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Ebola-hit west African countries press for debt cancellation

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Reuters/Gary Cameron

Presidents of west African countries struck by the Ebola virus have called for a cancellation of their debt to aid their economic recovery. As the number of Ebola cases drops, the focus is turning to helping rebuild broken healthcare systems and restarting business.


“Is this asking too much?” asked Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as she called for debt forgiveness during a high-level roundtable at the World Bank in Washington on Friday.

Dossier: Ebola outbreak 2014

“We say no,” Sirleaf said. “Because a strong Mano River Union [Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea] can be a formidable force for recovery and resilience in the sub-region.”

Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma has already voiced support for debt cancellation, telling the Reuters news agency in an interview that “it will take us a long way forward in our transformation agenda”.

There was no immediate reaction from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. However, the African Development Bank’s President Donald Kaberuka acknowledged that multilateral agencies could provide some “debt relief”.

“We need to provide them this debt relief, it’s not a lot of money and we can afford it,” Kaberuka said during the Washington meeting.

The combined debt of the three Ebola-hit countries is more than 3.1 billion dollars, according to the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa.

In a January 2015 report, the UNECA said that debt cancellation would give them “breathing space to better address the short-term economic and social challenge” which in turn would help put their “long-term recovery on a solid footing”.

Comment: Tim Jones, Jubilee Debt Campaign

Potentially it could save the countries millions of dollars. All three countries, as well as the Ebola crisis having such a devastating human effect on them, has also had a devastating effect on the economy. It’s therefore scandalous that they’re still being expected to repay debts to people like the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank. A couple of months ago the IMF did announce that some of the debts of the three countries were being cancelled. But at the same time they announced that they were even going to lend more money which would actually increase their overall debt. So this is leading to money just flooding out of the country when what they need is a halt to those debt payments and grants to help them recover. Unfortunately so far the World Bank and African Development Bank haven’t cancelled any [debts] and all of these institutions particularly the IMF and World Bank have plenty of money, they could easily afford to write off these debts and not even notice. Effectively both the IMF and World Bank are both run by the US and Europeans together and so it’s those governments that ultimately bear responsibility for what they’re doing and what that is at the moment is demanding that these debts are repaid, particularly in the case of the World Bank. So we really need to see people in European countries challenging their governments to say, ‘why are you requiring these debts to be repaid to the World Bank?’.
Tim Jones, Jubilee Debt Campaign