British Chancellor of the Exchequer Argues for Large-Scale Debt Relief for Africa

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown made waves in January with his announcement that Great Britain would seek large scale debt relief for poverty-stricken African nations. Brown said that ultimately his government hoped to negotiation 100 percent debt relief for such nations.

On a trip to Africa, Brown signed a debt relief deal with Tanzania in which the UK agreed to pay 10 percent of Tanzania’s repayment debts to the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank. The annual payments on Tanzania’s debt amounts to about 3.5 million pounds.

In exchange, Tanzania agreed to use the money it would have spent servicing its debt on health, education and poverty reduction for its people.

The BBC quoted Brown as saying,

We make this offer unilaterally, but we are now asking other countries to join us. Our wish is to have 100% debt relief and we hope that America, Japan, France and other European countries will follow great Britain in this effort. We hope that we are in a position to get all other countries to sing up to a new package of debt relief.

. . .

What we offer Tanzania today we offer to the whole developing world tomorrow. Although there is no international agreement yet, Britain will relieve those countries still under the burden of this debt by paying our share — 10 percent — of their payments to the World Bank and African Development bank in their stead.

Later in his trip, Brown announced that Great Britain was canceling 80 million pounds in debt that Mozambique owes the UK, and would also pay 10 percent of Mozambique’s debt as well. In all, Great Britain plans to reach the same deal with 70 developing countries at a cost to itself of 1 billion pounds annually.

Not everyone, however, thinks that debt relief is the ultimate solution to poverty in the developing world. Former UK international development secretary Clare Short warned that although the debt relief was a good start, it should not be seen as a “mystical solution” to poverty. The BBC quoted short Short as noting that relieving debt in this case is simply a roundabout way to giving foreign aid, and will not solve the problem of “failed states” such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Short,

Debt relief and aid alone without really strong action to end conflict, arms supply, start building order, the basic institutions of a state, leave the poor outside the whole development system.

Short also noted that there are very poor countries that don’t have significant debt, and that if the World Bank or other institutions began writing off developing country debt, there would be less money available to give to other countries that may need it.

It’s kind of odd given the notable lack of success over the past 30 years to see Great Britain suddenly reach the conclusion that throwing money at developing world poverty is the way to solve the problem. Certainly, the UK actions are likely to create short term improvements as many of the aid programs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s did, but making those short term benefits lead to long-term transformation is going to be a lot trickier.


Brown’s Pound 1bn Africa debt pledge. The BBC, January 14, 2005.

Brown wipes Pound 80 m Mozambique debt. The BBC, January 15, 2005.

WHO Launches Cholera Vaccination Test in Mozambique

In January the World Health Organization announced it was launching its efforts at mass vaccination against cholera using a new oral vaccine against the disease.

For this demonstration project, WHO is focusing on Mozambique which has been hit particularly hard by the disease in recent years. In 1999, it reported 45,000 cases out of a world total that usually hovers between 100,000-200,000 annually.

The vaccination project will focus on the city of Beria and will vaccinate about 50,000 of the half million people living there against the disease. WHO will be able to gauge the success of its efforts there in early 2005.

Should the vaccine prove effective, it is likely to play a key role in reducing worldwide cholera incidence.


WHO launches first oral-vaccination cholera campaign. UN Wire, January 15, 2004.

Mozambique mass campaign tests the theory. Press Release, World Health Organization, January 14, 2004.

Largest Childhood Malaria Vaccine Trial Ever Underway

In July, the Malaria Vaccine Initiative announced that it would begin the largest malaria vaccine trial ever conducted in children. The vaccine trial was to take place in Mozambique.

The vaccine in question — RTS,S — has already gone through initial safety testing with human volunteers and appears safe enough. In addition, testing in adults found that the vaccine was effective in preventing malaria in about 71 percent of adults who received it.

An open question, however, is just how good it is at preventing malaria in young children. To that end, the vaccine will be administered to 2,500 children in Mozambique. Final results for the vaccine will be available in about 18 to 24 months.

If the vaccine proves effective there, research will then move on to see if it could be safely and effectively administered to infants, who face the highest death rate from malaria.


Clinical Trial of Advanced Malaria Vaccine Candidate to Begin in Mozambique. Press Release, Malaria Vaccine Initiative, July 8, 2003.

Two thousand kids to get experimental malaria jab. Tom Clark, Nature, July 9, 2003.

Malaria Vaccine Trial To Start In Mozambique. United Nations Wire, July 8, 2003.

Malaria vaccine trial begins. The BBC, July 8, 2003.

Food Shortages Abate — Except In Zimbabwe

The World Food Program reports that food shortages are coming to an end in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, but such problems continue to worsen in Zimbabwe.

James Morris, head of the World Food Program, told The New York Times,

A serious humanitarian disaster has been averted. Food has been put in place over the last several months in such a way that mass starvation and death has not occurred. We’re seeing significant progress in Malawi and Zambia. We don’t have that same optimism in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, the WFP’s estimate of the numbers of people facing food shortages jumped to 7.2 million in December, up from 6.7 million in August.


African food shortages ending everywhere except in Zimbabwe. Rachel L. Swarns, The New York Times, January 31, 2003.