AFRICA'S DEBT CRISIS

 

JOHN J. CARROLL,

Sir, - On reading Mary Holland's excellent column of May 30th, I was struck that another of today's inspiring heroes is U2's Bono - perhaps for his music, but certainly for the drama he has created, and cast himself in, on behalf of the world's poor.

The crucial element of Bono's performance has been to marry an encyclopaedic accumulation of facts and figures about debt, PRSPs, HIPC, and the other complex technicalities, to a passion that brings a vivid immediacy to the plight - and above all to the humanity - of the billions of unknown, desperately poor human beings with whom we share our planet. He has melded together two quite different but intimately connected worlds.

Bono's unifying dramatic artistry can be seen especially in his recent Homeric journey through Africa in the company of US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Like the Odyssey, Bono's journey is one of self-exploration. In encountering other human beings, very different from himself, face to face, he increases his own comprehension of life's mysteries and enhances his own humanity.

Through acting out his own self-created drama, also gives us, his audience, a glimpse of the same insight and excitement. Hail to a hero! - Yours, etc.,

Dr BRIAN SCOTT,

Executive director,

Oxfam Ireland,

Burgh Quay,

Dublin 2.

... ... * ... * ... * ... ...

A chara, - With debt relief firmly back in the spotlight, there is a tendency to view the debt question in a blinkered fashion. Debt relief can be effective, only in effective democracies, where the money is used for the benefit of the people, not the benefit of the military or political élite.

Since 1996, due largely to the work of Jubilee 2000, debt relief initiatives have been expanded greatly and have been responsible for many advances. Up to 40 per cent of the debt burden of countries benefiting from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) has been relieved. Unfortunately, the progress of those debt relieved countries has not been great.

The doubling of primary school enrolment in Uganda is one example of the benefits that debt relief can and should bring. Unfortunately, however, the concerns that many people raised about the debt relief programmes have come to pass. If one examines the actions of two nations, Uganda and Tanzania, nations whose debt was halved by about $1 billion and $2 billion dollars respectively, one finds much good. Both nations have launched many worthy initiatives and have exemplary poverty reduction strategy papers.

Alas, this is not all that has happened. Within the past six months Tanzania has announced its intention to purchase a military air control system, representing a 57 per cent increase on total military expenditure in 1998. Without debt relief, this unnecessary expenditure could not have happened.

Meanwhile, Uganda's response to debt relief in 1999 was to free resources for the military and to entangle itself in the war in the Congo. When debt relief was first raised, did we mean it to be a catalyst for increased military expenditure?

There needs to be a complete and dramatic re-evaluation of the programme. Debt relief should be linked with anti-corruption and pro-democracy moves, as well as guarantees that the money shall not be used for military purposes. No dictatorship, or semi-democracy should receive debt relief, nor should countries fighting in unnecessary wars.- Is mise,

JOHN J. CARROLL,

Ratoath,

Co Meath.