Jubilee 2000 Gathers Momentum
01 February 1999

In this new feature, we shall report on developments since our publication of a major story.

In December, the International Development Minister in the new German government, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul stated that the demands of the Jubilee 2000 campaign were 'justified'.

This marked a breakthrough for those campaigning for the poorest countries to be relieved of the burden of their unrepayable external debt (see FAC Dec/Jan 1996). Jubilee 2000's aim is that the South should enter the new Millennium with a clean slate.

Wieczorek-Zeul said, 'In principle, we support the World Bank proposal for debt relief for the poorest and most heavily indebted developing countries.... However, we want to see a shorter waiting time before debt relief is delivered, and we favour raising the limit on debt reduction.'

An unlikely duo were behind the campaign, Martin Dent and Bill Peters. 'An elderly, eccentric academic--the official peacemaker, in his spare time, to a little-known African tribe--Dent has spent the past decade promoting his idea,' reported Geoffrey Lean in the Independent on Sunday, London, in May, 1998. 'Together with a retired ambassador, Bill Peters, he has inspired a mass movement and caught the attention of the world's leaders.'

Indeed, Lean's article coincided with a massive demonstration in Birmingham where 70,000 supporters of Jubilee 2000 surrounded a G8 summit meeting and presented a petition--an exercise which will be repeated during the next summit in Cologne this June.

The coalition of organizations backing the campaign in Britain now has more than 70 members, including all the major church groups, Oxfam, Tear Fund and the National Black Alliance. Jubilee 2000 is also being promoted in over 40 countries, including all of the G8 countries except Russia.

In 1996 the World Bank and IMF agreed to remit some of the debts and reschedule the remainder of up to 40 countries through the so-called HIPC (heavily indebted poor countries) initiative. But HIPC has stalled, largely due to intransigence and self-interest of creditors, says Jubilee 2000. To date Uganda is the only country to have been granted some debt relief--£15 million, or about ten per cent of its debt service in 1998.

The British government has sent mixed signals about its willingness to act. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, publicly supported the Jubilee concept in the so-called Mauritius Mandate, which set deadlines for delivering debt relief. He is pressing the World Bank and the IMF, in their review of HIPC this spring, to define what is a 'sustainable' level of debt (one which still leaves a country with the means to pay for its health and education needs). But he has not made any commitment to unilateral debt forgiveness by Britain--which, according to Jubilee 2000, would cost less than £2 per annum for each taxpayer.

Last November, Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, told the General Synod of the Church of England: 'Poverty is not all the fault of evil Western bankers. Corrupt dictators, weak and craven governments hold back their people across the world. We should not call for debt to be relieved if the result would be more spending on arms or palaces or corruption.'

But in a letter in the Church Times Peters and Dent state that Jubilee 2000 recognizes fully that countries seeking debt cancellation must be dealt with case by case--'specifically to allow the conditions of each debtor to be taken into account, including corruption and economic mismanagement'.

Jubilee 2000 clearly has a massive job still to do--and the countdown to 2000 is rushing towards us--but powerful forces are beginning to swing behind it.

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