Those are powerful words of President Thomas Sankara when addressing his fellow Heads of State in July 1987 at the Organisation of African Unity warning them of the fact that African countries were losing their sovereignty due to imposed cycles of loans, debt and other imposed structural adjustment reforms, paving way to neo-colonialism. He  famously proclaimed “The origins of debt go back to colonialism’s origins. We cannot repay the debt because we are not responsible for this debt. On the contrary, others owe us something that no money can pay for. That is to say, the debt of blood”, before concluding “the one who feeds you usually imposes his will upon you.”

Thirty-three years later, this call from Sankara unfortunately remains extremely relevant and timely because the unjust weight of debt has continued to grow over the years, to the point of becoming a nightmare that haunts the survival of most African states. Some of them are now posting record debt ratios of over 200%.

As we remember this week the thirty-third anniversary of his assassination,  the spirit of Sankara for total liberation, self-determination and dignity never ceases to spread and to inspire the hearts of progressive youth, women, social justice and environmental groups working for a just, free, prosperous and respected continent.

It is that spirit that has inspired this week more than 550 organisations from more than 90 countries, mainly from the Global South to send this letter to leaders of all governments, international institutions and lender groups, demanding an “unconditional cancellation of public external debt payments by all lenders – bilateral, multilateral and private lenders – for all countries in need for at least the next four years as an immediate step”  to help lower-income countries cope with the pandemic. 

That demand goes beyond “debt relief”. It’s  a fiery cry for social justice and protection of people’s life in these extremely challenging times where pandemic has severely impacted on the health, safety and survival of hundreds of millions of people, pushing the most vulnerable ones into poverty and widening the inequality gap. It is also a rejection of the rampant extractivism and neo-colonial policies and practices in most Global South contexts 

It is morally unacceptable, socially unfair and economically illogical that funds intended to save and relieve the lives of populations affected by the pandemic are used to repay loans which in most cases never reach the real beneficiaries.

Today’s civil society demand,  like that of Sankara in the 1980s, is addressed to world leaders and lending institutions. But it is also directed to African leaders so that they have the courage to break with the bondage of the debt and the so-called development in order to understand that we cannot live on borrowed salt. Africa is endowed with immense natural resources which, once properly managed in prioritizing the best interests of its populations, would enable it to achieve a fair and sustainable development without resorting to external financing and other unsustainable and illegitimate debts.