Kenyatta Makes Debt Plea to UN

President Uhuru Kenyatta with French President Emanuel Macron in Nairobi (file photo).
29 September 2020

President Kenyatta has called for urgent decisions on debt relief and financial aid to Africa's poor to help the continent's quick recovery from the Covid-19 shocks.

In a speech to the 75th UN General Assembly, President Kenyatta said on Wednesday that, the world must unite to help those most affected by the virus.

And it came down to debt relief, a subject he has dwelt on since April in meetings with his peers in the African Union Bureau.

"What is equally important is that even after addressing the acute phase of the pandemic, we must all remain collectively committed to global recovery," he said in a speech he presented virtually from Mombasa.

"Developing countries are seeking to have the existing debt moratoriums refined and extended to December 2021, and an early replenishment of the IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust and the World Bank International Development Association, as well as an early decision on the Special Drawing Rights."

Sh3.4 trillion

The President did not refer to his own government, which owes about Sh3.4 trillion to external lenders, nearly a quarter of which is demanded by China for its infrastructure loans, but he has rallied leaders from other African countries before, including those from Ethiopia, Mali, South Africa, Rwanda and Egypt, in calling for debt relief.

As early as April, the African Union Bureau, a grouping of leaders from the AU member states to which President Kenyatta belongs, had called for "efforts to mitigate against the adverse effects of the global coronavirus pandemic", including pushing for loan waivers.

In his speech, the President referred to the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, a subsidised loan facility that targets low income countries. Beneficiary countries for this facility often get the loans interest-free.

Based on the levels of need by each of the developing countries, African countries have been asking for a raise on the limit so they can access more funds.

African countries have also asked for quicker decisions on how they can access their various quotas of foreign reserves due to them at the IMF.

Financial transparency

Known as the Special Drawing Rights, the IMF allocates them to countries in times of financial or other crises to boost liquidity and steady local currencies.

However, the applicants must meet certain conditions, especially on governance and financial transparency, which may take longer to qualify.

The President's speech mostly focused on global revival efforts amid Covid-19.

He called for lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, Cuba and Sudan, which, he argued, cannot achieve economic recovery unless they are freed to access lending and trade.

In Africa, coronavirus has infected some 1.4 million people and killed 34,077 of them by Tuesday night, according to the Africa CDC.

The President told his audience that, the UN's inability to prevent crises results from partisan political interest of its influential members.

"Global geopolitics and competition between global powers have complicated and severely undermined the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Indeed, they have caused severe anxiety and undermined coordinated responses to an economic and social character that would have left us in a stronger position as a global collective."

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