Nyerere's daughter turns debt cancellationactivist

Rosemary, the daughter of Tanzania's late president JuliusNyerere, has assumed the mantle of her father by turning into a debtcancellation activist. Like the late African statesmen, she has beendrumming up support for the cancellation of massive debts cripplingheavily indebted countries, most of which are in Africa.

In her latest appeal to countries of the G8, Rosemary said theWest had a moral obligation to write off the debts, now totallingover 2.3 trillion U.S. dollars. Tanzania is one of the 41 countriesof the world, classified as severely indebted, with an estimated debtstock amounting to eight billion US dollars, as at December lastyear. There are prospects of the country beginning to enjoy debtrelief under the much touted Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC)Initiative, but she has criticised the policy, saying the optionwould only plunge the continent into deeper poverty.

One of the conditions for debt relief makes it mandatory forgovernments hoping to qualify to restructure subsidy on socialservices in their countries. "If the third world countries acceptsuch conditions, how are the poor people to survive withoutsubsidies?" She scoffed during last year's Johannesburg Summit forDebt Free Millennium. The debt of third world countries has risenfrom 610 billion US dollars in 1980 to 2.3 trillion dollars in 1997in spite of large repayments made by debtor countries every year.

First Lady Anna Mkapa has called for a complete write off of thedebts in favour of nations that demonstrated a commitment to shape uptheir economies in line with poverty eradication But creditor nationshave always maintained their debtors had a moral obligation to payup, largely ignoring calls for a complete writing off of the monies.The first seeds of the country's debts were sowed when the Governmenttook over direct management of the economy and created parastatals torun the business.

Then the country borrowed heavily during the 1973/74 and 1979/80oil crisis, a situation that triggered an inflation the world over.Another factor was the war with Uganda's Idi Amin, which has beenestimated to have cost the country more than 500 million U.S.dollars. Other factors include the breaking up of the former EastAfrican Community, which forced Tanzania to establish its ownairline, railways, posts and telecommunication companies. But whatangers debt cancellation activists though is that some of the loanswere used to start projects which made losses from their initialstart. Some of them remained as white elephants.

Oxfam, that supported the late Nyerere's debt cancellationinitiative has concluded that the current trend of external debtpayment will not enable Tanzania to achieve progress and that over 40percent of Tanzania's population will remain extremely poor. Theorganisation observed that on per capita basis, Tanzania was spendingnine times as much on debt servicing as on basic health and fourtimes as much on debt as on primary education. Both the IMF and theWorld Bank agree that Tanzania's debt is hefty relative to itsservicing capacity, but blames the government for past over borrowingto finance shoddy projects which did not correspond to economicgrowth.

Churches that have joined the debt cancellation campaign haveraised a moral issue to be considered by the government. They say itis not fair to pay debts when children are dying of malnutrition,lack education, clean water and health services. PANA

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