The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Damned by Debt Relief


Pauline Hadaway • Fourthwrite, Winter 2006

In July 2005, when the leaders of the world's 8 wealthiest nations (the G8) announced their decision to cancel the debt of 18 of the world's poorest nations, Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof gave thanks on behalf of the 'people without a voice', describing the offer as a 'victory for millions'. With the stroke of a pen many of the world's poorest people would, in Geldof's words, 'wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny'. While few, outside a handful of super rich celebrities, actually bought into Geldof's claim of 'mission accomplished', the G8 deal was effectively sold through the western media as an important milestone in the struggle against global poverty. Yet amidst all the back slapping of the G8/Live 8 jamboree, it's striking that nobody was asking ordinary people from indebted nations what they thought about it all.

The exclusion of ordinary Africans, Asians and South Americans from most media discussions around global poverty is the starting point for a new documentary, shot in Ghana, one of the beneficiaries of the G8 deal. Worldwrite's Damned by Debt Relief (, filmed by a young volunteer crew, takes a critical look at the impact of debt relief and poverty reduction strategies from the point of view of ordinary Ghanaians, while delivering a broadside to the smug complacency of the 'mission accomplished' brigade. A welcome antidote to 'poverty awareness' films like Orphans of Nkandla (, Damned by Debt Relief makes the case for a fairer distribution of the world's resources through the power of argument. Making no appeal to sentimentality, the overriding emotion is anger, not pity.

'This is the fact about debt relief. It does not deliver development and it also denies us the freedom to pursue development'. For people like DeRoy Kwesi Andrew, a science teacher based in Accra, the much-hyped G8 deal has delivered no worthwhile benefits, while seriously undermining local attempts to break the cycle of poverty through development. Andrew angrily dismisses the G8 deal as rubbish: 'Debt relief has given us nothing but it has taken away very much: our independence, our ability to develop, our self respect…..take away your debt relief, Bob Geldof, get off our backs!'

While many in the West remain divided on the causes of global poverty, most believe that the industrialised nations have, at the very least, a humanitarian duty to alleviate its worst effects. So when, at the height of last year's Live 8/ G8 awareness raising campaign, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown expressed 'outrage' at levels of poverty and infant mortality in Africa, his anger seemed to give voice to a mounting sense of frustration among many in the West, who, twenty years on from Live Aid, were seeing countries like Ghana collapse further and further into what appeared to be irredeemable poverty. For some, western aid was part of the problem because it encouraged ever greater levels of dependency among the poor, while financing avarice and corruption among Africa's ruling elites. For many, however, Africa's growing poverty was, at least in part, a consequence of its indebtedness, where poor sub Saharan countries were transferring around $30 million a day in repayments to western development banks, in the context of tens of thousands dying each day from diseases associated with poverty. From this perspective DeRoy Kwesi Andrew's repudiation of the G8 deal seems incomprehensible.

In summer 2005, as the G8 gathered at Gleneagles, Make Poverty History (MPH), an alliance of individuals, NGOs, celebrities, politicians and trade unionists, was mobilising public opinion, to pressurise world leaders to 'fulfil their obligations and promises to eradicate poverty' . Given that the industrialised nations currently consume around 86% of the world's resources, while almost a fifth of the world exists on less than $2 a day, MPH was pushing at an open door, highlighting the sheer injustice of institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund endlessly extracting billions of dollars in interest from the poorest of the poor. But instead of pushing the case for a substantial transfer of economic and technological resources, which would open up opportunities for the world's poorest nations to aspire to decent living standards and real political power, the MPH campaign focused instead on the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), UN endorsed poverty reduction targets, promising only minimal healthcare and primary education to the very poorest, alongside the halving of $1a day poverty and hunger by 2015. In other words, if every single MDG target were to be met over the next 10 years, hundreds of millions throughout the world would continue to suffer extreme poverty, while millions more simply survived at the most basic level.

According to Damned by Debt Relief, countries like Ghana are not simply facing the challenges of economic poverty at home but are further constrained by a poverty of expectation among donor nations in the West. For in order to qualify for debt relief, Ghana has been forced to draft poverty reduction strategies, agreeing social and economic targets dictated by western governments and aid agencies, which are orientated towards implementation of MDGs, aimed at the alleviation of poverty rather than economic growth. Although local taxes have risen to 'match fund' delivery of new poverty reduction programmes, development is restricted to low cost, community orientated schemes, which neither build the productive capacity of the nation nor work towards universal access to water, electricity, health care and higher education- the kind of public services we in the West take for granted.

According to journalist, Kwesi Pratt, editor of Insight magazine, the most negative impact of debt relief has been this loss of economic sovereignty, where foreign organisations determine how money is to be spent and everything rotates around what the donor wants, which in almost every case is small scale and localised rather than much needed investment in infrastructure, agriculture or industry,

Adding insult to injury, debt relief has not generated any new revenue streams for countries like Ghana, as the G8's much vaunted $72 billion debt write off simply represented a transfer of funds from G8 Treasuries into the vaults of the international banking system. Not a single cent will be invested into poor nations, and yet, while no new money is available, the G8 debt relief programme is reinforcing inequalities between rich and poor nations, where powerful international banks and aid agencies call the shots. As Kwesi Pratt points out, countries like Ghana with Highly Indebted Poor Country status are being told, 'You owe us so much, we are not going to take the money from you, you generate the money yourself through taxation, through your productive activity, don't pay it to us, keep it, but we are going to tell you how to invest that money.'

