Date of Graduation

Fall 12-14-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies


International Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Anne Bartlett

Second Advisor


Third Advisor



Over the past forty years, African countries have accumulated enormous quantities of external debt. Today, this debt is heavily burdensome; money spent on debt service is money that cannot be invested into infrastructure development, health, education, or other areas that might benefit the large number of Africans who live in poverty. Calls for debt forgiveness have led western institutions to forgive a portion of this debt, but have not addressed the question of whether or not this debt is legitimate in the first place.

Similarly, academic proposals for the classification and subsequent repudiation or forgiveness of so-called "odious debt" have treated such debt as the product of individual loans. These proposals are premised on the notion that loans are issued in a vacuum, and thus can be classified based on the end use of one-time disbursements of funds.

In fact, sub-Saharan Africa accumulated its odious debt not through a series of bad individual loans, but rather through a system of odious lending that afflicted much of the continent. This "Odious Debt System" begins with the foreign support, funding, and perpetuation of dictatorial rule, continues with the economic collapse, capital flight, and structural adjustment that seems to inevitably follow, and concludes with the odious debt burdens left to struggling countries emerging from autocratic rule. This system, and not any individual loan, is responsible for Africa's odious debt and is similarly responsible for the inability of African countries to seek repudiation of those debts. A political movement, similar to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, is necessary to force creditor nations to cancel these odious debts.