‘79 years of neo-colonial exploitation is enough!’ – Africa’s fight for debt justice

women protesting

(Photo: Marta Garrich. Women activists and community leaders march at the Counter-Summit in Marrakech, Morocco)

Authors: Marta Garrich and Reine Fadonougbo Baimey

‘79 years of neo-colonial exploitation is enough!’ - Africa’s fight for debt justice

As we protested in the streets of Marrakech alongside comrades from Latin America, from Asia… involved in similar struggles to defend their lands and communities, I felt connected and re-energised. It often feels lonely when we fight against a large-scale project impacting my community and livelihood.“ Laetitia Lamah, activist, CECIDE Guinea

Movements from across the globe organising for debt cancellation, climate justice, women’s rights, social justice and economic equality converged in Marrakech, Morocco on the sidelines  of the annual meetings of the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) held from 12 – 15 October 2023. The Global Counter-Summit of Social Movements, under the slogan “79 years of neo-colonial exploitation is enough!” set out to build common visions for alternative development paths, rejecting the neoliberal extractivist model imposed by these institutions that destroy people’s lives and livelihoods, and the planet in the name of “development and progress”.  


WoMin African Alliance participated in the Counter-Summit with a delegation of women activists and community leaders involved in a reparations campaign targeting the African Development Bank (AfDB). The delegation sought to add their voices in denouncing the unjust model imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) that were meeting in Marrakech, to build on the efforts to organise the campaign targeting the AfDB, and to continue to exchange and share analysis and experiences with the movements and organisations participating in the Counter-Summit.

The role of the AfDB in Africa’s ‘development’

The AfDB, like the other Multilateral Development Banks, was present at the annual summit of the IMF and World Bank, seizing the opportunity to sign neoliberal partnership agreements that will contribute, as is already the case, to aggravating injustices and dispossessing African women and communities of their lives and livelihoods. The power of the Multilateral Banks, rather than being seriously questioned in the face of the crisis of capitalism and the failure of the international financial system to respond to the needs of people, was consolidated not only by the declaration of the G20 leaders in September but also by the Declaration of the annual meetings in Marrakech. 


The AfDB is one of Africa’s top five multilateral creditors, holding 7% of external debt since 2015. Although the idea behind its creation in 1964 was based on a strong desire for sovereignty on the part of the newly independent African states, which wanted to take their financial independence from their colonial masters into their own hands, and initiate the development of their countries in accordance with their capacities and priorities, it is necessary to recognize that it has has failed to bring to reality these aspirations. It therefore bears a great responsibility for its neoliberal policies and operations through financings to the private sector and governments, and by encouraging the useless and wrong Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for extractive development megaprojects. 


"A development project is supposed to improve the living conditions of communities, but for those of us affected by the Regional Express Train project, the opposite is true. By financing this project, the AfDB has contributed to the impoverishment of nearly 200 families. We found ourselves without land, without shelter and without work. We have not been able to benefit from fair, equitable and prior resettlement, and we now demand reparation commensurate with the damage caused” said Fatou Dione, President of the People Impacted by the TER project in Dakar, Senegal.


The disastrous impact of AfDB financing on the lives of African women and their communities, on nature and the climate was at the heart of the workshop organised by WoMin and its allies CADTM and Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD, Senegal). It was an opportunity to share a critical analysis of the AfDB and the impact of its financing, questioning its role in Africa’s development policies and processes. WoMin also joined in conversations on degrowth and climate reparations alongside Degrowth in Action and the Transnational Institute. 


Reparations sit at the intersection between climate change and the global debt crisis. Historically, debt has been a tool of the powerful to oppress, exploit and control. As it was recognised at the Counter-Summit, debt is an instrument of domination that sits at the crossroads of all the struggles and movements gathered in Marrakech. Sovereign, public debt drives structural adjustments, privatisation and large scale extractivism, which in turn impoverishes communities, forcing them to take dangerous migration journeys that often end up in tragedy, as allies from the Réseau des Journalistes Marocains des Migrations reminded us. 


Structural adjustment that forces privatisation, and public spending cuts enters households driving up the costs and drives women, in particular, to misery through an ever expanding microcredit system, as the women of the CADTM Coordination of Feminist Struggles discussed. Debt targets peasant farmers, imposing GMO seeds as a condition for new loans instead of agroecology, and driving massive land grabs that further fuel the climate crisis which African communities are already living with. 

Connecting our Struggles

For the women attending the Counter-Summit, the Marrakech process and space of shared protests and knowledge sharing was an opportunity for movement building, to connect struggles and analysis. As Carine Tsimba Mouity from Muyissi Environnement Gabon shared, “Having been mostly in spaces where we all were in the same struggle against large scale extractivist projects funded by the AfDB, I wondered about the relevance of other struggles in the Marrakech space. It did not take long for me to realise that all struggles are connected, that the same system that fuels extractivism is also the root cause of the issues that our comrades gathered here are busy organising and mobilising around.” 


The Counter-Summit ended with a collective reading of the final declaration of the Social Movements. The recommendations made in the declaration emanated from self-managed workshops held on October 13 and 14 which covered various themes ranging from the role of International Financial Institutions to issues of debt and reparations, migration, food sovereignty, microcredit, feminism, and youth. 


Determined for this to be the last IMF and WB summit to take place, the movements, organisations and grassroots communities left Marrakech committed to continue the struggle, and to keep alive the spirit of the Counter-Summit. Building on this commitment, the campaign on reparations targeting the AfDB, pushes ahead and continues to grow. Centering women and their communities affected by the Bank funding, it seeks to articulate specific reparations claims grounded in cost analyses undertaken in West and Central Africa. In the coming months, the campaign will continue to build solidarity with like-minded organisations and movements throughout the continent and develop several advocacy strategies with communities and partners at country level.

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