African country (not Rwanda) in debt? Tell creditor to talk to AU

Monday April 15 2024

AU’s 55 leaders need not fear assassination if they form a united front to handle debt, but not a refusal to pay a la Sankara. And neither Rwanda, nor Botswana refuse to pay, they just manage well. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG


The week to review Rwanda three decades after genocide showed impressive development indicators which make even more sense if compared with other African countries. Rwanda, for example, is among Africa’s healthiest three, others being Mauritius and Seychelles.

While Rwanda is small at 26,338sq kms, a population of 14 million and purchasing power parity per capita GDP of $2,500, the other two are tiny but rich, with Mauritius at 2,040sq kms, a population of 1.2 million and GDP/capita PPP of $23,000; and Seychelles at 455sq kms, 120,000 people and GDP/capita PPP of $30,000 – the highest in Africa. So is smaller better?

Yes and no.

Rich Seychelles’ wealth distribution is mean, its poor really needy. Multi-racial Mauritius is fairer. Rwanda, by far the poorest of the healthiest three, has much better distribution, its health systems being community based.

Read: BUWEMBO: So, World Bank won’t lend us a cent?

Looking at the continent’s big threat — debt — Rwanda is easily best-off in Africa, up there with Botswana. Multilateral lenders describe Rwanda’s public debt as safe, prudently managed and low risk. Even with much borrowing for infrastructure development, its loans are concessional with no corruption.


But Mauritius and Seychelles have had their debt hovering around 100 percent of GDP in recent years.

So how can all Africa attain Rwanda’s safe debt status? The answer is in Addis Ababa.

Addressing the July 1987 Organisation of African Unity summit in Addis, young, Pan-African revolutionary Thomas Sankara said that in its then form, “Debt is skillfully managed reconquest of Africa, intended to subjugate its growth and development through foreign rules.”

Sankara prophetically hinted at that being his last summit, alluding to his possible liquidation for calling for Africa’s “united front against debt, to assert that refusal to repay is not an aggressive move, but a fraternal move to speak the truth”.

Today we can say without emotion that Sankara spoke too early and was liquidated.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also chillingly described the danger of Africa’s debt after 37 years – chilling coincidence as Sankara was killed aged 37!

Of course, no treacherous assistant is going to murder Antonio Guterres for he didn’t call for debt rebellion but rather, concerted global action to handle what he called a “Development Disaster” last July as he launched the UN’s world debt report, and he woke us up to the fact that African countries are charged eight times more interest than European countries by the same lenders.

Read: BUWEMBO: It seems my aunt’s ghost still lives on in African states

Equally, the AU’s 55 leaders need not fear assassination if they form a united front to handle debt, but not a refusal to pay a la Sankara. And neither Rwanda, nor Botswana refuse to pay, they just manage well.

With 55 different management styles, don’t expect the continent to be debt safe before it gets re-colonised. When Sankara spoke 37 years ago, collateralisation of foreign loans hadn’t started. Today, some African countries are already at risk/different stages of ceding management of their very own institutions to money lenders.

Briefly the AU, which is about to appoint a fresh Africa Commission for the next five years, has little option but to face debt squarely and manage it jointly — for even if they make resolutions, individual member states will not be able to comply with them if they aren’t in the interest of the moneylenders. For debt is already weaponised.

After last month when an appellate court in America absolved their stupendously rich companies of any liability for the suffering of Congolese children used in mining the precious metals that generate so much wealth abroad, no one expects much economic justice for Africa, currently remitting more money outwards than it receives.

Let AU consolidate all the members’ debts, devise the legal means to take them over as long as the sovereign members are agreeable to it, and inform the creditors about its new repayment plan.

The AU should leverage the “new oil” in form of strategic minerals that are crucial for the powering the world’s energy transition. A full inventory of the mineral deposits should be done and a continental formula worked out to reconcile internal payments amongst partners. Countries like Congo and Zambia would get richer but all Africa would benefit as it would be able to control supply, prices and a calibrated upscaling of processing the raw materials.

Acting in unity is not a choice but a must. It can only be opposed by those who are either ignorant or complicit in the weaponisation of debt. Even the previous colonisation used local collaborators. In the recolonisation, such traitors signed secret loans around 2016 committing Mozambique to $2 billion without involving the relevant state organs.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]