Westminster Justice & Peace Volunteer, Anne Tran, has been researching the latest developments in the campaign to cancel the debts of developing countries. She also helped to create a collage of Justice & Peace member photos, making our own contribution to the Cancel the Debt message. In this article she gives her own assessment of the campaign. Anne is a third-year International Politics student.
The Jubilee Debt Campaign focuses on pressuring the UK Government to cancel the debt, on what is owed by developing countries, in this case the pandemic has made the situation worse. Since the coronavirus, there is a greater need to drop the debt. Countries are now faced with the decision between paying back the debt or responding to the Covid health crisis. This demonstrates the dilemma faced by poor countries and their financial situation, that prevents them from exercising their own freedom to choose and attend matters that best suits their needs. In response, this led to supporters from different organisations and religious groups such as Christian Aid, CAFOD, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Oxfam, ONE and Global Justice Now vocalising their support by encouraging online petitions and releasing supporting statements.
The Catholic church has shown their support, especially with CAFOD and their initiative to promote the campaign through gathering hundreds of images of supporters holding up signs saying ‘Cancel the Debt’, along with an uploaded video with the members of the public and other organisations expressing their solidarity to cancel the Debt. The Justice and Peace Commission Team has also contributed towards this, with the staff members participating in the picture campaign, to help put the campaign forward. Outside of the Catholic realm, Oxfam has provided research in response to the campaign by outlining suggestions for world organisations and private lenders to take certain initiatives to attempt to alleviate the debt.
However, there is indication that the Jubilee Debt Campaign at the moment is currently stagnant. My reasoning follows: In April G20 Finance Ministers agreed to suspend debt for 77 countries for the rest of the year (saving $12Billion) and also encourage the initiative towards private lenders (also saving countries $8 Billion) with the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). But, unfortunately, over the past few months the campaign and G20 no longer became a topic of interest. Instead it was overshadowed by the United States and China’s strained relationship and lack of involvement. This hindered the development that was made in April with the campaign. Consequently, G20 then retracted their statement and revised their initial stance and became more reluctant to take on the debt suspension. Instead, they have now stated that countries that wish to cancel the debt can follow through at their own expense. However, the hidden element of pressure, stress, or lack of emphasis on the importance of the liability in the first released statement, lessened the weight of importance compared to before. This made the campaign less effective as the months passed by and no longer became an issue of interest. But not all is lost. In October, G20 made another announcement that they have chosen to extend the suspension of the debt repayments for 6 months to provide additional support, after meeting with the group’s finance ministers and central bank governors, providing more hope towards the campaign.
The Financial Times have also provided an update on the campaign in an article by Jonathan Wheatley and David Pilling on 12 October 2020. They have highlighted the importance of the necessary aid that West African countries are needing at the moment, although countries like Kenya have stated that the campaign may prolong the country’s debt repayment. Ghana has stressed upon the responsibility as a former British Colony to help them with the debt along with other western states. This outcry has led to organisations like the Jubilee Debt Campaign, Westminster Justice & Peace and CAFOD to strengthen their support by continuing to release current updates on the Jubilee Debt Campaign and promoting the cause. We have seen the success of the support received from examples above where the petition may have had a moment of pause due to the uncertain political climate, but we can clearly see the long-term benefits from all the different organisations work in their constant advocacy, that encourages and moves the campaign forward. This has been evident through G20’s recent October announcement, demonstrating progress that has been made so far with the help of these organisations.
My research on the Jubilee Debt campaign regarding the petition has led me to believe that crisis management regarding any type of social, economic or health issue is a concern for all. Prior to the pandemic, or after, these issues remain important and still affect the lives of different individuals around the world. It is unfortunate that at times like this there are no direct solutions. But through researching on The Jubilee Debt Campaign, it has allowed me to gain a deeper insight into the different realities that developing countries face. There is no straight answer that can solve all the problems proposed, but I do believe a difference can be made. I have to credit the different organisations and groups for their sense of injustice that have led the campaign to a level of success with G20’s response and public awareness. However more can be done, as demonstrated above from the various examples, publicity and petition signatures are not enough to combat the World Politics from overshadowing the aims of the debt campaign. This highlights a serious issue today, especially on the importance and relevance on certain issues proposed, that are overtaken by the political tension among powerful states. Whilst challenges are ongoing battles, developing countries are confronted with daily discernments of life-threatening ultimatums. Overall, we must continue to create awareness and provide more informed decisions as a common goal to help these countries in need.
16 April 2020 Jubilee Debt Campaign – https://jubileedebt.org.uk/blog/debt-suspension-agreed-for-low-income-countries-to-help-fight-coronavirus
11 August 2020 CAFOD Blog on History of Debt Campaigning and Call for Photos – https://blog.cafod.org.uk/2020/08/11/cafods-debt-campaigning-over-the-years/
12 October 2020 Financial Times – https://www.ft.com/content/edb18d34-844b-43b5-a78a-fec73f1d0583
14 October 2020 Jubilee Debt Campaign – https://jubileedebt.org.uk/press-release/reaction-to-g20-debt-suspension-and-common-framework
Christian Aid Petition – https://www.christianaid.org.uk/campaigns/debt-jubilee-petition
Global Justice Now Petition – https://act.globaljustice.org.uk/coronavirus-drop-debt