FRANCE - AFRICA

Macron calls for suspension of debt to help Africa deal with coronavirus

The French president told RFI economies must be given "breathing space" as the coronavirus pandemic triggers the steepest slowdown since World War II.
The French president told RFI economies must be given "breathing space" as the coronavirus pandemic triggers the steepest slowdown since World War II. © French presidency, AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a moratorium on debt to help African countries deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in an exclusive interview with RFI.  

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In his televised address to the nation on France’s plans for dealing with the next stage of the Covid-19 epidemic, Emmanuel Macron made passing reference about aid for Africa.  

The French president has told RFI he was urging G20 finance ministers to agree to a suspension of debt payments when they hold a phone conference on Wednesday evening. 

“For as long as the crisis lasts, we must ensure African economies have breathing room, that they are not held back by repayments on debt,” Macron told RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier at the French presidential palace in Paris.

For the French president, the moratorium would be a step towards ultimately cancelling African debt. 

Asked how creditors in Europe, the United States and China might be convinced to renounce 365 billion US dollars’ worth of debt owing, Macron spoke of the use of International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights and growing political will.

“This [moratorium] means suspending payment of interest, to allow some breathing space. We spread out the debt, and perhaps in time, everyone will be on board with this idea” of debt cancellation. 

International calls for debt relief

Macron is not the sole top official to call for a debt moratorium in recent days.

The IMF and the World Bank have also called on wealthy nations to suspend or cancel debt obligations for poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday he expected his counterparts in the United States, China, Europe and other members of the G20 group of major economies would finanilse plans to suspend debt payments for 76 countries, including 40 in sub-Saharan Africa.  

While the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have affected Africa less than other parts of the world, Macron called for prudence and said the continent was already facing unsustainable economic problems. 

'Moral duty'

“Difficulties will continue to arise even if Covid does not become a health catastrophe,” Macron said, arguing the continent’s debt as percentage of GDP has climbed from 30 percent of GDP in 2012 to 95 percent today and that a third of African commercial exports are used to service the debt.

“We absolutely must help Africa bolster its capacity for the shock to its health system. Furthermore, we must help the continent on the economic front to respond to this crisis that’s already there. It’s our moral and human duty,” he said. 

In the short term, Macron said debt relief should be accompanied by emergency funds for intensive care beds and respiratory units to bolster some of the world’s most fragile health systems. 

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