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No Recovery Without Debt Relief

Summary:
The COVID-19 pandemic is a shared global challenge, and it demands a shared global response that addresses both the health and economic dimensions of the crisis. More extensive debt relief for Africa is an essential feature of any such response. ABUJA – Last month, the African Union launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to facilitate the production and provision of vital medical equipment – the latest achievement in an already impressive response to the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, in the same week, it was revealed that most of Nigeria’s federal government revenue was going to debt-service payments, and the country would be cutting public-health spending by 40% – even as COVID-19 infections continue to climb.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a shared global challenge, and it demands a shared global response that addresses both the health and economic dimensions of the crisis. More extensive debt relief for Africa is an essential feature of any such response.

ABUJA – Last month, the African Union launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to facilitate the production and provision of vital medical equipment – the latest achievement in an already impressive response to the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, in the same week, it was revealed that most of Nigeria’s federal government revenue was going to debt-service payments, and the country would be cutting public-health spending by 40% – even as COVID-19 infections continue to climb.

The contrast is as tragic as it is stark. The world’s youngest continent is itching not only to stand on its own two feet, but also to provide global leadership. And it remains hamstrung by an old foe: debt. If Africa is to achieve its potential, its creditors must set it free.

Debt relief works. Fifteen years ago this week, the G8 issued the Gleneagles declaration, relieving 18 “highly indebted poor countries” – Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia – of debt totaling more than $40 billion.

No longer saddled with massive debt-service costs, countries were able to invest more in their own economies and people. Many of the countries that had received debt...

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