On Wednesday, April 7, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, along with Caritas Africa, The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), Association of Consecrated Women of East and Central Africa (ACWECA), hosted an online event titled “Launch of COVID-19 Debt Relief Campaign in Africa: Issuing a Call for Dialogue, Reflection, and Advocacy”. The webinar took place at: 09:00 – 11:00 (EDT); 13:00 – 15:00 (GMT); 15:00 – 17:00 (CEST); 16:00 – 18:00 (EAT).
The webinar’s structure was three-fold:
• SEE: Facilitating dialogue around the subject of external debt and its real effects on people and communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
• JUDGE: Examining the complexities of financing and external debt to move towards understanding and resolution.
• ACT: Building capacity to advocate for equitable and just debt structures and sustainable development.
After a welcome speech by Rev. Charlie Chilufya, S.J., Director of Justice and Ecology Office, JCAM; the introductory remarks of H.Exc. Mons. Gabriel Justice Yaw Anokye, Archbishop of Kumasi (Ghana) and President of Caritas Africa, Rev. Henry Akaabiam, Secretary general of SECAM, and Rev. Augusto Zampini-Davies, Adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; Lucy Espila, Policy and Advocacy, Caritas Africa, introduced the webinar with an opening prayer for all the participants.
Speakers were divided into three sessions.
At the first session "SEE: Insights from the Margins (Cases from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Cameroon)", with the moderation of Fernando Saldivar, S.J., Justice and Ecology Network Africa, panelists were: Sr. Hellen A. Bandiho, STH, Secretary General, ACWECA; Denise Namburete, Executive Direct of Health Communications, N’Weti Mozambique; Dr. Ivan Djossa, Catholic University of Cameroon.
At the second session "JUDGE: Reflections on the Debt Crisis in Africa", moderated by Amparo Alonso, Head of Advocacy and Campaign, Caritas Internationalis; Prof. Horman Chitonge, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town; Mr. Jaime Atienza, Debt Global Policy of Oxfam, Sr. Eugenia Amporfu, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, intervened.
At the third session "ACT: Commitments towards Solidarity", moderated by Dario Kenner, Lead Analyst, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), the following speakers took the floor: Dr. Charles Abugre, Advisory Council, Tax Justice Network; Eric LeCompte, Executive Director, Jubilee USA Network; Dr. Charity Musamba, University of Zambia / JCTR.
A reflection on the path towards an Inclusive Global Economy was then given by Rev. Charlie Chilufya, S.J., Director of Justice and Ecology Office, JCAM, and Rev. Dominic Chai, S.J., Vatican COVID-19 Commission. At the end, H.Em. Card. Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, launched a campaign on debt relief.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented economic and social impact across the globe. The effects of the pandemic have been especially hard on the poorest regions of the world, specifically on sub-Saharan Africa. Here, COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-pandemic economic challenges, pushed people into extreme poverty, and put pressure on overstretched governments to provide critical social services. The pandemic has tragically impacted the ability of African governments to service their sovereign debt obligations. What was before the pandemic a matter of growing concern has now exploded into a crisis.
According to the International Monetary Fund, public debt in sub-Saharan Africa rose steadily over the past decade from an average 35% of GDP in the early 2010s to a projected 65% by the end of 2020. COVID-19 has increased this burden on African countries, creating conditions where already impoverished nations are forced to use their limited resources to service debt rather than invest in the well-being of their people. In the world of the pandemic this has meant having to prioritize servicing debt over saving lives.
Africa’s public debt crisis is an obstacle to integral human development as it represents a transfer of resources from public spending on health, education, and social protection to foreign creditors. The burden of debt is often borne on the shoulders of the most vulnerable and marginalized, threatening their human dignity and lives. This calls for not only political solutions, but for deep moral and ethical reflection on how we arrived in this situation. As Pope Francis explains in Fratelli Tutti, principles of solidarity and fraternity call us to see debt as a human problem on a global scale, and to work on multilateral solutions. Participants were be invited to reflect on the moral dimensions of Africa’s external debt including how it was contracted, who was involved in key decisions, which institutions share responsibility for its resolution, and the criteria used to assess and structure the relevant relationships. Catholic social teaching offers a privileged insight into these very issues and can serve as an ethical foundation for dialogue in politics, economics, and finance.
The webinar, which was entirely developed in English and French, aimed at increasing public consciousness, outlining a Catholic Church perspective on African external debt, and proposing strategies to bring about lasting solutions to the debt crisis. By fostering dialogue between stakeholders, creditors and debtors alike, the hope is now to mobilize public opinion and stress the need for policymakers to act. The Church’s prophetic voice, inspired by Pope Francis’s vision of a more inclusive global economy, can promote an authentic, integral resolution to the crisis.
Ultimately, the aim of the meeting was to advocate for an international financial system that protects and ensures participation of the most vulnerable in pursuit of an inclusive, integral global economy, calling for further dialogue on debt relief for all poor countries, illicit financial flows and corporate tax avoidance, an international debt resolution process, and awareness of predatory financial behaviour.
Registration here: http://bit.ly/COVID19DebtReliefCampaignAfrica