Olusegun Obasanjo
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says the huge debt burden hanging over African countries is stifling efforts at economic reform and development. Mr. Obasanjo warns this crippling debt threatens peace and stability on the continent. The Nigerian president spoke to the International Labor Conference in Geneva.

This was just the latest salvo in the Nigerian President's intensifying campaign to get Western countries to reduce or cancel Africa's debt. Olusegun Obasanjo told an audience of government, worker and employer representatives that Africa was on the move.

He said African countries were actively seeking to reform their economies and improve the lives of their people. But, he added, efforts were being hampered by the heavy debt these countries have to bear.

The Nigerian president, who also is the president of the African Union, called for international action on the debt problem of developing countries.

"As I have ceaselessly advocated on numerous occasions, meaningful sustainable development in these nations would require significant debt reduction and total debt cancellation," the president said.

Nigeria's external debt is officially put at $35 billion. Mr. Obasanjo warned that the debt poses a direct challenge to peace and stability, development and progress.

He noted that a number of international initiatives have been launched to tackle poverty in Africa. He mentioned British Prime Minister Tony Blair's intent to persuade eight of the world's richest industrialized countries to cancel Africa's debt at next month's G8 summit.

He praised the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015. But he said, if current trends continue, sub-Saharan Africa would not meet this goal until the year 2150. He said there is no poverty of effort in Africa, but rather a poverty of opportunity.

"Let us not deceive ourselves," he said. "No matter our efforts, we cannot run effectively when our hands and feet are bound together. We are serious about reform and about building new paths to growths and development, but without debt relief these would be impossible."

However, Nigerian President Obasanjo said debt cancellation alone would not solve Africa's problems. He said many countries in Africa still will need a lifeline to pull themselves up to the point of sustainable development after they have been relieved of their external debts.

He urged governments to increase their Official Development Assistance to the target of 0.7 percent of their national income. He said many promises have been made but it was time for talk to be replaced by action.