Cancelling Africa’s debt must take centre stage at G-7 meeting in July, UN envoy says

11 February 2005
Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS

With more money flowing out of Africa than flowing in, the Group of Seven (G-7) richest countries must hammer out an agreement from the proposals now on the table to reduce or eliminate Africa’s escalating debt, the United Nations envoy combating HIV/AIDS on the continent said today.

“The G-7 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July knows what they have to do. The world is waiting for a breakthrough. Millions of African lives hang in the balance,” Stephen Lewis, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa since 2001, said at the launch of the “Make Poverty History” campaign in Ottawa, Canada.

Between 1970 and 2002, the poorest African countries received $294 billion in loans, paid back $298 billion in principal and interest, and still owed more than $200 billion. “This is mathematics conceived by Dr. Strangelove,” he said.

This year is auspicious for giving Africa a better deal, however, because “there is no denying the extraordinary commitment of (Prime Minister) Tony Blair and (Chancellor) Gordon Brown to Africa” at a time when the United Kingdom will chair the G-7, the European Union (EU), the replenishment conference of the Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV, and will issue the report from the British-appointed Commission on Africa, he said.

The G-7 members have reduced bilateral debt in part or in whole, Mr. Lewis said, but they are stymied when it comes to debt held by the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – and the African Development Bank.

The present proposals have several unacceptable conditions and, in the divide between language and reality, do not lead to cancellation, he said.

“The UK speaks of debt cancellation when what has been promised is part-payment of debt service for 10 years and then the intolerable financial burden will return, as before, to Africa” and Canada was doing the same, he said.

“The United States talks of cancellation, but with numerous – and thus far unacceptable – conditions. The UK is promoting the International Financial Facility, supported by France, Germany and Italy, but disavowed by the United States, Japan and Canada,” he said.

Some G7 members have proposed selling gold to cover the costs of debt relief, but others, including Canada are resisting. The French and Japanese have advocated a tax on international financial transactions and/or airline travel, “but the reception is cool to the point of frigidity,” he said.

“To make poverty history requires making AIDS history. To achieve both means that the Western world, the G7, in particular, must deliver on the host of commitments they have made,” Mr. Lewis said.


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