Drowning in Debt, too?

Ferocious floods in Mozambique in February and March wiped out crops and entire towns—and rekindled the debate over elimination of international debt to keep the country from drowning in red ink.

Initial estimates of damage to crops and infrastructure indicate that one-third of the maize crop was lost, and the key transportation routes to South Africa as well as those linking Maputo and the port of Beira were severed.

According to Abid Aslam, writing for the Rome-based  Inter Press Service, much of the relief pledged by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is in the form of “accelerated loans—which Mozambicans eventually will have to repay.”

In Africa, a subtext to the argument over debt relief is the belief that Africa can take care of itself, or at least need not always be dependent upon Western aid in times of crisis. “At this time, the future of Mozambique is mortgaged to the international community which is now defining the agenda and the rhythm of development,” said the independent weekly Savana of Maputo (March 10). “The aid of the international community is generous and welcome, but…please, where is our government’s intervention at this critical moment?”

In Zambia, the government-owned Sunday Mail of Lusaka (March 5) commented, “Africa has to show that it can help itself.…Mozambicans need much more than words of consolation. They need medicine, they need tents, they need blankets, and they need renewed hope. All this Africa can provide, and most of what could be asked of the Western world is debt cancellation, for surely how (can) a country that is facing such devastation be expected to pay back any debt?”

In South Africa, the conservative Sunday Times of Johannesburg (March 5) said, “The sorry tale of Mozambique underlines the need for Africa to start looking within itself for answers.…What is needed is an [African] organization that will break from the past of whining..., an organization that will seek to act for Africans and not just as a vehicle to extend the begging bowl to the U.N. and its American controllers.”