It is common knowledge that no singular institution in recent time has facilitated the debilitating spread of poverty in Africa than the IMF. Instead of being a partner in progress it prefers to remain a mere front for imperialist interests, argues Guinness Ohazuruike
After long and tortuous jour-ney to independence, the euphoria that political freedom automatically leads to economic prosperity is in-creasingly giving way to a grim reality, as western powers contrive diabolical means to hold the African continent down. This imperialist agenda is being implemented by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, under many guises, including foreign debt burden and spurious reform programmes anchored on the removal of subsidies from essential sectors of human life. The debt burden particularly has become a vicious circle structured to perpetuate economic misery no matter the calibre of experts that implement government policies.
A few weeks ago, the minister of finance, Adamu Ciroma, released a statement on the quantum of Nigeria 's debt. Among other things, he said: "In 1984 our indebtedness to the IMF was only US$5.5 billion. From that time to date we paid US$17.5 billion as interest. If you fail to pay such interest, you will be surcharged; so much of the payments we make go for interest payment; not the principal. But up till now, the outstanding debt stock remains at US$28 billion."
This crooked system of compound interest is indeed a fraud on the toiling masses. Those who think otherwise should hear the minister: "The IMF adopted this strategy so that no third world nation would be out of debt. Their plan is that all countries should have a permanent debt, which is unfair."
Such outcry has also been sounded by other notable voices. At the just-concluded international conference on financing for development held in Monterrey , Mexico , President Olusegun Obasanjo gave vent to his frustration on Nigeria 's debt problem. He lamented that in the past three years, Nigeria has had to spend US$5 billion in servicing its foreign debts, even though the same debts had been repaid two times over.
It is indeed heartbreaking to hear that after repaying a debt two times over, the record still shows an amount three times more than the principal. There is nothing more dishonest than saying that one times two is equal to minus three. Whatever be the arrangement that produces such state of affairs is unconscionable, cruel and unjust. The debt burden may be legal but, in the light of increasing gap between law and justice, morality should step into the picture.
The fact that we have repaid the debt two times over could provide moral high ground and rallying point to build international coalition against this modern slavery. When one compares the favourable terms availed to other regions the shackles of foreign debt, this sword of Damocles hanging on Africa becomes shocking and shamefully racist. The world of international finance stinks to high heavens, replete with double standard, accentuated with racism. Any attempts to rationalise the different strokes that rule international relations results in melodramatic nightmare. Saskia Sassen, writing recently in a British daily, The Guardian revealed that: "The IMF asks certain countries mostly in Africa to pay 20-25 percent of their export earnings towards debt service. By contrast, in 1953 the allies cancelled 80 percent of Germany 's debt and only insisted on 3-5 percent of export earnings debt service. These are also the terms asked from Central Europe after communism."
I should think that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. But this is not the case. What is the singular crime Africa committed that it must be the sole victim of slavery, colonialism, and now imperialism and racism combined?
It goes without saying that given the same or relatively better credit terms African countries will surely do well in fighting the ravages of poverty, illiteracy and diseases. But do the international mothers and fathers wish Africa well? For this reason African economies increasingly regress and nobody really comprehends. The more Africa plays according to the global rules to uplift itself, the more some invisible forces seem to negate everything. Africa deserves a breathing space. It does not serve the interest of humanity to suppress Africa to the status of a scavenger feeding on the rancid crumbs of global economy. Africa deserves a seat on the table of prosperity. The continuation of the present unfair treatment means Africa will ever remain in the doldrums with little prospect of becoming a partner in global affairs. To abandon all claims to these spurious debts is the least developed countries can and should do. They cannot continue to unleash forces that promote poverty while at the same time preach democracy and human rights.
Those not yet convinced about the reality of double standard and its evil effect should study the history of IMF policies in Africa . To understand how the removal of subsidies can emasculate an economy, please embark on a brief historical excursion to what happened in Ghana in the recent past. Not so long ago, Ghana had a splendid National Health Service. Then came the IMF with a new-fanged "full-cost-recovery-plan" demanding that government remove subsidies and make the people pay for everything from education, health, water and other utilities.
This ushered in a cash and carry syndrome for public services. Patients pay for every visit and everything, surgery, drugs, blood, cotton wool, needle, scalpel, name it. There are recorded cases of people held prisoner in hospitals because they could not pay their medical bills and corpses not released until relatives found cash to pay. In the mean time, the Ghana currency, Cedi, was in a free fall. At the present moment it has crashed beyond redemption. All the while, the IMF kept telling the world that Ghana , "a star pupil" was doing well. This deliberate deception continued until Ghana progressed to a stigmatised "highly indebted poor country." To cut a long story short, Ghana embraced the IMF and its mean conditionalities, faithfully implementing first structural adjustment programme, SAP, then economic recovery programme, ERP, and finally, enhanced structural adjustment programme, ESAP.
Seventeen years down the road, Ghana is not only being encouraged to declare itself bankrupt but is now classified among the 24 poorest nations in the world. This is not to mention a colossal debt of US$5.8 billion, a pathetic legacy of IMF reform with a destructive obligation to service it at the tune of 27 percent of export earnings.
Everyone knows that those who advocate the free market jargons do not practise what they preach. The masters for whom IMF fronts have stubbornly retained subsidies in the vital sectors of their economy. Anyone who has not been to Europe will think that the citizens are sweating it out to pay for every single comfort they enjoy. This is far from the truth; subventions and subsidies are native words there with real impact on citizens' lives. It is on record that a cow is subsidised in European Union countries at the rate of US$1 per day. Yet, they insist that Africa must remove subsidies from agriculture, education, and healthcare even for children and pregnant women.
It is common knowledge that no singular institution in recent time has facilitated the debilitating spread of poverty in Africa than the IMF. Instead of being a partner in progress it prefers to remain a mere front for imperialist interests. If there is anything consistent in its approach, it is double standard. They make for others rules they have no intention to keep simply because they think might is right.
John Kampfner who went up country to the village of Kpembe in Ghana , and saw people eating American rice has this to say: "A mile away is the Katanga valley, once Ghana 's rice bowl. It now lies fallow. Ghana used to be self-sufficient in rice. But then the IMF decreed that markets had to open and subsidies had to stop. Wherever I looked, I saw double standards. People here have to pay for the essentials of life, like water. In America , the government pours millions of dollars each year into propping up its water system. And why is American rice the staple food for Ghanaians? Yes, you've guessed it. American rice is subsidised."
Let no one fool the world. Only a level playground can enable Africa develop. We ask for nothing more, we deserve nothing less.
Copyright © News Watch 2002. For fair use only
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