Debt Relief, Climate and Recovery Aid Needed, Say Africa Catholic Bishops as African Finance Ministers Meet in Victoria Falls

African Catholic Bishops called for an overhaul of the financial system to address health, climate, food and other challenges the region faces. Ahead of a gathering of African Finance Ministers in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Catholic Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) outlined reforms for debt relief, development resources and governance.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa the number of people facing food insecurity stress or crisis has more than doubled since 2019, reaching 420 million people last year,” noted the bishops in a statement. A delegation representing the African Bishops and religious leaders will deliver the statement to the finance ministers meeting in Zimbabwe. Discussing climate impacts, they noted that “by 2030, almost 120 million people in extreme poverty on the continent will face the risks of drought, floods, and extreme heat.”

The statement notes that African country debt payments surpass the combined spending on health, education, social protection, and climate by more than 50%. African finance officials meet every year and the theme of the African Finance Ministers meeting this year is “Financing the transition to inclusive green economies in Africa: imperatives, opportunities and policy options.”

“The financial measures Africa needs today require a fundamental overhaul of the global financial system that can tackle fast debt reduction while enabling swift, scaled-up access to finance for sustainable development, public and private, in terms that put people and the planet at the center,” the bishops said.

A UN preparatory document for the Victoria Falls meeting says that Africa needs an additional $194 billion a year to meet climate and development goals and that limited progress has been made in addressing crippling debt burdens of African countries.

“We are proud to have stood with the many religious and lay leaders who supported bold debt reduction measures in the late 1990s through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries/ Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative,” the dignitaries said. “That initiative arguably arrived later than it should have, so a key lesson is that we can prevent a lot of suffering, at a lower cost, by undertaking early and pre-emptive debt cuts.”

African finance ministers meet for the first time since the G20 brought in the African Union as a permanent G20 member, and nine months ahead of the start of South Africa’s Presidency of the group.

“The African Union’s recent membership in the G20 provides a fresh opportunity to influence agreement on significant reforms for a global financial system that better meets Africa’s requirements,” the statement reads.

The leaders’ statement discusses reforms to multilateral development banks, global reserve funds – Special Drawing Rights – and governance frameworks for public and private investments.

“Faith leaders are calling for resources to end the suffering of their people and protect our planet,” stated Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, a religious development organization that advises African bishops on economic issues. “Africa's religious institutions are on the frontlines providing food, healthcare and education and know more resources are urgently needed."

Read the SECAM-Justice, Peace and Development Commission Statement to the 56th Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development here