Can 280 million Africans now sleep quietly? Ruthless Criticism

Debt relief at the G8 Summit in Scotland:

Can 280 million Africans now sleep quietly?

[Translation of a broadcast by Gegenstandpunkt - Kein Kommentar! July 6, 2005]


It is time again for debt relief for the so-called “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC). Great Britain, in charge of the next summit meeting of the G8 in July, has set it on the agenda, and it is, as they say, only in the details. This initiative will be welcomed in principle and should speak well for the good intentions of the “leading economic nations.” The well-known Bob Geldof, who on this occasion again organizes a major charity concert, sees this as first a victory for the NGOs, which are always involved:

“This is already a victory for the millions of people around the world who participate in debt relief campaigns…”

And certainly it is a magnificent deed for the poor in these countries:

“Tomorrow, 280 million people will wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny from the burden of debt that has crippled them and their countries for so long.” (The Guardian, June 13 2005)

This good man concerns himself no further with the fact that the number of eligible heavily indebted poor countries has continuously increased, although there was already debt relief a few years ago and debts to individual countries are also routinely crossed out, but he wants only to “look ahead” and very firmly believe that for the “poorest of the poor” it can now only get better. Isn’t it beneficial for them if they now have to cope with a smaller mountain of debt? No, it is not.


Over the decades, the African Nations, which the G-8 initiative is primarily about, sought credit from the “developed nations” in order to finance “national development” for themselves. These nations, which were still called “developing countries,” wanted to make themselves suited with these loans for participation in the world market; they took as their model the “leading industrial nations” to which they – in the idealism of “development” of those times – would draw closer. These “industrial nations” provided quite significant sums of credit: this was basically of benefit to the local state powers there because this was first to ensure a certain order and secondly initiate the beginnings of real growth. It was thought that they had a good precondition for it, namely their so-called “natural wealth.” But they had no use for that; as recently liberated colonies they had no industries for which these natural resources could have been productively useful. So they had to sell them to the businessmen of the countries where such industries were located. The sales of the raw materials should serve to enable the developing countries to get closer to the “man-made” wealth that really counts in the capitalistic world, namely the money of other nations. And this should be the means for the ex-colonies to be developed, namely into industrial countries. Or so it was always sworn in conferences on development aid in the decades after decolonization.

The result is to be seen not only in the poorest heavily indebted countries, but also in a long line of states that are only marginally above them. With the “development aid” loans, they arranged to make their “natural wealth” capable of export sales on the world market – on which only the “industrial states” that bought theses “goods” at prices obviously favorable only to them became richer. The “developing countries” have not got a step closer to their goal of “development,” by which they meant the development of a capitalist economy, but rather this export has only made them ever poorer. The proceeds from these “natural commodities” is completely dependent on the calculations of the business people who sit in the nations that are already capitalistically developed; they pay for these “goods” just the price that ensures they are being used in their production process to increase their wealth, and the demand for these “goods” is also still dependent on the ups and downs arising from their business life. Conversely, the “developing countries” dependent on the sale of their raw materials were and are at their mercy. They can not make their sales conditional on the prices of their externally borrowed “advances” for development and infrastructure, as well as bring in their expenses for rule again, because they must sell due to the compulsion of servicing the debt. No wonder only one thing developed in the “developing countries”: mountains of debt and with it the need to repeatedly reschedule debt payments, thus to have to apply for new loans in order to service the old ones. Full and unconditional debt forgiveness by the credit lenders is out of the question for the credit lenders when it is clear to all concerned that the debtor countries will never be in a condition to pay their debts on schedule and erase them. Because even “non-performing” loans still do good political services for the creditor states. They serve to exert an influence on the insolvent countries. This summit in the homelands of imperialism is held under the highly respected title of “the fight against corruption.”

Therefore, a debt cancellation is never simply an erasing of the accumulated debts, in order to make a debt-free fresh start possible. In the symbolic language of debt forgiveness from the year 2000 adopted by the G7 in Cologne, this was expressed as: the “debt-export-ratio” should be lowered for those countries by around 200%. That means: even after the decree, their debts are still twice as high as their income from the export of their “natural riches.” The export of this “wealth” has continued to increase their debts, and the partial cancellation has changed only one thing: it has reduced the rate of growth of the debt – only temporarily. The credit that has been given to them has always worked in only one direction: it provided for a certain stability for the political rule, which in turn guaranteed the production and transportation of the “goods” that were needed in the capitalist production process. For the imperialist overlords, the resulting sponsored dependency and the economic benefits they drew from these countries were therefore worth a constant renewal of loans. If the income of these countries from exports is not sufficient to pay the interest on the loans granted to them, the imperialist states do not declare the bankruptcy of their pupils, but attend – mediated through their credit agency, the IMF – ever more to servicing the debt, and pay, usually in very complicated agreements, the interest themselves.


