I come from South Africa. I’m working for the Economic Justice Network, which is a network of church organizations in 11 countries. We are working on debt, development, aid, and trade. This year is going to be a special year for us because it’s seven years after the Jubilee [movement] was formed; for us it’s a Sabbath year whereby we want to renew our commitment to fighting for debt cancellation.
Debt is one of the biggest problems in southern Africa. There are some countries that are paying up to 50% of their budget just to service foreign debt. There are other countries that have received debt relief, and some have received 100% debt cancellation. But we still see that there are problems, and fundamental questions that we need to answer. And as churches, we need to bring in more values from the churches about the whole issue of debt.
Why are we fighting for debt cancellation? We are fighting for debt cancellation because we want to free that money so that it can be injected into the social welfare of the people. There are so many children dying of malaria; so many children who cannot access ARVs [antiretroviral AIDS medicines]. There are so many people who are HIV positive. Money, if it is freed from debt service, can be injected into health, education, agriculture, and other useful things.
You want to give a free start to these highly indebted countries. Let them use that money to develop their own countries, to promote the welfare of their own people.
And therefore debt is, for us, a moral issue – we don’t want to see countries be enslaved perpetually. No, every seventh year, according to the Bible, the land is supposed to be given time to [lie] fallow. People are supposed to be given new life, the chance to begin again.
We are also trying to link the debt issue to trade. In trade we have policies that are not conducive for the well-being of people in Africa. At the same time they have got this huge foreign debt that they have to service. We see trade as a means – not as an end – so that money can be used for development.
On the other side, too, we are connecting debt, trade, and aid. If you look at the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, the need for reform is apparent — countries will not be able to achieve the MDGs because they are using money to service debt. On the other hand, they are not getting a good deal from trade. At the same time, aid they are getting has many conditionalities attached. So if you combine the three things, it’s a big problem for southern Africa; it compromises the region’s ability to make a leap forward. And that’s why we at the Economic Justice Network are fighting for fair trade, debt cancellation, and meaningful aid.
Francis Ng’ambi is an economist who is the Budget Monitoring Officer at the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa. Sojourners spoke with him in March at Ecumenical Advocacy Days.