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 Global Perspective

June 4, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 10

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot
Jesuit Fr. Peter Henriot, a political scientist, directs the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, Zambia.



Jubilee is an economic justice concept, and it doesn't go away simply with the flip of a calendar page. As long as there is injustice in the economic organization of debt, there is need for jubilee.




To learn more about Jubilee-Zambia, visit the Web site of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, in Lusaka, Zambia.

Jubilee doesn't go away when the calendar changes

By Peter Henriot, S.J.

LUSAKA, Zambia -- Why does Zambia still have a "Jubilee" campaign? Didn't the international effort to cancel the debts of the world's poorest countries end with the end of the year 2000, the so-called "jubilee year"?

We often hear this question. People seemed surprised to learn that "Jubilee-Zambia" is still very active, very public, very pushy, in calling for cancellation of debt. Many of the "Jubilee 2000" campaigns around the world shut down when the calendar turned to 2001. Why has the campaign continued in Zambia and what are its goals?

The first thing to say is "jubilee" is an economic justice concept, and it doesn't go away simply with the flip of a calendar page. As long as there is injustice in the economic organization of debt, there is need for jubilee. And that is surely the situation in Zambia, in other parts of Africa, in so many other places in our world today.

Specifically, there are five major reasons Jubilee-Zambia continues.

Total Debt Cancellation. Even after the Jubilee Year 2000 and after qualifying in December 2001 for some debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, the debt crisis is still with us in Zambia. At the start of 2003, total debt stock for Zambia was around US$6.5 billion. This is a per capita debt burden of about US$650, or double our per capita GNP. Our debt service in 2003 will be over US$160 million, or twice what our national budget for education and health services.

The challenges raised in the joint ecumenical Pastoral Letter of August 1998 that launched the Jubilee 2000-Zambia campaign still stand today:

"Zambia's total debt is clearly unpayable. Zambia cannot pay back because the debt burden is economically exhausting. It blocks future development. Zambia will not pay back because the debt burden is politically destabilizing. It threatens social harmony. Zambia should not pay back because the debt burden is ethically unacceptable. It hurts the poorest in our midst."

Because of these challenges, Jubilee Zambia urges all Zambians and our external supporters to continue demanding total cancellation of Zambia's foreign debt for purposes of eradicating poverty.

Zambia's Qualification to the HIPC Initiative. Studies we have done show that HIPC in its current form will not benefit Zambia economically or socially. HIPC is primarily a creditor's plan to assure sustainable debt servicing and not a debtor's plan to assure sustainable development. Its presuppositions are unrealistic (exaggerated estimates of future export earnings), unacceptable (money must first go to debt servicing, before meeting the social needs of the people), and unsuitable (conditionalities continue a discredited development model).

This is why Jubilee-Zambia continues calling for total debt cancellation and monitoring the expenditures of any resources freed up under HIPC.

Oversight and Accountability. Jubilee-Zambia advocates that resources freed up through debt cancellation be directed to benefit of the poor and not be diverted to expenditures that are not pro-poor (e.g., expensive vehicles for high government officials). We have been lobbying for an oversight body to ensure debt relief resources are managed transparently and accountably.

Jubilee-Zambia promotes this idea through popular education programs, using, for example, community drama, and a national petition drive.

Loan Contraction Procedure. Even while Zambia accesses debt relief, it continues borrowing and is expected to service debts. Jubilee-Zambia questions the suitability of the existing loan contraction procedure in the country. Lack of transparency, openness, public involvement and information are the main problems that we recognize.

Therefore Jubilee-Zambia is working to secure a constitutional provision that contracts for loans beyond a certain level must be submitted to Parliament for full review. Clear policies and regulations must be put in place so that Zambia can avoid future debt traps.

Reparations. Jubilee-Zambia has joined other Jubilee movements in the southern region of Africa in addressing some of the historical experiences that have impacted negatively on the development of countries in this region and created serious debt problems. One key issue is the case of so-called "Apartheid-caused Debt."

Studies we have undertaken reveal that a very large portion of Zambia's external debt can be traced to Zambia's struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. Zambia was the leader of the "front lines states" in the liberation struggle and suffered greatly as a consequence. For example, we had to borrow heavily to replace destroyed infrastructure, secure alternative transportation routes (e.g., rail and pipelines through Tanzania), host liberation armies and refugees, and maintain military forces to defend our borders.

Should Zambia be expected to pay back these debts? Moreover, should not those who profited from investments, trade and political support that maintained the Pretoria regime in power for so many years pay reparations? This is a very complex and sensitive issue. But Jubilee-Zambia believes it is an issue that should not be avoided.

Other dimensions of the Jubilee-Zambia campaign are logically connected with the five concerns outlined above. For example, some form of arbitration is clearly desirable in handling debt negotiations, so that the creditors are not by themselves the complainant, prosecutor, judge, jury and bailiff. Moreover, issues of trade, conditions of investment, and prices of commodities are intimately related to the debt status of a poor country like Zambia.

Why does Jubilee-Zambia continue? Because the suffering of the poor continues through the immense debt burden borne primarily by the poor. Because there is plenty of work to do to put in place more socially just policies, domestically and internationally. And because we still have a ways to go before achieving our goal: debt cancellation for poverty eradication.

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