WASHINGTON - March 15 - Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, will address a special joint session of Congress on Wednesday. President Johnson-Sirleaf’s appearance is part of efforts underway in Congress to increase US assistance to the country by around $100 million. Congress and the Bush administration must include the need to cancel Liberia’s odious and unjust debt on their agenda this week.
Given the desperate needs of Liberians, especially in the areas of education and health services, the US government should take immediate action to cancel Liberia's odious debt, 30% of which is to the United States. During the decade-long war, debt servicing was all but abandoned, resulting in ballooning arrears. The country's debt now stands at $3.5 billion. At this rate, over 40% of all export earnings would be required to service the debt, in a country where the average annual income is $83. In recognition of the severity of Liberia's debt crisis, world leaders did include Liberia in their debt cancellation initiative announced last year. But to date, Liberia has received neither nominal debt relief nor full debt cancellation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank.
As noted by John Snow, US Treasury Secretary, in reference to Iraq, the people "shouldn't be saddled with those debts incurred through the regime of the dictator who is now gone." But, where Saddam Hussein left palaces, electric grids, and oil refineries, Liberians stand to inherit nothing but debt – and ruin.
Emira Woods, Co-Director, Foreign in Policy Focus:
"The US Congress and the Bush Administration should help give Liberia a chance at a fresh start by agreeing to cancel the country’s external debts, accumulated under the past dictatorships. Currently, those debts, the equivalent of some 680 percent of the country’s GDP, undermine the capacity of the new government to tackle the problems of rising HIV/AIDS infection rates and a lack of functioning schools, electricity, and other infrastructure."
Debayani Kar, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator, Jubilee USA Network:
"We know that the majority of Liberia's debt was incurred under past dictators Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. The odious nature of this debt provides a compelling argument for 100% cancellation, especially in the face of humanitarian crises in the country. We urge the international financial institutions and the US government to take swift action to implement last year's G-8 debt agreement and cancel Liberia's debt."