Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Politics and Economics of Debt Relief

Onyango Oloo Calls on Kenyans Abroad To Step Up to The Plate...

1.0. Kenyan Sequel to Unforgiven

If you grew up in Kenya in the early to mid seventies, you may very well have been wonderstruck by the screen persona of

Clint Eastwood when he was a silent, sullen ass kicker in those Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone like

A Fistful of Dollars,

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and its 1965 sequel

For a Few Dollars More. Speaking as someone who was raised in Pwani's ancient city of

Mvita aka Mombasa, sometimes, those of us who lived in

Tononoka, Buxton, Sparki, Sega, Msaji, Bomani and other neighbourhoods near the Mombasa Stadium would catch remounts of these flicks on alternate Saturday mornings where they had their discount

One Shilling all round screenings- meaning, that for the price of only one shilling we could go into the Moon's Cinema at 10:00 am and have our fill of what to us were exciting gun battles and in retrospect, a lot of machismo tough guy strutting peppered with that what we did not realize back then to be racist depictions of Indigenous, Aboriginal and First Nations peoples often portrayed either as perennial bad guys or the gullible savages waiting for this or that mzungu to save them from mortal perdition. Later in life, Clint Eastwood graduated to become, in 1986, a Republican Mayor of Carmel a small California town(insisting on a $200 monthly salary) before stepping up to the plate as an actor's director beloved by his Hollywood peers across the celluloid ideological divide. Sometimes last month I went to see his

Million Dollar Baby with my teen son and I could see why it garnered a lot of Oscar nods even as I was perturbed by its anti-disability pro-euthanasia themes and sub-themes.

That cameo tribute to a contemporary film legend is to justify using the title of

one of his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies as my intro to this otherwise droll and dry subject of debt relief as it pertains to Kenya and other African countries.

The Kenya Times newspaper, which is usually the first out of the blocks with its online edition out of three Nairobi based dailies, reports in its Sunday, June 12, 2005 edition that government of Kenya suffered a lockout when it came to debt forgiveness bonuses handed out today(Saturday, June 11, 2005).

Today's Guardian of London gave an even more in-depth treatment earlier this afternoon which is part of an expanded Special Report section on Debt Relief.

Informing these breaking news stories was the work of the Commission for Africa- the "Dream Team" headed by British PM Tony Blair that has taken on the crusade of African development with some gusto. One can see the general thrust of the Commission's approach by clicking on this link to the Executive Summary of their report which came out on the 11 March 2005. Perhaps it would be advisable to look at the Declaration that came out that same day before you put on your literary and virtual gum boots to slog and wade through the Full Report that is available here.

The news of the debt write off today came a few days after the release of The Final Communique Of The Commision For Africa Review Meeting held at the AMREF International Training Centre, Nairobi, Kenya 6—7th June, 2005 and happened on the same day that the world's most adored political superstar

Nelson Mandela, speaking in an Arctic city in Norway during "The 4664 Concert" urged the G-8 countries to do the right thing to eradicate the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In short, this Saturday appeared to be quite a coup, quite a triumph for those friends of Africa in the West who have been urging the G-8 states to do something about debt relief and HIV/AIDS.

This is not the place to go into an extended scholarly tour of the whole debt relief debate.

Suffice to mention that the Bretton Woods institutions are very much part of the mix since it is after all, the IMF and the World Bank debts that are being scrapped off as per some conditions shaped largely by the two institutions. This is nothing new because the IMF, as far back as five years ago was responding to some of the pressures from the global Jubilee movement to make a dent in the writing off of these debts.

2.0 Should We Mourning or Celebrating?

The whole discourse on debt relief is very complex. For instance if you go over to the SEATINI site and browse through this UNCTAD report, you see the issue of debt cancellation being tied paradoxically to INCREASED Overseas Development Assistance.

Growing in currency in terms of every day civil society chatter and blather is the notion of Odious Debts, a principle that has of late been articulated by one of the most unlikely heroes of the anti-globalization movement,

Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World Bank, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and a member of the Cabinet under President Bill Clinton, received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics. He is a professor of economics and finance at Columbia University.

Members of the American chapter of the world-wide faith-based Jubilee Movement have been stepping up their campaign for total debt cancellation.

Mark Engler with Foreign Policy in Focus, the oldest progressive lobby group in the United States put recently put together this important primer on debt cancellation.

The progressive friends of Africa in North America and Europe must first be commended for MAINSTREAMING the issue of odious debts to the point where today 18 countries benefited from this global campaign to compel the richest countries of the world to take some responsibility for the legacy of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.

At the same time, there are many observers who are loudly QUESTIONING the very rationale of debt cancellation itself.

I mean, who will quible with millions of dollars freed up for national development initiatives rather than back breaking, usurious loan payments to the IMF?

What is troubling, as Uganda born SEATINI Editor

Chandrakant Patel currently based in Geneva argues is the persistence of the DEPENDENCY assumptions about the North-South partnership.

