Economic Development in Africa 2004

Debt Sustainability - Oasis or Mirage?

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In the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the international community has set itself a target of reducing poverty by half by the year 2015. Many observers have now come to the conclusion that, on present trends, there is very little likelihood that this objective can be achieved at any time close to that date in the poorer countries, including in Africa. The continent’s debt problems and its resource requirements are inextricably linked to the capacity of African countries to generate capital accumulation and growth. The current study questions Africa’s debt sustainability and tries to put these and other related issues in perspective making a number of recommendations on how to deal with Africa’s debt overhang, either through the adoption of new approaches or a major revision and improvement of present debt relief policies.

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The analysis illustrates the weaknesses of the HIPC approach with respect to finding a permanent exit solution to the debt crisis of African HIPCs, and highlights the fact that several other equally poor African countries have been left out of the process. On the question of the level of debt deemed to be sustainable for countries the majority of whose population lives on less than one or two dollars a day per person, the answer is self-evident: considering the seriousness with which the international community is addressing the attainment of the MDGs, these targets should be used as a major benchmark for debt sustainability. This in turn implies that virtually all of the outstanding debt would need to be written off, as the resources needed to attain these goals are substantial.

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