‘We fight not only against illegal debt, but against principalities of looting’

Socio-economic rights were the centre of discussion at the just-ended SADC debt conference, held in Johannesburg, South Africa between 2-3 July. Speaking at the conference stakeholders pointed to the critical importance of ensuring that the pursuit of debt repayment does not override states responsibilities to deliver social economic entitlements.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on Debt and Human Rights stated: “sustainable debt analysis is still based on the narrow understanding of sustainability, focusing primarily on the ability of the state to pay back its public debt without having to rely on exceptional financing or major policy adjustment. The result is that sometimes a stock of debt may be considered sustainable even if its servicing entails the state’s failure to comply with its human rights obligations because the resources necessary for servicing the debt deprive it of financial means to realise human rights.”

Concurring with Bohoslavsky, Kenyan activist, Boaz Waruku, emphasised the need for Domestic Resource Mobilisation (DRM) to ensure sustainable financing for the delivery of rights and entitlements. “In as much as we are servicing these debts”, he argued, “we need to think of how we can provide basic rights. Domestic resource mobilisation is where the rubber meets the road. The frameworks that help this are legislative and administrative frameworks for tax collections.”

Jorge Matine, a Mozambican health rights advocate and researcher, indicated that while DRM is one of the options for generating resources to finance social economic rights, governments are reluctant to mobilise these resources in progressive ways. As African citizens, Matine warned, “we are not only fighting illegal debt, but against a very strong culture of looting led by political elites”. As such, Matine defended, there is need to interrogate our political and governance systems to ensure that democracy works to deliver social economic rights to the people.