Chimamanda Adichie on Africa’s Debt

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie contributes a diary piece to The New Statesman. In it, she talks about being back in Nigeria to work on her second novel, titled Half of a Yellow Sun, and which is due out next year. She also mentions the subject of Africa’s debt, and has this to say about it:

Nigeria owes $34bn, most of which piled up under our military dictators. The newspapers call it “our” debt. It is not. The money went into personal bank accounts, yet although we have repaid an amount equivalent to the original loans, each year we pay interest that is three times our education budget. If Abacha’s government, for example, was so illegitimate his ministers were denied foreign visas, then his debts should be just as illegitimate. Now the people paying for his debt are those who danced in the streets when he died.

The G8 makes me think of what we Igbo call “nkali”, which translates loosely as “being greater than another”: the nkali of eight men. Even the magnanimity they are being asked to show is laced with condescension. Africa is their junior brother. A whole continent in the hands of eight men. There is something both enviable and vulgar about this power, and I fantasise about sitting at a table with a Zimbabwean and Ghanaian to decide the economic fate of America and Europe.

But reality is what matters. The G8 should cancel Nigeria’s debt. By doing so, they would allow another Pauly to live and another professor to retire with dignity and another child to love a library. Or maybe not. Mine is a government of warped priorities, building stadiums while classrooms have no windows. Governors give away millions at weddings, while little is done about Aids. University students are paid thousands to attend lewd government parties. Who can say if the money saved would be used for health and education? We won’t know unless we try.

Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was reviewed here a couple of years ago.


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