Congo (Brazzaville) is one of the poorest countries on earth and fares badly on most measures of human well-being. It also has enormous natural resources, particularly oil wealth which could, if used for the benefit of Congo’s citizens, provide the government with revenue to build schools, hospitals and roads. Yet Congo’s political leadership has captured that oil wealth for their personal enrichment and use it to stifle any opposition. As this documentary on Al Jazeera explains (see below) Denis Sassou Nguesso has robbed Congo and spends lavishly on himself and his family while ordinary Congolese starve.
This might sound like yet another story from the region – yet as Al Jazeera explains Congo’s corrupt elite have new friends in the US. Hard lobbying in the US has ensure that some Congressmen are now backing plans to limit secondary debt markets that would allow companies that have bought defaulted Congolese debt to make Nguesso pay. It is thanks to the legal action by these secondary debt traders that details of Nguesso’s corruption have emerged and stopping this action simply enriches the elites further while betraying the people of Congo.
The UK is now considering similar legislation which would require the forgiveness of all debt to countries like Congo, Sudan, Guinea, Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea – all of which have awful human rights records and are economically unfree. Lord Peter Baur once wrote that donor aid is the process of transferring wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. The same could be said for debt forgiveness and stifling the secondary debt markets to the venal and kleptocratic governments that in no way deserve forgiveness.
Richard Tren is a director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group.