Letter: Africa pays too high a price for following the advice of the World Bank and IMF

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Africa takes second place' (28 April) is quite right in stating that political and economic reform is as necessary in Africa as in the former Soviet bloc if assistance is to be effective; but so, too, is substantial support for those reforms once they have happened. The question is whether the international community has the political will to mobilise adequate assistance to support the increasing number of African countries that have already made dramatic economic and political changes.

Your claim that northern governments have addressed Africa's debt problems are unfounded. Successive debt relief packages have not succeeded in reducing Africa's debt burden, merely in reducing the gap between what Africa is scheduled to pay and what it is able to pay. The Trinidad terms debt relief initiative proposed by John Major two years ago has never been fully implemented and Africa's debt is now dollars 30bn higher than in 1989.

During the Eighties the region's debt increased from the equivalent of 28 per cent of GNP to 109 per cent. Oxfam shares the UN Secretary-General's assertion that reducing the continent's debt burden must be a priority for the international community.

Your assertion that most countries which have taken the advice of the World Bank/IMF have reversed their decline is equally unfounded. In one of its most recent assessments of structural adjustment (SAPs) in Africa, the World Bank concluded that adjustment has 'left much to be desired in terms of restoring growth and social welfare'. Countries implementing SAPs have performed no better than others in restoring investment, controlling inflation and reducing their budget and trade deficits - and they remain locked in a downward spiral of economic decline.

Oxfam's experience of SAPs is that they have failed to address poverty alleviation. Poor people have been hard hit by cuts in services, increasing unemployment and price rises. Oxfam believes it is time for a new approach that looks at enabling the poor to benefit from the reforms through increasing their access to credit, marketing infrastructure and other services.

We do not agree with your argument that Africa's problems are intractable. We believe that because of the many changes sweeping the continent there is an opportunity to prevent the cycle of conflict and poverty spiralling out of control - an opportunity that needs the backing of the international community. We hope your readers will join us in our campaign to mobilise support for a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa to help to underpin the positive changes. It will be cheaper to act now than pick up the pieces later.

Yours sincerely,


Director, Oxfam


28 April

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