Finance ministers, central bankersdiscuss
Africa's debt

In an effort to deal with the debilitating problem of debt and debt interests, the finance ministers and central bankers from 17 highly indebted African nations met for a two-day conference to discuss debt rescheduling and relief. The meeting ended Tuesday August 31. Many of the African representatives, including meeting chairman and Botswana President Festus Mogae, are calling for the complete cancellation of the $350 billion debt.

Donors and representatives of multinational lending agencies were expected to underline the importance of good governance and better fiscal and monetary policies for countries seeking relief from the crushing debt burden. Mogae said the crushing debt burden was an impediment to economic growth. Mogae said the current conditions set by donors do not take into consideration the turbulent situation in African as a result of poor governance and internal conflicts.

"I hope our creditors will realise that the current external debt arrangements are defective,'' he said, adding that the time period alloted for debt repayment is to short. The Nairobi meeting is a follow-up to the three-day Second Tokyo International Conference on African Development last October.

The Tokyo conference, attended by delegates from 82 nations and 40 organisations, resolved to try to halve the number of Africans living in poverty by 2015 through increased foreign investment, better education and government incentives. At least 80 people are taking part in the meeting sponsored by the UN Development Programme, the government of Japan and the Central Bank of Kenya.

In addition to Kenya and Botswana, other African nations represented are Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa.

The two-day Nairobi conference is a follow-up to talks held in Tokyo last October which resolved to try to halve the number of Africans living in poverty by 2015. It is also being attended by finance ministers, central bank governors and representatives from top donors such as Japan, France and Britain as well as from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the UNDP. It estimates that loan repayments have far exceeded annual health spending in 29 countries, including 23 in sub-Saharan Africa.

One proposal to be discussed in Nairobi is that debts would be cancelled in return for guarantees that the money saved in repayments would be spent on social programmes such as education, health and communications infrastructure. Representatives of donor countries and international agencies such as the IMF are expected to underline the need for transparency and good governance for countries seeking relief from the burdens of their huge debts. AP/USAfricaonline/BBC