By BOUBACAR DIALLO, Associated Press
CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — More than $2.1 billion of Guinea's foreign debt is being cancelled in a major boost for the deeply impoverished West African nation whose mineral riches were looted over decades of corrupt dictatorship, officials said Wednesday.
Two-thirds of Guinea's total foreign debt is being eliminated because it has qualified for the IMF and World Bank program for heavily indebted poor countries, according to a government statement.
The decision to support $2.1 billion in debt relief for Guinea was later announced by the IMF and the World Bank following a meeting of their administrative council Wednesday.
"This will allow Guinea to free up substantial resources," said Ansoumane Camara, an economist and consultant in Conakry who said the money could be redirected toward improving health and educational programs.
Guinea's finances were left in ruins after nearly a quarter-century of rule by Lansana Conte, who pillaged state coffers to make his family fabulously wealthy before his death in 2008, according to economists.
In 2010, the country held its first democratic election but the political reforms have not translated into immediate improvements for the lives of most Guineans, who remain deeply impoverished. About 75 percent of the country's 10 million people live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.
Fatou Bonte Bangoura, who sells smoked fish at a port in Guinea's capital, said Wednesday's announcement would mean little for Guineans who are struggling to support their families.
"Our children need to eat, they need to be taken care of, they need to go to school," she lamented. Guinea's debt elimination won't result in individual families receiving money. "It doesn't feed me," she says.
President Alpha Conde called Wednesday's announcement "the first step on the path to economic recovery."
"It gives us the opportunity to make a historic new start," he said while visiting a women's business cooperative. "We will now redouble our efforts, and no one will be left by the wayside."