By Antoine Lokongo
A ZAMBIAN PRIEST who campaigns for the cancellation of his country's unpayable debt warned this week that crippling foreign debt remains a stumbling block to Africa's progress in the coming millennium.
Fr Joe Koma Koma, head of the Justice and Peace Department of the Zambian bishops' conference, said that the stereotype of Africa as "a continent with soaring poverty levels" could be challenged in the next millennium, if Africa is offered a new chance through debt cancellation.
Fr Koma Koma, who is visiting the UK to promote debt awareness, said: "Africa badly needs total debt cancellation if it is going to have a meaningful chance of social and human development.
"So far all the strategies for debt relief taken by the World Bank and IMF have not targeted substantial poverty reduction and we are getting deeper into the debt trap. At the moment we are just borrowing money to pay back our loans."
Fr Koma Koma is helping to organise CAFOD's "human debt chain" during his visit to the UK. The chain, formed by thousands of debt campaigners, will be thrown around the centre of London on Sunday, June 13. The chain aims to pressure the world's most powerful leaders to take action on debt at the G8 meeting — the last summit of the world's leading industrial countries before the new millennium — which is taking place this month in Cologne, Germany.
"I hope they will seriously consider the campaign mounted by CAFOD and other organisations and charities in Europe and see that this is important for Africa and the Third World," Fr Koma Koma said. "If they cancel that debt, they will give new life to those countries. Our children will be able to go to school. Our people will go to hospital and find medicine and will have enough food to eat. That is something that can change Africa for the next millennium." Fr Koma Koma is convinced that only by giving their support to debt cancellation can the world's most powerful leaders achieve the internationally agreed target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015.
He described his task in Zambia as making his government aware that it should be accountable to its people.
"We are asking the government to consult and involve the people widely when they are asking for big loans so that the people may understand that the country is getting into debt for good reasons," he said.
To break the spiral of debt, Fr Koma Koma suggested that his government add a clause to its constitution allowing civil society and the Church to monitor the resources that would be freed by debt cancellation. "In that way," he said, "the people will be assured that that money will go to the right target."