March 1, 2024

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Africa: Sustainable debt management key to adequate education financing

African governments with international partners must aim to sustainably manage debt and promote the right to education amid the continent’s escalating debt crisis, Amnesty International said today as the world marks the International Day of Education.

Education is the African Union’s (AU)  theme for 2024 and, given its importance to the AU’s development blueprint, Agenda 2063. African governments must increase spending on the sector to meet increasing education needs on the continent.

A harsh combination of multiple crises: debt, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have pushed many African governments to implement austerity measures and reduce social spending including, in the case of education, removing subsidies which enabled poorer children to access learning. At the same time, the attempt to raise revenue for debt repayment has led to tax increase on basic items, including on school related supplies. These policies have undermined public investment in education whilst increasing costs for learners.

“As the world marks the International Day of Education, African governments must allocate greater funding to educate our continent’s children and youth,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

“International partners must also support African countries in their efforts to protect the right to education by offering sustained debt restructuring and relief, which would ease the pressure on authorities seeking to enhance support for schooling.”

Massive debts and corruption undermining investment in education.

On average, African countries have a debt to GDP ratio of 60%. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that nearly 57% of Africans live in countries that spend more on debt repayments than education and health combined. It is estimated that Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and Kenya spend at least a quarter of their budgets on debt repayments, leaving very little money for investment in education. This is further exacerbated by corruption.

“At the same time as struggling with debt African countries are also facing huge challenges with widespread corruption. Governments must ensure that budgets are not embezzled or mismanaged. Debt repayment strategies must therefore broaden revenue bases through progressive tax reform whilst reducing corruption instead of just cutting budgets for education and other social services,” said Tigere Chagutah.

Given the educational failings across Africa, especially in conflict-affected regions and following the disruptions to education caused by Covid-19, African governments must not just meet but go beyond the minimum budget thresholds established by the Dakar and Incheon Declarations if they are to ensure that the right to education is fully protected and promoted. Currently, the continent spends just about 5% of their GDP on education, falling below the Dakar declaration.  

African governments must prioritize education in their development planning and allocate sufficient resources in line with regional and international commitments, including the Incheon Declaration. Doing so would require increasing education budgets as well as utilizing partnerships through international cooperation and assistance to ensure that education in the region not only responds to Africa’s development needs but also aligns with international human rights law and standards.

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