African Leader Thabo Mbeki.

Thabo Mbeki speak to the media at the Guest Ho...
Thabo Mbeki speak to the media at the Guest House in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, July 9, 2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted October 18, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki is probably most well-known around the world for his speech “I am an African”. After looking around for more information on the country of Tunisia’s effort to identify that portion of its national debt which is “odious”, debt run up by previous regimes which did not benefit the citizens of Tunisia, and is therefore not the responsibility of the people of Tunisia to repay, I came across Thabo Mbeki.

An economist from the Tunisia region named Dr. Leonce Ndikumana at the University of Massachusetts has written a book about odious debt in nations on the continent of Africa. Google his name and you will find yourself interested in what the man has to say. Mr. Ndikumana’s research and book pretty much confirms the information provided by John Perkins in his book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman“. I have not researched Mr. Ndikumana or read his book. Having read Mr. Perkins book leads me to believe that a significant portion of African nations‘ debt, after a debt audit is conducted, will become identified as odious.

Perkins was an economic hit-man who experienced an epiphany of sorts after the events of September 11, 2001 when, for the benefit of his grandchildren, he wrote “Confessions”. Perkins pointed out the “game plan” of powerful western banks and multinational corporations in regard to dealings with nations and leaders who controlled valuable, and coveted, natural resources. Mr. Perkins would meet with presidents of nations with these natural resources, get them to sign on for World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans in the billions of dollars, and the monies would be used for infrastructure projects like highways, electrical power projects such as dams, transmission lines, water transmission, etc.

This infrastructure spending would benefit wealthy people in the country and western infrastructure companies but did not benefit a majority of the common people in these countries. Importantly Perkins would remind the leader(s) who resisted loans that their predecessor(s) or neighboring country’s leader had refused the proposal of loans and “playing the game”, and that they had died in a plane crash or been removed through a coup. If the leader “played the game” they would become extremely wealthy.

Most took the loans (after considering certain negative consequences) and invariably the nation was unable to repay the loan(s). At this point Mr. Perkins, or a fellow economic hit-man, would ask for what Perkins described as the “pound of flesh”. He would tell the leader that, because the nation couldn’t repay the loan(s), he could arrange for low prices on oil, platinum, or whatever valuable resource the nation had, along with “austerity” measures including reduced expenditures on education, health care, or any of a number of spending programs designed to help the common people of the country.

Those leaders who refused to play the game at that point were then the victims of destabilization efforts to bring about a change of government, to bring in leaders who were more “malleable”. If those efforts failed the military option kicked in and war would carry out the removal of unwilling leaders. This “game” has been on-going for decades around the Earth, most recently in the extreme version, visible wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

A number of nations have been hurt economically through former leaders’ executing government debt through loans from international financial institutions, many times leading to incurring of odious debt, and illegal capital flight from those nations. The United States successfully repudiated the odious debt of Saddam Hussein after the second war in Iraq. Equador, Iceland, Tunisia, Norway and others have gone to certain lengths to identify odious debt through the forming of auditing committees to comb through the loan documents through their histories.

This signals a significant shift in consciousness on individual nations’ debt problems, in the news these days as countries around the world, most notably Europe where large demonstrations of people protest against strict cost-cutting measures, contend with so-called austerity programs, or in the United States, sequester.

Time will show how the effort to find odious debt will play out in the nations of the world where overwhelming debt has led to worsening of the conditions of society.

Africa is not exempt from corruption, austerity and capital flight.

Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, the second post-apartheid president in that African nation, serving from 1999-2008. Mr. Mbeki has said that the 21st century is the century of Africa, calling for an African “renaissance”. His message has gained respect all over the continent to the point that a billion people in Africa hold a new and hopeful perspective. The African Union is an agreement among the nations of the continent to work together to create the conditions for mutual assistance to build a better Africa.

After centuries of colonialism, imperialism, apartheid and slavery Thabo Mbeki has spent his time after retirement from politics to speak for the possibilities and potentials of the people of Africa taking their collective destiny in their hands, without any more interference from people outside the continent. Even now he points out that there is still involvement in the affairs of African nations by powers outside the continent. He speaks about the warning that the African Union gave to the United Nations Security Council before the warring in Libya which remove the ruler Qaddafi. The Union warned that Libya will suffer negative consequences if the UN moved on military measures, unfortunately proven correct as Libya is now a failed, anarchic state – their people suffering deprivations and violence many times worse than when Qaddafi ruled.

Thabo Mbeki mentions that illicit, illegal capital outflows from Africa have been, and are, roughly 50 billion dollars per year.

After centuries of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, theft, war and corruption, we can only pray that the efforts of African leaders like Thabo Mbeki leads to the fruits of the continent being distributed and enjoyed by as many of the people as possible. Mr. Mbeki suggests to his audiences that instead of waiting for someone else to take the reins and create the differences in the continent and the African nations, that each man and woman must ask themselves what they can do to make life better in their country and Africa .

Thabo Mbeki has passed the age of seventy and has lived an extraordinary life. As a child his parents were politically active against the centuries old apartheid regime in South Africa. In that police state his parents realized the possibility of one or both going to prison for their speaking for change. His mother and father sent Thabo Mbeki and his siblings to live with relatives in case that situation came about. As a child he was present among men and women who spoke about giving up their lives in fighting to end apartheid and gain freedom.

Mr. Mbeki now calls on the young people of South Africa, and all countries in Africa, to gain a thorough understanding of what the realities are on the entire continent. He calls on all journalists to understand the particular responsibility they have – to tell the people the truth behind the headlines – so that the people can become fully informed and make good choices and decisions.

So that all men and women become agents of change.


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