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The Guardian is reporting that “The British government has drawn sharp criticism from development charities for taking a debt repayment from Nigeria” worth about £1.7 billion. It is true that the size of the payment from Nigeria to the UK treasury might seem strange given the recent push by Blair and Brown to increase aid to Africa.
But the critics are missing the bigger point by ignoring the context of the debt deal. Nigeria is using its oil windfall to pay down its debt voluntarily because it is a good deal for them: they also get $18 billion written off. This is a 75% reduction in the non-arrears portion – an outcome thought impossible just a few months earlier. Some of the campaigners want unconditional relief, but that is simply unrealistic. Debt negotiations always mean everyone has to put something on the table. After six years of no progress, the Nigerians and the creditors should be applauded for finding a creative way out of a downward spiral. Sniping by unaccountable activists may make good sound bytes, but it is doesn’t really help Africa.