The birth of Jubilee 2000A brief account of the origins of the Jubilee 2000 campaign. In the mid-1990s, while the Debt Crisis Network was organising a series of high-profile meetings on debt with African leaders, a wide coalition of aid agencies, trade unions, churches and campaigning groups was raising the profile of debt issues amongst their own supporters. It was primarily this discreet activity that went towards building an informed and motivated (and angry) mass movement.
Response to public pressure
Responding to this pressure in the Spring of 1996, the World Bank and IMF finally launched a new initiative – the 'Heavily Indebted Poor Countries' (HIPC) scheme, which aimed to 'reduce the external debt of eligible countries as part of a strategy to achieve debt sustainability.' HIPC I, or the 'original' HIPC initiative, was in some senses a radical departure from previous debt relief efforts. For the first time in their 50-year history, the debts of the World Bank and the IMF ('preferred creditors' to whom debts have always to be repaid first) were included for write-off under the scheme. HIPC was also the first attempt by creditors to deal with the debts of the poorest countries in a comprehensive way. Previously debtor nations negotiated separately, and at great cost, with sets of bilateral (government to government) or multilateral (institutions owned by a range of governments) or private creditors. As a result their debts were not viewed as a whole. HIPC changed that. Nevertheless, the original HIPC initiative was widely criticised for providing too little relief, too late: calls which were echoed later in the debt campaign. At this point it was clear that a socially broader-based, more international debt campaign was needed to press home these concerns.
Three years of public meetings, leafleting and campaigning followed the 1995 African leaders tour and Cardinal Hume's crucial meeting. In that time, much water flowed under the bridge. The HIPC initiative, while a big theoretical step forward, was slowed down by the IMF's insistence that debtor governments would have to "perform" against a set of conditions laid down by the IMF. At the grass roots, the British campaign crystallised and began to mobilise under the 'Jubilee 2000' banner; in October 1997, the Debt Crisis Network transformed itself into the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, with a broader base of membership that for the first time included black refugee groups, the trades unions and organisations like the Mothers Union and the British Medical Association. By the time of the Birmingham G8 Summit, Christian Aid, CAFOD, WDM and TearFund had campaigned enthusiastically behind the Jubilee 2000 campaign, and ensured that almost every available church hall was used to organise a Jubilee 2000 meeting. Their staff and volunteers organised and spoke at meetings, distributed leaflets; wrote articles; mobilised petitions, staffed stalls, and chained themselves to railings! All the while, educating, educating, educating. By the time the big day – 16 May 1998 - arrived, a huge swathe of the British public, and a fair section of the media, had been taught the basics of international debt and finance. To the astonishment of politicians, and to the surprise of the G8, millions had a firm grip on the issues. The stage was now set for one of the most significant demonstrations ever organised in the UK; and for an event that would put the cancellation of the debts of the poorest countries at the top of the international agenda. This account is taken from Did the G8 drop the debt?, a report by Jubilee Debt Campaign, Jubilee Research and CAFOD. Previous: origins of the debt movement
Next: 16 May 1998