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Ghana -Forever indebted?
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General News of Friday, 13 October 2006

Source: Culled from BBC

Ghana -Forever indebted?

When the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, in July last year cancelled the debt of Ghana and 17 of the poorest countries in the world, many raised a glass in celebration.

The historic decision came hot on the heels of the Live 8 concerts, when the great and the good of pop, rock and rap played live around the world to put pressure on the G8 leaders to "Make Poverty History".

Feeling the heat of public demand, backed up by the pop world's anti-poverty soundtrack, the leaders of the eight wealthiest nations on earth announced on 8 July that debts amounting to $72 billion would be written off. The G8 leaders also agreed to boost aid to developing countries by $50 billion.

So how is debt relief working out for those who live in the poorest countries? Do they feel like they have won a "victory"?

"Not at all, we're still poor and we still have to do what the international institutions tell us to do," says DeRoy Kwesi Andrew, a science teacher and filmmaker from Accra in Ghana.

Mr Andrew has spent the past year working on a documentary called Damned by Debt Relief, in association with the London-based youth education charity WorldWrite. Over the next month he will be touring the film around Britain.

Pre-Gleneagles, Ghana had been in debt to the tune of $6 billion to institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The pressure on such a poor country to pay back so much money was seriously stifling development.

At Gleneagles, Ghana had a huge chunk of its debt - $4.2 billion - written off forever. Surely that is a good thing? Andrew says it "sounds good" but the reality is rather different. Debt relief only focuses on "fixing the problems of the past", rather than investing in a better future, he says.

Debt relief gives poor countries no real new money or resources. All those billions of dollars in debt relief - it sounds like a lot, but it will be paid by G8 governments into the vaults of the World Bank and others over the next few years. We won't see it.

"What happened, in real terms, is that the leaders of G8 helped out their friends in the international banks. I didn't benefit. My friends and family in Ghana didn't benefit."

Mr Andrew knows only too well the hardships of poverty. He grew up in Yiwabra, a village in the Aowin Suaman district in the Western Region of Ghana. His parents were peasant cocoa farmers who walked five miles to work each morning and used axes, hoes and machetes to farm the land.

"You should see what it did to them", he says. "They became old, injured, tired."

His family of six lived in a "mud house, roofed with thatches", which was not connected to any electricity grid. "We used candles and cooked by fire."

Drudgery

It was only because Mr Andrew did well at local schools that he managed to get to Accra - "a city full of the colours of life, but also full of drudgery and stress", he says. His family still farms cocoa. Andrew says people in Ghana want real, meaningful development.

"We want houses made from cement with zinc roofing. Then they won't collapse in the heavy rains, which can kill people. We want combine harvesters so we don't have to bend down with cutlasses to do the farming. We want everything you have."

Yet the debt relief programme signed off at Gleneagles comes with strict conditions that deny Ghanaians the right to decide how to develop, he says.

For example, as part of the deal to have its debt written off Ghana is forbidden from investing in the productive base of its economy; instead it must implement small-scale "poverty reduction" measures that only help people "in incremental ways", says Mr Andrew.

In his film, various Ghanaian academics, journalists, activists and workers give their views on debt relief. Kwesi Pratt Jnr, an investigative journalist in Accra, says in the film that G8 is effectively telling Ghana "how to invest".

"No country in the West would accept that another country should be determining its priorities and how it spends its money. It is arrogant and insulting", he says.

... read the complete aricle from BB

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