Chandrakant Patel observes, inter alia:

Unfortunately, this recipe for greater aid dependency is precisely the reason why so many countries in the South have been brought to their present plight. In arguing for more of the same, UNCTAD and similar organizations are advocating further dependence, more creditor leverage and zero prospect of meeting the Millennium Goals. Until policy makers accept that there is no correlation whatsoever between more aid and more growth, or between aid and improved savings or better income distribution, (as asserted, contrary to all evidence, by the mainstream neo-liberal economists and international organizations), and in consequence jettison much of the advice emanating from the neo-liberal policy makers, chances of real economic transformation will remain a distant prospect. Available evidence does suggest, on the other hand, that much of the aid is preempted by the well off and a major source of graft and capital flight.

Is it actually a good thing for overseas development assistance to be DOUBLED, TREBLED or QUADRUPLED?

Are the old debts being written off so that Africa can be even more firmly embedded into the imperialist vortex as part of a sinister Recolonization Project?
In an editorial piece penned yesterday,
Dr Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, the Nigerian-born, Kampala-based Secretary General of the Pan African Movement pointed out:

Even if he has now succeeded in getting Bush to use nearly the same
language as him on debt cancellation this is where it stops. The
devil as they say is in the details. The Bush people want debt
cancellation to be paid for by the lending multilateral institutions
such as the IMF and the World Bank. This may mean that money pledged
for relief of poverty will be diverted to debt cancellation. In plain
language: No new monies on the table just a recycling of what is
already available. In biblical terms it means robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So where does this leave Blair and his big plans for Africa? Nowhere
really. While he has put high premiums on persuading his American
bosses the truth is that other G8 countries are not really singing
their hymns from the same book as him. Germany, France and Japan have
their own priorities and would not be lectured to by a British Prime
Minister on his way out of No 10 Downing Street. Blair may be seeking
his international legacy via Africa but both the German Chancellor
and the French President are also seeking their own legacies too, and
Africa may not play big in their calculations.

Also this premium on Washington ignores other multilateral creditors
to Africa such as the Africa Development Bank which in many cases, is
a bigger lender of development loans to many African countries.
African countries still hold a majority stake in the bank. Why is
Blair not canvassing them for support on his debt write off? It must
be his patronising assumption that once Europe and America agrees
which African dares oppose? Two weeks ago Blair's people made a big
play on the EU countries agreeing to double aid to Africa as yet
another major breakthrough. This will be done by 2008. But the same
EU was already committed to making AID 0.7% of GNP for thirty years
and renewed this pledge 5 years ago through the Millennium
Development Goals of the UN. Are we to celebrate their promising to
reach 0.50% when they promised 0.70% 30 years ago?

My concern is that this Blair focus on Africa is going to be yet
another Shakespearean tale, "... told by an idiot, full of sound and
fury signifying nothing."

Africans must stop looking outside for our progress. Our salvation is
within us. We are our own liberators.

Does that mean there is nothing outsiders can do to help us? No,
there is a role for others but we cannot adequately take advantage of
other peoples' help if we have not decided what we want to do for
ourselves and how we want to go about it.

When Bob Geldof was challenged about why he is organising a concert
for Africa 21 years after his first one and there are no African
musicians apart from Yousof N'dour, the pathetic response from one of
his spokespersons was that he did not have African musicians in his
address book. This from a man who is regarded as Mr Africa globally
merely shows how Westerners regard Africans as objects of their
sympathy rather than agents of changing their own situation.

We have to summon the courage to stand up to these new missionaries
in Africa represented by western humanitarian NGOs and politicians
like Blair and 'Globatricians' like Bob Geldof. Their 'good'
intentions must match our aspirations. We should do it together where
possible, do it alone where necessary but at every stage we should
have the veto, not them. We cannot outsource our progress and
development. To borrow a phrase recently used by my Good Ndugu,
Firoze Manji, Editor of Pambazuka News: Nothing About Us without Us.

3.0. Implications for the Debt Relief Campaign for Kenyan Social Justice Activists and Democrats

While doing my quick research for this essay I came across a news dispatch from Reuters released today (Saturday, June 11, 2005) that quotes our National Planning Minister saying:

"Those faithful in servicing their debt like Kenya are being ignored while HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) who have failed to service the debt are getting more attention. This is not good for Africa. If countries with economic potential like Kenya are forgiven their debt, it will help to pull up the other countries in the region to grow their economies. Concentrating on HIPC countries is not a very progressive thing to do.

Dr.Peter Anyang' Nyong'o is a decent and well-meaning man, but I must tell him that he is speaking through his non-existent hat.


