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Why we must cancel Somalia’s debt

News & Commentary  |  By Zaina Kisongoa, Apr 3, 2019

AFSC works with youth in Somalia – in close partnership with civil society organizations – to develop innovative and creative ideas for building lasting peace while ensuring inclusion of all people. 

Photo: AFSC / Somalia

Debt cancellation is critical to build peace and alleviate poverty in Somalia. 

Real security can only be achieved when all people have access to basic resources – such as water, food, shelter, and health care – and governments and institutions invest in policies that promote mutual well-being. 

But today, Somalia faces one of the most severe humanitarian challenges in the world, with millions of people facing hunger, extreme poverty, and violence. 

Somalia’s crushing debt is one major roadblock in its efforts to build peace and security.

That’s why the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) joins with many in the international community calling for the full and swift cancellation of Somalia’s debt. 

Here’s what you need to know:  

After years of armed conflict, Somalia remains one of Africa’s most troubled and underdeveloped countries. 

AFSC works with local partners in Somalia to teach young people vocational skills —including tailoring and carpentry — as well as conflict resolution so they can move beyond the daily struggle for survival and thrive.  Photo: AFSC/Somalia

Somalia continues to endure violence, extreme poverty, acute food shortage, political instability, economic underdevelopment, human rights abuses, and recurring natural disasters, such as droughts and floods that lead to famine.  

As of June 30, 2018:  


The government of Somalia does not have the resources to meet the country’s urgent needs and work toward building peace. 

Somalia’s 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections led to renewed international recognition of its federal government and its efforts to reengage with the international community. But the country’s external debt of $4.6 billion continues to restrict Somalia from accessing much-needed cash from the international financial community for development. This is debt that was largely accrued before the collapse of the Somali government in 1991— before most Somalis alive today were even born.


The international community has come together to support debt cancellation – but much more can be done. 

In April, AFSC and partners organized a forum in Washington, D.C. on cancelling Somalia's debt. 

AFSC is part of a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work in Somalia and are supporting its bid for expeditious and full debt cancellation. Known as the Somalia debt cancellation working group (part of the Somalia NGO consortium), it has successfully lobbied the African Union – made up of 54 member states -- to express support for canceling Somalia’s debt. Read the consortium’s report “Debt Cancellation for Somalia: The Road to Peace, Poverty Alleviation and Development.”  [pdf]

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could take major steps to provide debt relief to Somalia. The World Bank has committed to eradicate poverty and support fragile countries that are overburdened by conflict. Somalia fits that description and deserves all the help that the World Bank can provide. Similarly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can put Somalia through the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative, a program designed to ensure that the poorest countries in the world are not overwhelmed by unmanageable debt burdens. Like they did for Liberia, the World Bank and IMF must fast-track debt relief for Somalia.   


The United States must join the growing call for the full and swift cancellation of Somalia’s debt.   

The United States is Somalia’s largest creditor. Much of that debt is owed to the Pentagon, because most of those funds were used for military purposes – not development – in Somalia in the 1980s. 

Today the U.S. has a moral obligation to cancel Somalia’s debt to help its government address its humanitarian crisis, prevent violence, and build shared security both in and outside of the country. Debt cancellation will allow Somalia to unlock new financial resources for reconstruction, development, and peacebuilding efforts – facilitating more political stability and reducing the risk of the country reverting back into conflict. 


People in the U.S. can make their voices heard on this issue. 

In the U.S., individuals, congregations, and communities can take action. Please call, email, or write your members of Congress and urge them to ask the Trump administration to cancel Somalia’s debt and call on other creditors – such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – to do the same.

About the Author

Zaina is AFSC's country representative for Somalia. Since 2008, AFSC has worked with young people in Somalia – in close partnership with civil society organizations – to develop livelihoods, mitigate community conflict, and take on leadership and advocacy roles.