shameful foreign economic policy in Africa. It’s a nice object lesson for those who think
that progress is only made by those who "go along to get along," begging for
crumbs and then settling for "reforms" that actually make things worse.
Here’s the story: the Orwellian-named "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act"
would require African countries to submit to a host of onerous conditions in order to
qualify for trade preferences, including some which they already have under current U.S.
Backed by the Clinton administration and sponsored by Phil Crane (R-IL), the bill
passed the House last year but died in the Senate. Now it is back. Many of those who voted
for the bill last year thought it was a bad bill, but felt they had no alternative. So
Jesse Jackson, Jr., representing Illinois’ 2nd Congressional district, came back with an
alternative: the Human Rights, Opportunity, Partnership and Empowerment (HOPE) Act for
The contrast between the two bills could hardly be more striking. The Crane bill
would impose conditions such as lower corporate taxes, market access, and other privileges
for foreign corporations, regardless of the impact on African economies. It would also
require compliance with IMF mandates. For those who are not familiar with the destructive
impact of IMF policies in sub-Saharan Africa– these countries rarely make the news here–
just think about what this international economic wrecking ball has done to Indonesia,
South Korea, Russia, and Brazil over the last year and a half.
Jackson’s HOPE act would provide trade preferences, but without the nasty
conditions. It would also take more serious measures to ensure that the goods exported to
the U.S. are actually produced in Africa, rather than just transhipped through Africa from
elsewhere. And to make sure that ordinary Africans actually get something out of this
trade, Jackson’s bill would add the kinds of conditions that give multinational
corporations indigestion: internationally recognized labor standards, such as the right to
organize a labor union.
Perhaps most importantly, the HOPE bill calls for the cancellation of Sub-Saharan
Africa’s crushing $230 billion debt burden. These countries spend four times as much on
debt service than they do on health care, and hundreds of thousands of people die each
year as a result. Children go without schooling, and crops rot in the fields because there
is no money for roads that could transport them to markets. This debt is unconscionable
and unpayable, and current levels of payment are a guarantee of poverty for generations to
Jackson’s strategy has already proven successful, regardless of the outcome. He has
forced the issue of debt relief onto the political agenda. "When you have a man or a
woman laboring under this kind of debt and then you say to them, these are the rules of
trade . . . it doesn’t work," he said at a press conference last week.
The Old Testament declared that it was wrong for a creditor to seize the tools that
a person needed to make a living, in payment of a debt. But Washington’s money mandarins
are bound by no such moral constraints. They are bleeding Africa dry.
Interestingly, even the editorialists of the Wall Street Journal European edition,
a conservative voice that certainly respects the sanctity of contracts, have recently
endorsed a bankruptcy procedure by which poor countries could get out from under unpayable
Only among Washington’s elite– and their proxies such as the IMF– does the logic
of debt relief fail to register. That’s because, as the Journal suggested, this massive
debt burden is a powerful lever by which the architects of the global economy can dictate
economic policy to most of the world’s poorer countries.
These modern day colonialists can and will be increasingly isolated. That’s why the
voice of just one young Congressman has made such a difference: no one can rise to defend
the indefensible. There is no personal or political gain for Jackson in taking the lead on
this issue. In fact he will almost certainly be punished by some of the nation’s most
powerful corporate and financial interests, and their friends in the Administration and
Congress. He’s just doing the right thing. The voters of Illinois’ 2nd district have
reason to be proud: they have a representative who is not only standing up for their
interests, but for the rest of humanity as well.
Mark Weisbrot is Research Director at the Preamble
Center, in Washington, D.C.