Lucianne Limo, The Standard
January 23, 2007
Prof. Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2004, said Kenya
had so far repaid more than $51 billion on external debt, the professor
described as ‘suspect.’
In her keynote address at the World Social Forum On Illegitimate Debt Dialogue [PDF] ,
Prof. Maathai said: “It is no secret that a number of the loans given
to many dictatorial, unaccountable and irresponsible leaders in African
countries were never intended to be for the benefit of the people.”
Prof. Maathai, who is also a legislator for Kenya’s Tetu administrative
division in the country’s central province area, said the country’s
debt crisis remains one of the key obstacles on the African continent.
“Despite the improved democratization process and improved governance
in many countries, the debt burden continues to impede the empowerment
of people on reduction of poverty in many countries of our developing
nations,” she said, adding that international financial institutions
were not keen on cancelling Kenya’s debts because they were the ones
who were benefiting from them.
Prof. Maathai said loans had been used to oppress the people,
strengthen the ruling and cooperating elites and exploit resources at
the expense of the health of the environment and the welfare of the
people. “It is ironic, indeed inexcusable, that such a rich region as
Africa, should have the dubious reputation of being the poorest,”
Maathai stated. She said while debate on debt sustainability had
increased, official discourse on debt had never allowed any discussion
on the legitimacy of debt.
Prof. Maathai said addressing the issue of illegitimacy was not only
about dealing with irresponsible lending of the past, but about
ensuring more responsible lending in the future.
People should question the huge debts by poor countries and its
legitimacy in order to highlight the issues of responsibility,
accountability, poverty and justice, said Prof. Maathai.
To that end, the Kenya Debt Relief Network (KENDREN), an umbrella body,
is attempting to get hold of debt records for scrutiny by a team of
experts who will verify how the money was used. The team will also
calculate what percentage of the loan has been repaid.
Meanwhile, Prof. Maathai also disclosed that in Kenya’s 2005/2006
budget, when the Ministry of Finance proposed spending Sh112 billion
for debt servicing, current MPs voted down a proposal to open the
country’s debt registry to public scrutiny.