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Faith leaders write open letter to UK political parties calling for debt cancellation

30 October 2023

More than 20 faith leaders from across Africa and the UK have come together to urge UK political leaders to cancel the debts of low-income countries.

A joint letter was sent to all major UK political parties ahead of the General Election expected next year.

With over 45 African nations trapped in deep debt crisis, and over $1.1 trillion in external debt looming over the continent overall, urgent action is needed.

41% of lower-income country external debt repayments is owed to Western private creditors such as banks and investment funds, who have so far chosen to not participate in attempts to address the debt crisis, even when other parties are doing so. This severely undermines other relief measures. Signatories of the letter are calling for new legislation that would enforce the participation of private creditors in debt restructuring – a move that “could bring about transformative change.”

The letter in full

We write as leaders representing faith communities across Africa, united by a common concern for justice, equity, and the well-being of all human beings. Our shared values compel us to address the pressing issue of unsustainable debt burdens that have been inflicting immense suffering upon people in lower income countries for far too long.  

Our communities face the growing devastation of the climate crisis, they are still recovering from the pandemic and continue to experience the knock-on impact of conflicts such as in Ukraine.  

At the same time, over $1.1 trillion in external debt looms over African countries, with 25 of them trapped in deep debt crises. This financial strain has dire consequences for achieving global sustainable development and climate goals.

Instead of prioritising our response to the climate crisis, rebuilding our devastated health and education systems, and addressing the food and energy price rises that are overwhelming our poorest communities, we are paying back debts.  

While we recognise with gratitude what the UK has done in reducing debt owed to public bodies, including the UK government, it can do more to reduce the debt burden perpetuated by private creditors. From 2023-29, 41% of lower-income country external debt repayments is owed to Western private creditors. They have so far chosen not to participate in debt relief processes, and distressingly refused to suspend debt repayments even at the start of the pandemic. As a result, much of the savings made by debt repayment suspension from other creditors have been redirected in repayments to private creditors, severely undermining other relief measures.

For the sake of the communities we serve, we urge all UK political parties to address this matter by committing to enforce the participation of private creditors in debt restructuring. Specifically, we call on you to introduce or to commit if elected to government to introducing legislation that could bring about transformative change for those communities: and to establish a debt moratorium during debt restructuring negotiations, safeguarding borrowing nations from further financial strain. This would prevent the acceleration of payments under English law while negotiations are ongoing.  

The UK has an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and compassion, leading the way to a fairer and more just global financial system.  

Thank you for your consideration and for your efforts to bring justice where it is most needed.

Yours sincerely    

  • Mrs. Rebecca Tarpeh-Major, Secretary General of the Inter-Faith Religious Council  

  • Ven. J.W. Kofi de Graft-Johnson, General Secretary, Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA)  

  • Pierre Cibambo, President Caritas Africa

  • Rev. Fr. Dr. Gerald Chukwudi Njoku, Director, Justice Development Peace And Caritas, Catholic Archdiocese Of Owerri

  • Rev. Melvin Kennedy, Director Of Governance, Liberia Council Of Churches Of Churches  

  • Rev. Dr. Billy Gama, Chairman, Malawi Council of Churches   

  • Rev. Sr Regina Ignatia Aflah, Vice Superior General of HDR Congregation   

  • Alice Anzoyo C. Dralum, Director, Centre for Leadership and Management, Tangaza University College  

  • Rev. Canon Emmanuel Yona Chikoya, General Secretary of the The Council of Churches in Zambia  

  • Fr. Rafael Sapato, Regional Director IMBISA Secretariat  

  • Imam Mohammad Kiazolu, Benson Street Mosque

  • Hajia Ayishetu Abdul-Kadiri   

  • Pastor Rayben Akukwe 

The letter has also been supported by the following faith leaders in the UK:  

  • Revd. Lynn Green, General Secretary, The Baptist Union of Great Britain   

  • Dr. Kang-San Tan, General Director, BMS World Mission  

  • Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church  

  • Revd Gill Newton, President of the Methodist Conference and Deacon Kerry Scarlett, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference  

  • Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain  

  • Most Revd Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church  

  • Rt Rev. Brian McGee, Catholic Bishop of Argyll and the Isles and Bishop President of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund   

  • Rt Rev. Stephen Wright, Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle and Chair of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.   

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