World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Lusaka declaration

29 May 1999

Towards an "Africa Consensus" on Sustainable Development and Sustainable Solutions to the Debt Crisis

We represent social organisations from across the African continent, and we have deliberated for three days about our experiences, values and visions for solving the debt crisis, an affliction that has reversed human development and environmental progress over the past quarter-century.

Our conference is part of a process of Movement-building within and beyond Africa: a Movement against the crippling impact of debt on billions of people across the world, and for a new, people-centred genuine form of development.

Our objectives were to expand upon our predecessors -- the Accra, Lome and Gauteng Declarations; to begin to establish a new "Africa Consensus" on debt and sustainable development (to replace the bankrupt "Washington Consensus"); to identify demands, strategies and enhanced roles for Debt Coalitions and Jubilee 2000 chapters--and, indeed, civil society more broadly; and to define and undertake a plan of action leading to debt cancellation and genuine development, based on freedom, justice and equality for both genders and all communities.

We endorse the spirit of the Accra, Lome and Gauteng Declarations in their recognition of the magnitude and unacceptability of Africa's illegitimate debt, and their commitment to moving beyond debt bondage and abject poverty, towards sustainable human development, which specifically addresses the needs of the historically, socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

We reiterate the call for total debt cancellation, and we insist that creditors and G7 countries cannot be allowed, anymore, to dictate the terms of cancellation. Africans ourselves must determine our own development path. We as civil society have a strong--sometimes decisive--role in determining the necessary conditions for sustainable development.

The Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative and other debt relief proposals, including the recent proposals from G7 countries (notably from the United States, Britain and Germany), all insist on unacceptable conditions, and entail inadequate amounts of relief. The conditions are invariably associated with the top-down Washington Consensus, which has had such a devastating impact on so many countries these past two decades. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) and the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) have deepening economic, social and ecological hardships for the vast majority of people on the continent. Enough is enough.

In very practical ways, the case studies we have considered from our colleagues in Uganda and Mozambique have shown the limits to the HIPC initiative, the disastrous effect of HIPC conditionality, the lack of meaningful debt relief, and the reinforced status quo of social inequality, economic exploitation and domination by international financiers and rich-country governments.

Moreover, the so-called Debt Relief Initiatives have not resulted from inclusive negotiations. The Paris Club and the HIPC Initiative are merely processes and frameworks imposed by Creditors on Debtors.

In sum, we reject HIPC and the other current debt relief processes and commit ourselves to expose their fundamental flaws in each of the countries, particularly in the run-up to the June 1999 G-8 Meeting in Cologne, Germany. As members of African civil society, we believe we have the standing to speak truth to power, in a way that often our own political leaders lack courage to do, in the presence of overwhelming Northern financial arrogance.

In addition, we commit ourselves to working against localised symptoms of our debt burden and economic process, including war, corruption and other evils that undermine our development processes. We declare that we will intensify our work towards the democratisation of our societies, in a gender-sensitive manner.

Ultimately, however, we insist that debt is a manifestation of the neoliberal world order, the power of international banks to push loans on Southern borrowers without the democratic inputs of parliaments and civil societies, and the disastrous character of the world economy, which charges ever greater prices for imports from the North while paying ever lower prices for Southern exports.

In short, debt is one of the most important instruments of Northern domination over the South, and the domination of financiers over people, production and nature everywhere. As part of our struggle to liberate ourselves from this bondage, we make demands for the cancellation of debt as part of a broader struggle to fundamentally transform the current world economic order and transfer power from the political leadership of the rich countries and the economic power of Transnational Corporations and international financiers, and their instruments, notably the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation. Likewise, these forces have instruments in the South, namely some of our own technocratic, political and commercial elites who are in the tiny minority of Africans who continue to promote the Washington Consensus.

In the same spirit, we will make reasonable, rational demands for reparations to compensate for the economic, social and environmental damage which affect our people. These reparations will not be allowed to trickle into our elites' pockets, but must be directed into rebuilding our societies and environments, and in the process to restoring our human dignity, and especially that of women.

We draw strength from the experiences of gains made by civil societies in the world in securing their demands. For example, in helping to end apartheid, in successfully questioning ecologically-destructive projects (such as big dams), in banning landmines, and in halting the transnational corporate "Multilateral Agreement on Investment," our civil societies have made their mark over the past decade.

We are convinced that the world's people of conscience are now fully aware of the damage being done by debt to Africa's women, men, children and environment. We are confident in linking the conditions associated with current forms of debt relief, to our ongoing suffering. And we are committed to ending such conditions, replacing the Washington Consensus on neoliberal development with an Africa Consensus on genuine development, and adding to our demands the need for the reparations required to assure our society's ability to meet our basic human needs and to repair our degraded environments.

We commit ourselves to mobilising ourselves at local, national, sub-regional and Africa regional levels. We commit ourselves to strengthening the various tools and instruments of democratic governance in Africa, in order to ensure that our governments finally begin to represent the interests of our peoples. We commit ourselves, to these ends, to strengthening relationships with the progressive civil societies of the South as well as in the North.