The new debt relief terminates this technique of credit prolongation. US Treasury Secretary John Snow says the “rich countries” have grown “impatient” with “the ‘endless cycles of borrow and forgive’ and accept instead that the debts that are never to be paid are written off once and for all” (ibid.). What might sound like a resigned insight is a damning indictment. The crediting of these countries has not made them viable, but neither has it excluded them as unfit from the capitalist world economy; they have participated in it – and everything capitalistically exploitable has been squeezed from them. These states, whose now forcibly recognized over-indebtedness is nothing other than the result of their level of indebtedness, now get – after the IMF controlled their efforts for many years with its notorious “conditions” – a cancellation of debts. With it, the old credit or debt regime is repealed, the deficits that these states have accumulated is characterized as ultimately uncollectible, and part of it is cancelled. This does not mean that they are creditworthy again. Although sometimes, especially the NGOs, make it out as if “new resources” flow to the states with the cancellation – even the reduced deficits express nothing more than their economic ruin. Reduced interest payments also change nothing in this – provided that these states still pay interest at all. Now this ruin is written down in the form of a new deficit, as a kind of declaration of bankruptcy, as a document of the conclusively deadlocked impasse, in front of the world and financial world public. An international bankruptcy proceeding has been opened over these states, and thus also over the “280 million Africans” who will wake up tomorrow, according to the crazy idea of Bob Geldof, “without the debt pressing on them.” This proceeding is about what statehood, i.e. what kind of state force and what range of state tasks, is still deemed necessary for these poorhouses of imperialism to rule over. "Fighting poverty” is the philanthropically dressed up and nevertheless at the same time treacherous high title under which this goes. The states should be responsible for nothing more than the containment and control of the enormous poverty in them. In first place stands AIDS, because the disease should ultimately remain in Africa; then the impoverished masses should get the minimum subsistence, that was obvious before; then still a little education ... Although they also get – maybe – “help” in the form of “donations” or “grants,” cash allowances which are to be sharply distinguished from credit, over which the recipient has no free disposal in its use, but that is decided by the donor. This money is part of the control that is exercised from the outside: it insists that the states forget about their own ambitions, in particular those reminiscent of the old idealism of “development” – and if they do not go into debt, thus practice total subjugation, one gives them the label “good governance” and perhaps a handful of dollars more.


During these bankruptcy proceedings, in addition to the “donations” and “grants,” money then nevertheless flows once again: $1.3 billion over the next 3 years, raised from the G8. This comparatively ridiculous amount – whose funding and distributing is vehemently argued over – is of course not for the heavily indebted poor countries, but serves a common imperialist purpose. The victims of the bankruptcy proceedings are not the poor countries – for them, this is supposed to be just a “blessing” – but the “international financial institutions,” the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank. They now miss interest payments from previous prolongations or rescheduling of debts which raise questions about what they should continue to receive, whether they should and, if so, from whom. The dispute over this money has therefore a particular vehemence because the USA does not want to pay anything at all in the first place: since the inception of its “war against terror” it sets only moderate importance on imperialist community institutions, because in them a certain language about “partners” – i.e., competitors – is always institutionalized which is not compatible with its claim to a monopoly over the world order and is why they prefer to bring down these institutions. This controversy next entails: who among the supervising powers has how much to join the new control of the just decreed poorhouses – this is also reflected in the dogged haggling over shares of interest payments, new “facilities,” etc. The USA has softened up and stood for a portion of the cancelled interest. They have a shady and a good reason. The shady one is that George Bush's friend Tony Blair, chairman of the summit, also sometimes needs a sense of success, namely that the great partner on the other side of the Atlantic hears him for a change – this polishes up the image of Great Britain within the G8 and Europe, which ultimately also benefits the United States. The good reason is: Africa is considered a consummate “swamp of terrorism” and the USA can represent the debt relief initiative with all its details as fitting into its “anti-terror war,” meaning: it functionalizes it and inserts the competing supervising powers into it. It comes with a final honor for the heavily indebted poor countries: they serve as material for an inter-imperialist competitive affair. This is all held in the beautiful glow that it is only about “help for Africa,” obviously. And that is why “280 million Africans” can sleep better?