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Lazarus Chakwera pleads for debt relief

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Shortly after nine o’clock Malawi time last night, President Lazarus Chakwera took to the podium of the world’s greatest stage, the United Nations General Assembly (Unga), to plead with wealthy nations to forgive massive debts owed by the world’s least developed countries, including Malawi.

Chakwera’s call came as Malawi’s debt continues to rise, hitting K6.38 trillion in March this year and eating up the much-needed fiscal space for authorities to address real issues affecting poor Malawians.

Addressing world leaders, Chakwera described the unsustainable debt as a form of slavery, and called on wealthy nations to help in ending the new form of slavery.

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“Recently, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund called on the world’s major lenders to show leadership by relieving vulnerable countries of the debts that are shackling them because even loans that were given and received in good faith have become unsustainable in the recent and current climate of relentless and unforeseen external shocks.

“I therefore join her in reiterating that call and I commend the People’s Republic of China for leading by example by fulfilling the pledge it made at last year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) to forgive interest-free loans owed by 17 African countries. Let this be the beginning of breaking the chains holding vulnerable countries back, not the end, because when we say that we are leaving no one behind, this is one way to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

He was quick to note that he would ensure that the resources freed from debt relief are used prudently.

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“I recognise that we, too, must prove ourselves worthy of such assistance by using it to cushion our citizens against the worsening financial volatility, trade cost and human suffering the debt and other external factors are causing.

“There must, in fact, be no member state in our midst that is beyond scrutiny or exempt from accountability. For that to become a reality, US [United States] President Biden’s recent call for this UN Family to defend the rights of smaller nations as equals of larger ones must not only be applauded,” Chakwera said.

He also pleaded with the UN to provide Africa with two permanent seats with veto power and five non- permanent seats at the UN Security Council.

Chakwera said, following the strong signal of support from the US government, Africa expects to see this matter tabled, heard and settled.

“That is the UN we want. That is the UN the world needs: A reformed UN that practices the equality and democracy it preaches; a reformed UN that is not constantly polarised by nuclear powers stuck in cold war mindsets; a reformed UN that uses its multilateral muscle to give equal attention to the interlocking issues of public health, food insecurity, climate change, and conflict, regardless of where they emerge or whom they affect.

“A reformed UN that gives equal weight to all its members who give it meaning, not just those who give it money. Because we are one humanity facing the same storm in the same boat,” Chakwera said.

On addressing the current global food crisis, Chakwera said Malawi is ready to catch up, having just joined the Feed the Future initiative, giving it access to new financing in the next few years to use the country’s vast arable land and large volumes of fresh water to develop mega farms that will feed the world and lift millions of our farmers out of subsistence living.

He said he was delighted that many private sector investors are flocking to Malawi to join the agricultural revolution that is coming to Malawi, as well as investors in mining, who know that the recent discovery in Malawi of the largest deposit of rutile in the world means that Malawi’s economic rise is imminent.

On Thursday, Centre for Social Concern, and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition asked Chakwera to use the opportunity at the world’s biggest stage to lobby for debt relief.

The last time Malawi had its debt cancelled was in 2006, only to find itself in debt distress again some 15 years later.

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