"Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts." —Nehemiah 10:31
In Kenya, 1.3 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and many lack essential medicine and food. Half the population lives in poverty; 40 percent are unemployed. Yet, in recent years, the Kenyan government has had to pay as much in debt payments to foreign creditors—hundreds of millions a year just in interest—as it has for water, health, agriculture, roads, transport, and the finance ministry combined! With this budget, Kenya attempts to fund HIV/AIDS treatment, meager agricultural extension services for poor farmers, and a deteriorated road network that needs an estimated $1 billion in repairs.
Most of Kenya's external debt of some $10 billion was racked up during the 24-year dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi, which lasted until 2002. Moi and other corrupt government officials salted away billions in private bank accounts, as Western governments were well aware. Yet, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are controlled by the United States and other wealthy countries, continued to lend to Kenya until 1997.
As Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, puts it, "The people who are really being punished [for Kenya's debt] are the poor people who never received that money to begin with. ... Those who did business with our leaders knew they were corrupt, that they were not delivering services, that the money was quite often stolen and stashed away. Yet when you request cancellation [of debts], people want to pretend that you got that money."