Many countries in Africa struggle with overwhelming debt relief. For decades they were ruled by dictators who borrowed money recklessly and siphoned off that money and tax money for their own personal gain. Now these countries, with new governments, are still paying for the sins of their ancestors. For many countries their annual interest payments are larger than their total budgets for education or health care or social services. I remember a quote from one African president, saying something like this: "It is simply not just that we should have to choose whether to feed our children or pay our debts."
Several organizations have arisen in support for debt relief in Africa: DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa) founded by Bono and Dikembi Mtumbo (NBA star), ONE, Jubilee USA. Also the International Monetary Fund (like a huge global bank) has started the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative. This initiative offers poor countries a very complex system of debt relief requiring them to spend the savings to benefit the poor in their countries. Here is what the IMF says about the success of this program: "Before the HIPC Initiative, eligible countries were, on average, spending slightly more on debt service than on health and education combined. Now, they have increased markedly their expenditures on health, education and other social services and, on average, such spending is about five times the amount of debt-service payments." In other words, this program has allowed these countries to care for their people instead of paying interest on old loans.
If I remember my facts, about 18 months ago the International Monetary Fund promised a similar package to Liberia (an African country founded by former US slaves). However, due to a variety of red tape, that promise still had not been fulfilled as of October 2007. ONE asked me and millions of others to email the IMF asking them to work through the bureaucracy and find a way to give this important relief to Liberia as soon as possible. I sent an email.
It worked! Our collective support overwhelmed their systems and turned up the heat on the administrators. This week, the IMF posted a public letter on their site announcing that they have secured all necessary pledges and worked through the bureaucracy to give Liberia much needed debt relief.
I used to think that letter campaigns like this were a waste of time, but through the ONE organization, I have seen this work several times. Writing our polititians and leaders can really make a difference. To be sure, it doesn't always work. But to be equally sure, it sometimes does, especially if enough of us write on the same issues. You have a voice. Use it! Sign up to participate in ONE, or an affiliate organization in your home country.
You have a voice. Use it!