Dictators and Debt

YOUR COMMENTARY on Jubilee 2000 and the debt debate (by Marie Dennis, SeptemberûOctober 1999) was somewhat weakened by its penultimate paragraph. Dennis states that "the people themselves will help determine any conditions attached to debt cancellation and hold their governments accountable for the responsible use of any freed-up funds." She gives no indication whatsoever as to how this cataclysmic change in the operation of African political reality is going to be achieved.

Those who have spent a lifetime working among the poor in Africa have watched the elite in democracies and dictatorships siphon off loan, aid, and tax money into foreign bank accounts and conspicuous spending on luxurious lifestyles. Ordinary people have been able to exercise virtually no control over the misuse of the resources that should have been allocated to health, education, and poverty alleviation. There are, unfortunately, no clear signs of a change in this situation.

The biggest challenge facing the supporters of the Jubilee 2000 movement is how to divert any funds accruing to governments as a result of debt relief to the benefit of the mass of the people rather than following the traditional channel into the pockets of the elite. This is likely to prove a much more formidable task than pressurizing Western taxpayers to forgive debt. It will not be achieved by a simple statement that "the people themselves will help determine any conditions attached to debt cancellation and hold their governments accountable for the responsible use of any freed-up funds."

A great deal of hard work is now required to develop systems of control to ensure that the efforts of Jubilee 2000 do not simply swell existing Swiss bank accounts.

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