Sub-Saharan African countries owe the IMF, World Bank, and rich countries more than $220 billion dollars. Such debt diverts funds from domestic needs. The disastrous impact can be seen in the lack of resources available to address the AIDS epidemic that is ravaging many of these countries. Perhaps nothing better illustrates why advocates for debt cancellation see the Jubilee 2000 movement as a vital opportunity to bring a glimmer of hope to places where it is desperately needed. Recent moves by the World Bank, IMF, and industrialized countries to improve debt relief are a start—but more is needed.
Debt: An Obstacle to Change
Ironically enough, the poverty of many people in sub-Saharan Africa has been made worse by previous efforts at debt relief. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have linked any debt cancellation with sweeping, externally imposed economic reforms. The "HIPC Initiative" (for "heavily indebted poor countries"), drafted by the World Bank and the IMF in 1996, forces indebted nations to enact draconian economic measures in order to receive even limited debt relief.
International financial institutions insist these reforms are necessary to create economies that work. Plainly put, the managers of the global economy insist that such measures are "pain for gain." But many feel that the suffering caused in the reform process is damaging the affected societies beyond repair. Governments try to implement the reform guidelines despite harm to their citizens, in a desperate attempt to qualify for international relief.