(Bishop of Chipata, Zambia)
Every day Christians throughout the world pray the Lord's Prayer. In some translations, we express some of our deepest human needs by the words "Forgive us our debts". This petition has especially profound meaning for Africans, and particularly for us who live in the AMECEA countries, in whose name I make this intervention.
The external debt owed by our African countries south of the Sahara is truly staggering, amounting today to a total of US$185 billion, over 110% of our combined GNP. The burden of repaying even a modest share of only the interest due on that debt is stifling the fragile economies of our countries, endangering our new democracies, and imposing immense hardship on the poor who make up the majority of our people. Without significant relief coming very soon to the problem of managing our debts, we face very little future prospect of effectively improving the lives of our sisters and brothers.
The decade of the 1980's has been described for Africa as a "lost decade". Economic indicators such as per capita GDP growth and social indicators such as health and education levels declined over the course of the decade and have not yet begun to improve. Directly related to this decline has been the rapid fall of African countries into the "debt trap" as these figures dramatically demonstrate: 1980 - US$56 billion, 1985 - US$ 98 billion, 1990 - US$ 172 billion, today - an estimated US$185 billion.
The "Structural Adjustment Programmes" proposed (and imposed) by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have meant curtailment of government spending on social programmes such as health and education, retrenchment in the employed work force, rapid increase in the price of basic necessities such as mealie-meal, and devaluation of the national currencies.
Our Synod theme of integral evangelisation demands that we consider this justice issue of the debt of our African countries. The living out of the Good News that is the coming of the Kingdom of justice and peace is being blocked and undermined by the economic injustices that disregard the basic conditions for human dignity and integral human development. Jesus' mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor is our mission as Church and therefore we must necessarily address the conditions within which the poor are greatly suffering.
The debt problem is not simply an economic issue. It is fundamentally an ethical issue because it is radically a human problem, affecting the well-being of families, the survival of the poor, the bonds of community, the security of the future. That is why it is an issue that this African Synod cannot ignore. We must speak out clearly and forcefully.
What do we want at this moment? The United Nations reports that the high debt repayment burden - which now consumes about one-third of the continent's total export earnings - "constitutes a large leakage of resources otherwise available for financing growth and development". (Report of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 2 December 1993). The 1986 statement of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, An Ethical Approach to the International Debt Question, emphasises that "Debt servicing cannot be allowed to strangle a country's economy; no government can morally demand of its people privations incompatible with human dignity".
Original text: English