Demonstrating a nostalgia for the good old days of the Victorian Workhouse, 'donor approved investments', like the waterless toilet blocks serving 27,000 people in Ajumako-Bisease, provide worthy targets for the film makers' derision. Staffed by an elderly 'volunteer' cleaner not even equipped with basic materials to effectively carry out her work, the toilet block is proudly branded with the rainbow logo which denotes 'highly indebted nation status', otherwise known as a national declaration of bankruptcy. The rainbow logo turns up again and again on everything from rubbish bins to local cottage industries, where women engage in low skill, small scale manufacturing, financed by cold as charity loan schemes, which offer pitiful amounts of start up capital and from which men, being labelled un-creditworthy, are excluded.

For millionaire celebrities, World Bankers, UN and G8 political leaders, it's easy to grasp the appeal of low rent poverty reduction programmes like these, but less clear why trade unionists and anti poverty activists have embraced conservative political projects, which seek to lift half the world's poor from abject to grinding poverty within ten years. Perhaps the answer lies in a political culture, which, admitting no value in the material benefits it enjoys, adopts a romantic view of other people's poverty. So here in the relatively prosperous West, where industrialisation has already delivered highways, homes and hospitals, we believe we can afford some complacency, but, as this film shows, for the poor of Ghana, without sufficient infrastructure to support industrial or agricultural development, getting back to nature quite literally means scratching a living off the land.

For Nash Kwadjo Abbey, a community worker from Amamole village, near Accra, the need for industrial and economic development is a matter of life and death. Abbey demonstrates a building made from mortar and thatch, a family home, where a roof recently collapsed in heavy rains, killing a small child. 'What do people want? Concrete buildings with good roofing, zinc or slate. People need industries, good infrastructure. We need change.' 'What's your ambition?' one of the filmmakers asks a market trader selling imported shoes in Accra. 'I want to travel', she smiles 'but I don't have the money to travel, so I'm staying here!'

Socialists from my father's generation were inspired by a belief that scarcity and human need could be eradicated, not by forcing humanity back to nature, but through harnessing the power of human ingenuity and production for the benefit of all. For thousands of millions of people around the world, technological advances have already delivered improvements against almost every objective measure of human experience from life expectancy to daily food intake to infant mortality rates. Before industrialisation, where at least 200 out of every 1,000 children died in their first year, infant mortality globally is now down to 57 in every 1,000 thanks to advances in nutrition, hygiene and medical care. In terms of technological and political achievements, humanity owes a great debt to previous generations and still has much to be proud of in the present day; and yet a consensus is growing around claims that industrial development has made the world more dangerous and less hospitable. The new philosophy of 'scaling back' threatens to turn back the clock for thousands of millions, while trapping millions more at unacceptable levels of deprivation, hunger and disease.

Damned by Debt Relief contributes to one of the most important debates of our time, opening up contemporary orthodoxies to challenges from those who are not only excluded from the benefits of progress but don't even get to join in the debate. Its time we started listening and maybe asking a few awkward questions of our own, about the progressive credentials of political and social movements, which appeal to some of the most conservative instincts in society; those who desire to sustain human dependency and vulnerability to nature.





Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

14 March 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

Legal Aid Wrangle Continues
Michael McKevitt Justice Campaign

Statements on the Arrest of Gerry McGeough

Campaign for Noel Maguire
TJ O Conchúir

Paisleyites & Peelers
Anthony McIntyre

Equating Spectacle at Stormont with United Irishmen is Perverse
Tommy Gorman

Seacht mbuicéad caca go dtite ar a gcinn
Michael Gillespie

Nothing But the Truth
John Kennedy

Snapshot, 1993: Voters' Rights, MI5 Wrongs
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

Broad Church for Unionism
Dr John Coulter

The Man Without the Mask
Anthony McIntyre

The New Boyne Harriers
Brian Mór

UUP Possibilities
Dr John Coulter

Blinkered Vision
Anthony McIntyre

Damned by Debt Relief
Pauline Hadaway

6 March 2007

Irish Republican Ex-POWs Against the RUC/PSNI & MI5

Whispering Past the Graveyard
John Kennedy

RSF Campaign Reports
Tony McPhillips – Election Agent

Save Derry
Brian Mór

Support Peggy O Hara
Ex-POWs and Concerned Republicans Against RUC/PSNI & MI5

Only the Beginning
Mick Hall

St Bore's Day
Anthony McIntyre

SS Sinn Fein
John Kennedy

Election Guarantees Nothing
David Adams

Coulter's Pre-Election Report
Dr John Coulter

Others Promise...
Brian Mór

The Curse of the Caudillo Complex
Mick Hall

Rest, Do Not Surrender
Dolours Price

...We Deliver
Brian Mór

Super Six Dictator
Dr John Coulter

Anyone Up for a Serious Alternative?
Philip Ferguson

The View from Outside
Jerry Pepin

Boom to Bust?
Dr John Coulter

Tyre Trees
Anthony McIntyre

Cleanliness Not Next to Godliness in the Shankill
Marty Egan

Leadership Needed
Stephen Hughes

Where Does the State of the Union Leave the Rest of Us?
Richard O'Rawe



The Blanket

http://lark. phoblacht. net



Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices

To contact the Blanket project with a comment, to contribute an article, or to make a donation, write to:

webmaster@phoblacht. net