By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/6/2005 11:14:59 AM ET 2005-07-06T15:14:59

This remote village of dung huts, cows, and nomadic herders is not even on a map.

For the moment, these Masai have set up their homes near the Ethiopian border. 

In these arid hills, where winds constantly blow fine red dirt into a misty haze, and the thorny scrub brush clings low to the earth, the Masai warriors eke out an ultra-simplistic life: no electricity, no telephones, no running water.

Few of the 100 or so villagers here have even heard of the United States or President George W. Bush.

Still, the U.S. leader has an unusual ally among these warriors as he arrives at the Group of Eight summit in Scotland.

Theirs is a world that embraces capitalism.

Debts not taken lightly
Cows and goats are the currency. If a Masai does not have enough to broker a deal, it's acceptable to go into debt.

But, in this culture, debts are sacrosanct. Few go unpaid.

Debts can extend two or three generations, but as village elder Leeh Kono explains, there's always an accounting of what's owed, and it's rare when that debt is erased.

"It's not good to forgive debt because that person who owes, in the future, may still have the ability to pay,” explained Kono.

As he squatted in the glaring sun, his body wrapped in a traditional bright red cloth, Kono gestured decisively with his leathery hands. Are American subsidies supporting African poverty?

"The only time elders consider forgiving a debt is when there's death or drought,” said Kono.

He said he remembered only three times when debt was forgiven, "I felt the pain each time. I knew how special it was [to forgive this debt]."

In each case, the debt was forgiven because of "drought."

G-8 debt deal
Some Africa experts argue that the Group of Eight leading industrial nations should relieve this continent of its debt. Their argument is that the financial crisis of many African nations is just like a drought: beyond anyone's control.

In Kenya's "Daily Nation" newspaper on Tuesday, Tony Sisule wrote that the British government "has embarked on an ambitious plan to help Africa escape poverty. But America's George Bush administration is dead set against the plan terming it impractical for, what are at best, spurious reasons."

He argued, "Opposing debt relief to Africa is a selfish and irresponsible act that will condemn millions of children, women and men to death by starvation, disease and misery."

But, back in the hills, a 14-hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, Kono repeated the belief here, that a debt is a debt.

But when asked about what Kenya owes, he said, "I have no idea. I don't owe anyone. I have no debt."

When he's told of his government in Nairobi and what they owe, the village elder said, "That has nothing to do with us."

His logic holds some merit: much of Africa's debt was acquired by leaders who are no longer in power.

Kerry Sanders is an NBC News correspondent. He is currently on assignment in Kenya.


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