He knows, even amidst the hand-wringing that the Kibaki regime is wearing the dunce cap and standing in the corner of the imperialist class room while our neo-colonial masters flex their kiboko about to tell the errant Nairobi school boy to come and lie down and receive six or seven of the best lashes on their bum-bum. It is not as if it is a big secret that Sir Edward Clay the local British supervisor of the Kenya plantation has been filing reports back to Whitehall on such pesky matters as Goldenberg, Anglo Fleecing and the 20 other cases of grand graft. It is not as if the forced ousters of donor darlings like John Githongo, Gladwell Otieno and others has gone un-noticed among the EU member countries. These diplomats follow the local news very closely and they are quite aware of the arrogance of the Murungarus, Kiraitus, Mwirarias and other NAK Untouchables. Payback is a MF, to use the African-American saucy expression. The Kibakites could prance in front of their followers in their rural and small town constituency offices swaggering with overconfidence how they are tawalaring the country according to their whims, but at the end of the day, who pays the piper calls the tune.

When I sent off my missive to Tony Blair on the eve of the budget, it crossed my mind that this was the overlooked part that the neo-liberal Talibans had forgotten in the mad blitzkrieg against the civil servants- which was paradoxically aimed at pleasing the very same donors.

The UK, the EU, Canada, Japan and of course Uncle Sam, through their local and international reconnaissance briefings know how unpopular and alienated the Kibaki-NARC regime is. It will therefore continue to dangle the carrot of complete debt cancellation even as they wield the stick of donor ultimatums on social, economic and political reforms.

If they have their way, of course, they would want the Kenyan government to embrace the neo-liberal mantra. But in order for their long term ideological and economic agendas to take root in Kenya, they must ensure that the bunch they are dealing with in Nairobi has popular and political LEGITIMACY among the Kenyan people. Going by the admittedly skewed findings of the Steadman Group, Mwai Kibaki's personal popularity ratings are in the toilet.

The donors can now twist Kibaki's arms to quicken the passage of the long promised constitution. I would argue that an additional factor behind Raila Odinga's dramatic retreat may have to do with his reading of the tea leaves and realizing that it is in the LDP's interests to remain within the NARC fold because the tide is about to turn AGAINST the Kiraitu-Murungaru faction of NAK even though casual observers are seeing it otherwise.

Kenyan social justice activists within and outside the coungtry have a golden opportunity to achieve two objectives:

1. Mobilize wananchi for the passage of a new democratic constitution;

2. Lobby the G-8 in the weeks leading up to and following the big Scotland summit that Kenya too deserves to have its debts written off.

How to do this?

Well, by applying dialectics after doing a careful critical analysis of the concrete situation in the country. To unpack this Marxist mumbo jumbo, I am simply saying that we(read members of the Kenya social justice and democratic formations) can push our allies in KANU, NAK, LDP, Ford-Kenya, Ford-People, NPK and elsewhere to reach a consensus about a speedy passage for a new constitution. As matters stand, our maximum stance should be to push for the Bomas Draft but be prepared to make concessions as long as these are not retreats from principle. Keeping the big picture in mind, we should try and pass the best constitution that can be agreed upon after calibrating the balance of power between NAK, the LDP, KANU, the FORDS and of course the various(and often fractious civil society contingents). This is a task well within our grasp if we divide our agenda into minimum and maximum demands, and further into immediate, short-term and long term democratic reform agendas. Like I have been arguing over and over again, it behooves us to cobble a United Democratic Front ASAP to make sure that collectively we can confront, cajole, arm-twist, lobby, plead with, agitate against the mainstream flip floppers in all of the above parties.

Simultaneously, we should (and this is a task where Kenyans abroad can rise to the challenge it they overcome their allergic reaction to organized progressive politics) have a strategy for example how we in Canada can approach Paul Martin and lobby for debt cancellation in partnership with our Kenyan based colleagues- and do the same in the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere. In order to do this as Kenyans abroad we must EVOLVE beyond organizing just nyamchoms or weekend hengs to form an INTERNATIONAL AD HOC COALITION of OVERSEAS KENYANS WORKING TOGETHER ON the IMMEDIATE TASK of 100% DEBT CANCELLATION for Kenya by Jamhuri Day, 2005. It is doable because we know that Kenya remains a STRATEGIC COUNTRY for the Western donors.

Can we do this?

Well, one of the most IMMEDIATE pointers will be to see whether this digital essay, like hundreds of others before it, will be met with the usual mix of deafening silence on Kenyonline, KCO-L and Africa Op-Ed, cat calls on RC Bowen, serious feedback on Mambogani, mixed reactions on Mashada and Kenyaniyetu and further mixed reviews on the Nation Forum.

It is a bit distressing for me personally, to continually witness thousands of some of the most educated, highly trained and intelligent Kenyan minds abroad preferring to log on to some discussion sites to pass sexist comments on Kenyan women and trade tired recycled jokes when there is so much we can do as Kenyans abroad to contribute to democracy and development back home if we got our collective political act together.

As they say in those hip-hop and spoken word gigs:


I am OUT.


Folks,having glanced at the time six seconds ago,I just noticed that I have been researching and writing (give or take a break here and there) for almost 36 hours straight- and this is after all a WEEKEND.

Should I break my three month beer fast and guzzle one or two cold

Canadian or

Mexican lagers OR

stick FIRMLY and RESOLUTELY to my strict Teetotaler regimen of

juice, juice juice and

bottled water bottled water bottled water?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.....

Onyango Oloo


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