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Getting Students Engaged About Africa

Getting Students Engaged About Africa
National college tour seeks to raise awareness about economic injustices toward African countries

By Angelique Shofar

Forty million Africans face chronic food shortages everyday, while millions have died as a result of war and conflict. And it is estimated that 27 million are living with HIV/AIDS. Yet, despite Africa’s multiple devastations, the continent transfers almost $15 billion dollars a year to rich nations in payment of external debt.

During the oil crisis of the 1970s, African nations began to experience a shortage and scarcity in imports like bread, soap and medicine. As a result, several African countries acquired loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to provide basic necessities for their citizens. Some of the loans, unfortunately, were odious and illegitimate, procured by dictatorial powers not for the needs or the   interest of the people.

Consequently, the impact repayment of debt is having on African countries is detrimental. With most African countries having a 60 percent to 85 percent national budget for debt servicing, there is little money left for such things as food, educational improvements and health care.

One group is trying to bring national attention to debt relief for African countries. The American Friends Service Committee’s Africa Initiative Program launched its “Life Over Debt: Africa in the Age of Global Apartheid” college campus tours last month to highlight the need for immediate cancellation of Africa’s debt. The national campaign is also an effort to educate, cultivate and empower the next generation of Africa advocates who will work for the next 50 years to change U.S. foreign policy toward Africa.

“Students need to become more engaged in Africa. At some campuses it was evident that the discussion on Africa as well as debt relief has not happened,” says Abdul Kamara, a Sierra Leonean who attends Bradford University in the United Kingdom.

“The cause of much unrest in Africa is conflict and wars, external forces, colonialism, slave trade, weaponry manufacturing and a deep interest in Africa’s mineral resources,” says Gregory Angaluki Sasita, a Kenyan native who works in Botswana.

The Life Over Debt campus tour focused on increasing leadership development, sparking mobilization and cultivating working relationships with universities.

“There is a lack of historical and political knowledge of      present-day Africa in higher education institutions,” says Roxanne Lawson, associate coordinator of AFSC’s Peacebuilding Unit Africa Program.

“Africa is affected by multiple crises, most serious being the HIV/AIDS pandemic, conflict and chronic famine. Yet Africa pays almost $15 billion in debt service annually, more than is invested in health and education. Debt repayment under these conditions is, quite frankly, criminal,” says Imani Countess, coordinator of the AFSC Peacebuilding Unit Africa Program.

In February the finance ministers from seven of the wealthiest nations (G-7) met and affirmed a commitment to 100 percent debt cancellation for impoverished countries. For the first time, wealthy nations who control the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) see the need for debt cancellation for countries that cannot pay.

The impact afforded to debt relief varies. Tanzania, for example is one of six countries to complete the current debt relief program. According to the World Bank, Tanzania received $3 billion in debt relief and has used the savings to increase education spending and eliminate school fees for elementary school education. Almost overnight, an estimated 1.6 million kids returned  to school. Uganda, however, demonstrates that current relief efforts are not sufficient. The first country to complete the debt relief program has seen its debt increase by 75 percent after coffee prices plummeted.

The Jubilee Act of 2004 — a bill that would cancel debts the world’s poorest countries owe the IMF — was co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Barney Frank, D-Mass.; Spencer Bacchus, R-Ala.; Jim Leach, R-Iowa; and Barbara Lee, D-Calif. They will re-introduce the Jubilee Act in March, which requires the U.S. Treasury Department to work multilaterally to eliminate the international debts of 50 nations without attaching harmful conditions.

The Life Over Debt campus tour included stops at 24 colleges in nine cities. The tour concluded late last month in Washington  and California, visiting several schools including Howard University and the University of California-Berkley.

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