Volume 13 Number 4
Harvest Time for Jubilee 2000
01 August 2000

Martin Dent is the co-founder of Jubilee 2000. He writes in his personal capacity.

Ten years ago I first coined the name 'Jubilee 2000' for a new campaign to win remission of the unpayable debts of the world's 50 or so low-income countries. In so doing, I followed the Biblical model of Jubilee, using the year 2000 as a special or kairos time with which to associate it.

The remission would allow for a new beginning in honest administration, accountability and fruitful cooperation between the richer creditor countries and the poorer debtor countries. It would be radical and unrepeatable for many years, if at all. It must be accompanied by conditionalities to ensure that the money saved was spent on such services as education and health, for the good of the poorer people. It would mark a new agreement between government and people, and entail the recovery of money corruptly acquired and invested abroad by previous rulers.

I envisaged 100 per cent, or nearly 100 per cent, remission for countries whose per capita GNP fell below $765 a year, and partial remission for those whose per capita GNP stood between $765 and $2,000. This is more or less the target which was subsequently adopted by the British Government for its debt remission programme.

In 1993, I came together with Bill Peters, who had been campaigning independently on the debt issue. He gave immense impetus, and we became the co-founders of Jubilee 2000, which through the grace of God and the support of many dedicated people, developed into a giant worldwide campaign. Our director, Ann Pettifor, and her staff have rendered yeoman service.

Like the small mustard seed in the Biblical parable, the movement has grown into a great tree, with self-governing branches in many countries. Millions of people have signed the Jubilee 2000 petition and tens of thousands turned out to demonstrate at meetings of the G7 and G8 in Birmingham, Cologne and elsewhere. Supporters have written many thousands of letters and held innumerable meetings. The mobilization of people has been as great as that of the anti-slavery campaign in Britain in the 1820s and 1830s, which was led by William Wilberforce and my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Fowell Buxton.

The heads of governments of the G8 countries have promised the remission of the bilateral debt owing to them, to the tune of some $100 billion. But many of these promises have still to be fulfilled. British Ministers Gordon Brown and Clare Short have asked Jubilee 2000 to keep up the pressure in order to strengthen their hands in negotiations with other governments and also with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The World Bank and the IMF have tended to be excessively cautious and have thus acted as a brake upon the remission of multilateral debt. The World Bank has not approved even half of the 51 or so countries who should qualify for the remission of a total of $280 billion.

These institutions have also acted as a brake on bilateral remission: the British Government's promise, for instance, is limited to those countries which have been through the Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative. This means that Nigeria, which owes over half of all the low-income countries' £4 billion debt to Britain, is not receiving remission, because the Bank and IMF have excluded it from the HIPC list although it is a low-income country.

The Bank has appealed for contributions from donor governments to finance multilateral debt remission, which could in fact partly be financed from its own reserves. When the World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, addressed the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, he said that the Bank's reserves were $23 billion.

In addition to the folly of excessive caution, the Bank has imposed on its debtors a policy of only forgiving debt which it deems 'unsustainable'--when in fact for many of these countries any level of debt is unsustainable.

From this it can be seen that the campaign still has a long way to go. At the end of the year, the coalition of NGOs that has given formal leadership to the British campaign will dissolve, but Jubilee 2000 is much too precious to be allowed to die. The campaign is a holy cause, like that for the abolition of slavery, and its true stakeholders are the many thousands who have supported it and the millions of people in poor countries whom we seek to help: nos maîtres les pauvres (our masters the poor), to borrow a phrase from St Vincent de Paul.

Jubilee 2000 must live on to harvest the fruit of the promises of remission so far made in general terms, and then to merge with the wider campaign for the eradication of poverty, launched by Britain's Minister for International Development, Clare Short. Let it continue, not as the possession of any single NGO as some seem to have envisaged, but as a free-standing vibrant movement with its own organization and funding. It would be unfortunate to declare the end of the British campaign just as other countries' campaigns are coming to full fruition.

The continuation will need a new and inspiring name. We must retain 'Jubilee', which people have learnt to cherish, but after this year we could add the word 'Harvest', to denote the need to realize the promises made in the year 2000. 'Jubilee Harvest' or 'Action for Jubilee' might be two possibilities.
by Martin Dent

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