Message from the Director of Drop the Debt

20 Sep 2001

The London-based Drop the Debt campaign drew to a close in August following the G8 Summit in Genoa

The campaign in the UK will carry on through the work of the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC). You can subscribe to their campaign list by emailing- jubileedebtnews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

For more details about JDC visit their website: www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk

The next occasion to pressurise the IMF and the World Bank to cancel 100% of the debt that is owed to them by the poorest countries is at their annual meetings taking place at the beginning of October in Washington.

Below there are messages from Adrian Lovett, Director of Drop the Debt, followed by a Genoa Report, from David Hillman, Partner for Campaigns and Mobilisation:

The challenge of Genoa

The events around the G8 summit left many debt campaigners feeling disappointed and depressed. The newspapers and bulletins were full of news from Genoa — but not about the New Deal on Debt we had called on the G8 leaders to agree. The images from Genoa were of street battles between extremist `protestors´ and police.

The trouble on the streets in Genoa presented us with two major problems: first, how to ensure the safety of our supporters; and second, how to get our debt-focused message across to the G8 leaders in such a difficult media climate. We faced an unprecedented situation in Genoa and I am deeply proud of the Drop the Debt team of staff and volunteers who responded with tremendous professionalism. They ensured the safety of those who had travelled so far to be there, and did all they could to minimise the problems that supporters encountered. More than that, they also succeeded in communicating our message through the media and in reaching very directly the ears of the G8 leaders at the summit.

I am also hugely appreciative of the heroic efforts made by many supporters to make their presence felt in Genoa. Some succeeded in getting there and took part in our events. Some made it to Milan, Turin or other parts of Italy, and staged demonstrations where they could. Some raised the issue locally and nationally in the UK before and during the summit. Every single one played a part in ensuring that our message was delivered to the G8.

What we have all achieved in the Drop the Debt campaign since

the beginning of the year

First of all, we should be clear and honest about what we have not achieved. Despite all our efforts, we did not win a New Deal on Debt in Genoa. We set ourselves a goal which we judged to be highly ambitious, but achievable — to win agreement, by the time of the summit, for deeper debt cancellation for the poorest countries. There are many factors that help to explain why that did not happen. The changes of governments in the US and Italy were disruptive to our lobbying efforts — and, particularly in the Italian case, left us with an administration much less interested in our issue. The resistance of the World Bank and IMF to our proposal was fierce. The `natural´ cycle of the existing Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative still had some way to run, making the case for immediate further action tougher.

I will always wonder whether, if we had made a little more noise, worked a few more hours, exerted a bit more pressure — we might just have done it. I don´t think that is the case. I think we did all we possibly could, and I think that because of our work, real progress on debt — and a broader attack on poverty — is now all the more possible.

Achievements

Back in December 2000, as the Jubilee 2000 campaign ended, many believed campaigning on debt would disappear with it. Journalists routinely wrote that debt was an issue that had been dealt with. Politicians wanted to move on to other topics.

By the time of the Genoa summit, debt and poverty were back at the heart of the agenda. As Scotland on Sunday commented, “That the Third World´s troubles have been on the agenda at all may be down to the campaigning of organisations such as Jubilee 2000 and Drop the Debt. The persistent lobbying of non-violent and articulate campaigners has clearly had an impact.”

So our first success was that we ensured the voices of a billion people in the poorest countries were raised in Genoa. The G8 leaders felt obliged to meet with our delegation during the summit. And much more importantly, they met with elected leaders from Africa and welcomed the African leaders´ broad plan for recovery, which includes a new initiative on debt as part of a broader package. The G8 now want to negotiate the detail of the package with the African leaders and come back with a joint action plan for their next summit in Canada. It is too early to say, but if this is taken seriously by the G8, a new partnership on Africa between richer and poorer countries could be one good and lasting legacy to come out of the Genoa summit.

But helping to initiate this encounter was only one of the key achievements of Drop the Debt. Of the many things we have done over the last seven months, I feel three broad achievements stand out in particular:

  • We helped re-energise the campaign for debt cancellation, creating a new sense of urgency and excitement. We did this through an innovative international advertising campaign vividly illustrating the impact of debt; through supporters around the UK adopting the Italian theme and holding imaginative events - at local Italian restaurants, for example; through the active support of Bob Geldof and Bono, and unprecedented link-ups with the U2 world tour and Italy´s biggest annual awareness-raising event, the Match of the Heart; and through a new burst of postcards and emails to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other world leaders.
  • We showed for the first time the full evidence of the impact of debt relief delivered so far, and the need for further action. We showed, in February, that countries entering the HIPC initiative were seeing average cuts in debt payments of just 27 per cent, leaving them spending more than they spend on health care; it was Drop the Debt that first highlighted the stories of countries where even the small amount of debt relief currently being delivered is leading to real, concrete life changes for some of the world´s poorest people — underlining the need for much deeper cancellation.
  • We proved once and for all that the World Bank and IMF can do more to cancel the debts they are owed by the poorest countries. The conclusions of the report commissioned by Drop the Debt from independent accountants Chantrey Vellacott DFK, which shows that those institutions could cancel 100 per cent of these debts without affecting their ability to function, have never been essentially contested. The idea that the World Bank and IMF could not afford deeper cancellation was identified as a significant obstacle to further action on this issue. It is now widely accepted that there are only political, not economic, obstacles to deeper cancellation by these institutions.

I am proud of these achievements. But we all know there is so much more to do.

The way ahead

So what happens now? Drop the Debt is ending as planned, because our campaign was designed for a unique, time-limited period that has now passed. But the campaign against unpayable debt and extreme poverty goes on. In the United States, where our campaigning partners believe a breakthrough is still possible within the coming months, the Drop the Debt slogan will be maintained as the key message of a broad coalition of churches, charities, and other activists across America. In the UK, the Jubilee Debt Campaign will bring together regional campaigns and national organisations to continue the fight. At Drop the Debt, we are proud to pass the torch on to these friends and others, and we trust them to carry it in the original spirit of Jubilee to which we have tried to remain true.

My own personal hope is that as debt campaigners in the months and years ahead, we will seek to win further progress not through a continued narrow focus on debt itself, but through a much broader approach targeting the elimination of extreme poverty and recognising the range of fronts on which we must make progress. Debt is a central, crucial one of these. But I believe we are now more likely to make progress on debt itself, as well as other issues, through a broader campaigning approach. The crisis of HIV/AIDS, for example, underlines the need to campaign not only for deeper debt cancellation but also for the other necessary elements of an appropriate response to an extraordinary emergency. I look forward to joining in the debate on how we achieve that, in the UK and around the world.

It only remains for me to thank you once again for your tireless energy in support of the Drop the Debt campaign. In Genoa, once again, I was reminded that we are privileged to have in this movement the best campaigners in the world. I ask you to take forward that energy, that drive, that passion, in campaigning against poverty and injustice. I ask you to think boldly and imaginatively about how we capture the world´s attention — a challenge made much harder by Genoa. Above all, I ask you never to forget that the struggle we are engaged in is nothing less than the fight of our lives. We will have more partial successes, more bad times as well as good. But with the intelligent compassion of you and millions like you, we will win in the end.

With warmest wishes,

Adrian Lovett

Director

(Drop the Debt is the short-term successor to Jubilee 2000. Although it was voted at the People & Planet Forum that P&P will not be campaigning nationally on the debt crisis in order to focus on Trade, the support office will continue to keep the Network posted on events and updates on this campaign.)