Clinton Plan 'Mere Public Relations'

The Clinton administration’s 1996 plan for dealing with African debt was "mere public relations," according to a member of the Tanzania-Germany Roundtable on Debt, Globalization, and Trade who addressed a Washington, D.C. conference for faith communities on African trade, aid, and debt. Rev. Fidon Mwombeki of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania decried the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt initiative, declaring that "there can be no sustained growth" under the plan. "Governments [in Africa] have become more accountable to the [International Monetary Fund] than to their own citizens," said Mwombeki. Instead Mwombeki urged that all debts be cancelled and said that the aid provided in Clinton’s recent "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act," while a step forward, is not enough.

The Washington, D.C. consultation this spring—sponsored by the Washington Office on Africa and the New York-based Stony Point Center—brought together missionaries, business people, politicians, and activists to support efforts aimed at overcoming Africa’s overwhelming debt burden. Njongonkulu Ndungane, Desmond Tutu’s successor as archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, told the gathering that the issue being addressed "is crucial for the survival of Africa."

Much of the weekend’s discussion called for major debt relief and a dialogue between creditors and debtors. "It is important to create international lending mechanisms that serve to benefit the borrowers and do not perpetuate patterns of overwhelming indebtedness," stated the participants in a draft of their final "Kairos" document.

Mark Harrison, program director for economic justice in the United Methodist Church, challenged denominations to take congressional members of their respective denominations to Africa. Others urged local churches to discover how their members and organizations can take steps to improve the situation for Africans by looking at investments and buying habits.

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