The recent request from President Buhari for legislative authorization for an external borrowing of almost $39bn is a sharp reminder that history truly moves in circles and that human memories are short. It should be recalled that Africa’s debt overhang was partly blamed for why the1980s and the 1990s were regarded as lost decades for the continent. The argument was that due to Africa’s high level of indebtedness resources that could have been used to develop the continent were being used to service debts. In fact by the 1990s, the word ‘crisis’ was being used to describe Africa’s debt burden. At that time it was estimated that the continent’s total external debt was $230bn - about 13 per cent of what the country now wants to borrow in one fell swoop.
There were several studies on how the continent’s debt burden was impacting on ordinary people. Some of the very impactful of such studies included Susan George’s A Fate Worse Than Debt (1988) and Katama G.C. Mkangi’s The African Debt Crisis: A Radical Human Perspective (1993). These studies articulated very powerfully and emotionally the social costs of the debt crisis. Basically they argued that debt-induced economic austerity was destroying the lives of countless people in the so-called Third World countries, especially in Africa. They also showed that those bearing the brunt of the debt burden were people who did not benefit from the loans and that the continent was spending as much as four times on debt repayment as it did on say healthcare. It was argued that high level of debt servicing meant that repayments to Western creditors were prioritized over the lives of ordinary people. It was also argued that people’s access to education and employment was restricted by a chunk of the national resources being diverted to servicing debts.
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