Canada eases African debt load ahead of UN speech

Globe and Mail
September 22, 2004
Hours before Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to make Africa a central part of his first address to the United Nations, his government announced that it has cancelled the debts owed Canada by three more African countries.

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale announced Wednesday that debts owed by Senegal, Ghana and Ethiopia have been wiped out as part of the ongoing ‘Canadian Debt Initiative.’ They owed Canada $9-million collectively.

“Excessive debt is one of the heaviest burdens to economic growth for African nations,” Mr. Goodale said in a release. “The relief provided today will enable these countries to spend more on priorities such as health and education, rather than debt payments.”

Mr. Martin will address the General Assembly of the United Nations around lunchtime Wednesday, the day after the latest UN session began. His speech is expected to discuss the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, reportedly planning to recommend a peacekeeping force of Africans.

On the eve of his UN speech, he issued a stern condemnation of world apathy over Sudan, saying that assistance has been “far too long in coming.”

“We should have intervened last June when Canada called for it,” he said Tuesday evening. “It’s been a long time in coming.”

Canada is willing to do its part by contributing equipment and funds but top officials said troops have been ruled out, except perhaps for a team to help with logistics to quell a civil war that is reported to have killed at least 50,000 people and forced more than one million others to flee their villages.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that the world body will convene an impartial commission of experts to investigate reports of genocide and other war crimes in Sudan. Mr. Martin said global help to ease suffering should not depend on whether or not there is a finding of genocide, something the United States insists has occurred.

Canada has given $14.5-million since last October toward helping displaced people in Darfur and another 200,000 Sudanese refugees across the border in Chad who fled fighting between government-backed militias and two rebel groups.

Mr. Martin’s speech Wednesday may also address the less glamorous but still pressing issue of debt relief.

The announcement by Mr. Goodale nearly doubles the number of African countries whose debt Canada has forgiven. The debts of Bolivia and Honduras have also been erased.

The debt-forgiveness program is slated to erase a total of more than $1-billion in debts.

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts

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