Areas of Action
Our strategy to achieving our objectives include the following principles and action areas:

  • Conditions on debt cancellation

    In the context of an Africa Consensus for genuine development--NOT the neoliberal Washington Context--we endorse the total cancellation of African foreign debt in order that ALL the proceeds go to meeting our society's basic human needs and restoring our environment. (National processes can determine particular priorities to these ends.) If such redirection of development resources is not the demonstrable outcome of the immediate stages of debt cancellation, a mechanism must be developed--probably involving an international human rights arbitration institution (to remove conditionality power from Washington Consensus organisations)--to assure that proceeds from cancellation go to meeting basic human needs (with no decline in existing resources to this end). A follow-up task force will work to take forward activities to more forcefully define the Africa Consensus, and in addition, to define the terrain of the international mechanism required, to establish more detailed guidelines on beneficiaries of debt cancellation proceeds, and to forge the local, regional and international alliances required to bring this mechanism about.
  • Enhancing civil society capacity

    We believe that without a dramatic increase in our own power, we will not succeed. This power comes from more mass education and mobilisation towards effective mass campaigns and actions; more contact and persuasion through the media (just as we intensify our efforts to achieve media freedom); and more sophisticated engagement with our governments and parliaments. African civil society organisations have great needs, of which some are material but some reflect our own capacity to better represent our constituents. Regarding funding, Northern support with strings attached continues to be a barrier to our own development. What is needed is a share of debt cancellation proceeds to be earmarked to capacitate civil society to carry out all the areas of action outlined here (as well as others that might arise). This is the only logical way to level the playing fields between international institutions, African governments and civil society, which have dramatically declining capacity in that order. But more generally, in grappling with complex debt-related issues, African civil society organisations need to prioritise research (and training of researchers), better dissemination of information, deeper empowerment of people through information and organisation, and continued attention to disaggregation of issues by gender. We believe that our Lusaka Declaration and forthcoming work in the same spirit should feed into a South-South process.
  • Reparations and loan

    African civil society realises that Northern institutions and governments have long dominated and exploited Africa. Some estimates of this exploitation have been made, for example in studies of the damage done by apartheid-caused lending until 1994 conducted by Action for Southern Africa (London). More research is required, and we call on progressive researchers and academics to intensify their documentation of the ongoing and historic ways in which Africa has been exploited, in the tradition of Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. As a first priority, additional research on audits of foreign loans (for failed development or structural adjustment projects) will be required, partly to establish coresponsibility of the creditors in very specific ways. This information will help establish how much in reparations we can legitimately demand, and will allow us to approach lenders and donors on a bilateral and multilateral basis. In particular, corrupt political leaders, bureaucrats and businesspeople have engaged in systematic capital flight and corruption, and we call on our allies who monitor offshore financial flows to intensify their studies of how much of Africa's resources have been raided. In turn, we require strategies to force those in the North who have benefitted from African capital flight--including the major international banks--to acknowledge their responsibility to pay reparations to our societies. Examples of previous reparations include Swiss banks in relation to Nazi Germany and the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and land rights reparations for indigenous Canadians and Australians. Led by the South African demand for reparations from banks which funded apartheid, we will intensify our demands for social justice the more we identify how our continent has been systematically exploited.
  • New international financial arrangements

As we develop our Africa Consensus on genuine development, we in civil society will also more firmly advocate the disengagement of our countries from the IMF and World Bank, whose interests are diametrically opposed to our own. To this end, we commit to starting debates on disengagement and proposing alternatives (and to acquiring capacity to do better research and advocacy to make our case). International aid should be channelled primarily into meeting human needs. In cases where hard currency is absolutely required (for vital inputs that have no local replacements, not for luxury goods imports and inappropriate capital-intensive machinery and debt repayments) and where donor grants are not required, the source of hard currency loans should be interest-free credits.

  • Towards parliamentary and civil society oversight on foreign loans

    Any approval for new foreign loans should be passed through parliaments, and if this is not already a feature of constitutions or legislation, it should become so. The relationship between civil society and government, especially parliaments, in each of our countries should be strengthened. Civil society organisations representing poor and working people should at the very least have formal standing in assessing and monitoring these proposed loans, for example through providing submissions to parliamentary committees, regularly scheduled public debates, serving on statutory financial commissions, and engaging in formal evaluations. In general, transparent disclosure of information associated with our debt burdens should become policy and law. Civil society organisations commit to increasing their parliamentary advocacy and doing rigorous, widely-disseminated and accessible research to these ends.
  • Towards a Debtors' Cartel

    We endorse the collective repudiation of illegitimate foreign debt by our political leaders, again on the condition that the benefits from cancellation be redirected to Africa Consensus forms of sustainable development. However, in view of the failure of efforts along these lines (for example by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in 1983), we recognise that our political elites may not have either the courage (or self-interest) to establish such a cartel. As a result, we make a commitment to linking our arms across borders to not only put united pressure on our leaders to establish a Debtors' Cartel, but also to compel them to include civil society in negotiations with Creditors.
  • Our Jubilee ultimatum 

If we do not see progress towards the cancellation of Africa's foreign debt by the end of December 2000, African civil society organisations will ratchet up pressure towards the debt repudiation option, and intensify our commit to disengage from the international forces which continue to chain us.  

Lusaka, Zambia, 19-21 May 1999. Affirmed by African civil societies working on debt from the following countries; Burkina Faso, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.