Home | News    Tuesday 6 July 2004

African countries should refuse to pay debts, top economist says

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 05, 2004 (AP) — A top economic adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told African countries Monday to refuse to pay their huge debts if rich countries didn’t cancel them.

U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs made the comment to a conference on hunger on the eve of a summit of the heads of state of the African Union, which estimates sub-Saharan Africa has foreign debts of $201 billion.

"The time has come to end this charade. The debts are unaffordable," said Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to Annan on global anti-poverty targets. "If they won’t cancel the debts I would suggest obstruction; you do it yourselves."

Sachs was speaking a day before the opening of a summit at which African leaders will consider a three-year, $1.7 billion plan to give the 53-member African Union a more prominent role in conflict resolution and economic development on the continent.

The leaders of Ethiopia, Mauritius, Sudan , Uganda, Mozambique, Mali and Burkina Faso attended Monday’s hunger conference.

Sachs called on the developed world to double aid to Africa to $120 billion a year and meet commitments they made in 1970 to spend at least 0.7% of their gross domestic product on grants and loans. The U.S. and other rich nations spend billions of dollars on arms but only a minute fraction of that on fighting poverty, he said.

In his own remarks to the conference, Annan warned that hunger was becoming worse for the most vulnerable segment of Africa’s population.

"Africa is the only continent where child malnutrition is getting worse rather than better," said the U.N. secretary-general. "Tragically, the past decade has seen very little progress."

Annan said Africa needs a "green revolution" to meet a 2015 target to end hunger.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said progress in ending hunger was "painfully slow" and predicted it will take more than a century to achieve it in Africa.

Tuesday, the chairman of the African Union’s Commission will unveil a three-year, $1.7 billion plan to beef up the organization.

At present the African Union has an annual budget of $43 million, but contributions from its 53 members add up to only $13 million, leaving the organization with a $30 million deficit, according to African Union officials who didn’t want to be identified.

The organization spends only $1.6 million resolving conflicts on the continent, said Sam Ibok, director of the Union’s Peace and Security Division.

In the past 40 years, 7 million people have been killed in some 30 conflicts on the continent, Ibok said.

"You have to put your money where your mouth is. The only way we can sound credible to the rest of the world is by putting something on the table. This really is a make-or-break summit for us," he said.

The plan, a copy of which has been seen by The Associated Press, proposes setting up a $200 million peace fund and a rapid reaction force of 15,000 men. It also proposes spending $600 million on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, an economic plan crafted by several African leaders to move the continent away from poverty and disease.

African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare also plans to increase the organization’s efficiency by doubling its staff to 800, raising running costs to $130 million a year.

Konare aims to get African leaders to commit 0.5% of their national budgets each year to the Union to finance his proposals.