, Nigeria

What Africa is going through, Argentina is experiencing it now too. Indebtedness has led to many problems. It is true, Africa should not pay these loans while they are starving or lacking medicine. It is about time the loan sharks are awakened.
Jorge Fonda, Mendoza, Argentina

I say this as a person of African descent, I would support cancelling the debts if indeed the countries would use the freed up funds to support health, education, economic development etc. Problem is it's most likely going to fund the excessively lavish personal lifestyle of those in positions of powers!

Market forces should apply. Banks that lend money to countries that cannot afford to pay the money back should accept the reality of a bad debt, and write the money off.
Michael Shaw, Sheffield, UK

I agree with Mr Sachs. Africa is facing many problems and needs to use the money to invest in its development, improve living conditions for the people, healthcare, infrastructure, education, etc. The debt is excessive and should have been forgiven a long time ago.
Miriam Haile, US (Eritrean)

The idea of debt forgiveness is in no way a new idea. The World Bank has been forgiving debts for over 20 years now with the same results: When you continually promote the idea that a country is not responsible for its debts, it only increases the chances that its leaders will not make good on future loans. If building a good credit rating or history was instead emphasised by enforcing loan repayments then those countries who complied would receive a greater amount of loans and investment in the future.
Bryan Towe, Boston, USA

As George Monbiot proposes in his Manifesto for a New World Order - the Age of Consent, Africa and the poor world should use the debt weapon to demand a system of fair trade. Don't ditch it just yet, use the threat of it to bring about radical changes to global trade that will guarantee global equity.
Haria, London UK/Nairobi, Kenya

Maybe they should tackle the leaders who took out those loans
Chibale Zimba, Zambia
It's not fair that so much money is being channelled to pay back debts that very few people benefited from. Maybe they should tackle the leaders who took out those loans and leave innocent people out of it. Poor people aren't getting healthcare, water or education because their governments are spending ridiculous amounts on servicing debts the people were not consulted about. Loans they never saw the benefits of. It would be nice for someone to break down to us where this money went because when I read how much is spent on debt servicing it breaks my heart.
Chibale Zimba, Zambia

Yes, it is time we stopped paying the unending debts that have kept the continent poor. This money should instead be used in the fight against Aids and to fund development projects like the generation of power and improving the infrastructure.
Valerian Atieno, Nairobi, Kenya

Jeffrey Sachs is making a suggestion that would utterly ruin most of Africa's chances for progress. What investor, individual or national would invest even one cent in a place that simply refuses to pay any of its incurred debt? None, is the answer. Africa would simply be written off as a bad investment where fiscal irresponsibility is so extreme as to make assistance and development impossible.
John Holmes, Canada

It is about time that Africans took a bold step to get out of the debt burden we find ourselves in
Addis Alemayehou, Addis Ababa
Why not, what are they going to do, sue us? It is about time that Africans took a bold step to get out of the debt burden we find ourselves in. They know we will never be able to pay it off. It is time for Africans to demand a total write off of all African debt. The West talks about helping the continent develop, they can start by cancelling our debt.
Addis Alemayehou, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Firstly, Africa should take sole control of its natural resources market. Thereafter, it should invest the income to improve its impoverished state rather than keep paying debt. For now, I'll advise the debt is ignored, as economic development is paramount. Debt could be paid later when in a buoyant state of being.
Sehubo Akinyanmi, Birmingham, UK

First of all, most Western nations contribute less than 1% of their total GDP to international aid so I do not see how any one of us can claim we are being overgenerous to nations in Africa. Secondly, international loans made by the IMF and World Bank are a huge business, and are made in the interest of making money, not helping people. Africa has been destroyed by colonialism and ravaged by poverty, hunger and war and the West continues to stand by and do nothing. Of course Africa, and indeed all of the Third World's debt should be cancelled.
Meghan Myres, Canada

The money should never have been lent but now that it has, the conditions for debt-relief should be tied to human rights and democratic standards in the countries concerned. Very specific targets should be set and enforced without compromise.
Timothy Murphy, UK (Zimbabwean)

It's time that Africa stood on its own two feet. The West should cancel the continent's debt and stop sending development aid. Until Africa is forced to confront its own problems, it will continue to be a dependent on the handouts of richer nations, a beggar at the West's table. I, for one, would prefer that we in the West dedicate our resources to our own people and demand that other countries take care of theirs.
Liam Keller, UK

It's all about responsibility. The money was borrowed, so it should be paid back. The loans may have been ill-conceived, misused and immoral, but if the slate is wiped clean then the door is open for further debt-inducing loans. Surely the world should concentrate on the underlying problems Africa has rather than the short-term symptoms.
Tim, London, UK

I think this would be a reasonable proposal, but only if combined with an understanding on the part of the African nations that no further aid will be advanced until the systematic corruption that has blighted the provision of aid to date has been tackled. Western nations continue to pump billions into this continent and only a fraction of this is usefully employed in the purposes for which it was intended. If we draw a line under the debt, we must draw a line under future aid as well until these countries put their houses in order.
David, Glasgow, UK

Africa 'should not pay its debts'
06 Jul 04  |  Business

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