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Greece applies to join AU, pursued by Angela the Axe
Charles Onyango Obbo
Posted: 3 years 3 days

I am both shocked and thrilled by the way Greece’s EU partners are treating its new leftist government as it struggles to sort out its financial mess.

The hectoring, lecturing and contempt with which Greece has been treated is unusual for a country that is not an “enemy” — in this case, by fellow European tribesmen and women. I thought European solidarity, and good manners toward an EU ally, would be better than this.

The good thing is that we cannot cry racism here, because broke African countries that were up to their necks in debts in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s were treated better by the IMF, EU — and particularly Germany in this case.

Corrupt African politicians stole or wasted donor funds, and what they got in turn were concessionary loans and debt forgiveness. Rock stars like Bono and Geldof serenaded world leaders about forgiving Africa’s debt. There were concerts and anti-IMF/World Bank matches in world capitals, demanding that Africa get a break.

There is no Hollywood superstar (even those with Greek ancestry) knocking on doors and composing agitated lyrics to support Greece’s push to wiggle out of paying its debts.

A columnist on the Mail & Guardian (South Africa) website wrote that, “The lesson that Greece has taught us is this: No matter your proximity to the core of the global economy, the IMF will wield its big austerity stick to protect the interests of the core. When necessary, you will be treated no better than an African country in the 1980s and 1990s.”

I disagree. I suspect the big men in Athens must be wishing Greece were an African country — it would have been granted its wish. Indeed, a friend pranked me with an e-mail in which he claimed that Greece had applied to join the African Union.

The Economist perhaps was closer to the point, arguing, “Greece should be put into a forgiveness programme just like a bankrupt African country”.

However, Africa should be losing sleep over what is happening to Greece. Times have changed. Traditional Western donors were flush with cash in the 1980s and 1990s into the early 2000s.

There were new European economic success stories like Ireland, and it was hopping around Africa dropping on every village without a borehole and child without milk. Times have changed. In the just-ending global financial crisis, Ireland bit the dust and it too nearly ended like Greece.

Today, if you are an African big man who has mismanaged your economy and are on begging mission, don’t pass the hat to Dublin.

There are several African countries who borrowed too much from the world in the recent heady years of oil finds and exuberant optimism that the continent was growing fabulously rich. Now oil and other commodities have tanked, and they are staring at debt levels that some economist say are worse than the worst times 15 years ago.

With nearly all the donors who doled out debt forgiveness in the past in dire straits, whom will these African governments shake the collection tinl at?

Greece’s pain teaches us that the financial crisis killed the generosity of nations and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one mean lady.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa ( Twitter: @cobbo3