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A taxi attendant in SA sprays commuters with hand sanitiser while they queue at a taxi rank A taxi attendant in SA sprays commuters with hand sanitiser while they queue at a taxi rank  (AFP or licensors)

African Bishops’ plea for urgent debt forgiveness

Faced with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic that has already wreaked havoc with African livelihoods, the Catholic Bishops of Africa under the umbrella association of SECAM are proposing debt forgiveness as one way forward.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

Many African countries spend most of their incomes repaying debts to various international lenders. This, in turn, reduces their national budgets and ability to pay for essential public services such as health and education.

Burkina Faso’s Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo who is President of the association of African Bishops known as Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) says the African Church is appealing for urgent debt cancellation. The Cardinal made the appeal given the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take a closer look at the case of Africa

“Thinking beyond COVID-19, we, as leaders and representatives of the Church in Africa and Madagascar, would like to urgently appeal to officials of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies to take a closer look at the case of Africa, which is currently facing the problem of lack of resources in the fight against the pandemic and the lack of safety kits for those who, working in the informal sector, have had to suspend their activities due to lockdowns. Undoubtedly, initiatives have already been taken in the management of the impact of the pandemic. Still, we would like to go further to plead for the massive cancellation of debts of African countries, to enable them to revive their economies. In addition, we plead for substantial aid to be given to the countries to support the establishment of quality health care systems,” Cardinal Ouédraogo said in a Pentecost Message seen by Vatican News’ English Africa Service.

In a bid to stem the spread of the pandemic, most African governments have implemented lockdowns, put in place measures to encourage social distancing, closed borders, issued travel restrictions, quarantines, closed schools and prohibited large gatherings. 

COVI-19 -an addition to pre-existing disasters

By comparison, the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities. in Africa. is relatively low. A recent Caritas Internationalis assessment, however, said that the effects of the pandemic are actually worse on the African continent. The economic situation that was already grim, has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Caritas Internationalis Ecclesiastical Assistant, Monsignor Pierre Cibambo, this is in part, due to pre-existing disasters such as floods, drought, locust invasion, poor harvests and indebtedness.

The tragic consequences of the pandemic 

No one saw the pandemic coming. What is visible is the suffering and also the tragic consequences.

“Judging from its devastating effects, it can be said without a doubt that the consequences of the pandemic are tragic. On the economic level, the recession is evident due to the shutdown of activities, especially in key production sectors, in the tourism sector, air transport and the hotel industry. The social explosion is to be feared in many countries, and in particular, in Africa that is already burdened with debt and where unemployment continues to worsen, which further increases, even more, the phenomenon of the impoverishment of the populations,” said Cardinal Ouédraogo.

Debt forgiveness not rescheduling

In April, following directives from the G-20 leaders, Finance Ministers announced plans meant to help low-income countries have some resources they need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the key recommendations was the suspension and deferment of debt service repayments by some of the world’s poorest countries.

Now campaigners across the world are calling not just for rescheduling of debt repayments but for total debt forgiveness similar to the debt cancellation championed by the Church and the Jubilee Debt Campaign in the year 2000 and later.

How then did African countries end-up with so much debt once more?

Experts argue that the underlying drivers and structures of debt contraction existing in the years before the Jubilee Debt Forgiveness movemnt are still in place today. Any new debt forgiveness would need to come with the dismantling of those structures to avoid the vicious cycle of endless borrowing by African countries.

01 June 2020, 12:04