A national ecumenical campaign calling for the cancellation of the debts of the world’s poorest countries by the Jubilee year 2000 was launched on Parliament Hill by Canadian church leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Ottawa, John Baycroft.
“Together, with partners around the world and with God’s aid, we can see this accomplished,” said Bishop Baycroft in welcoming hundreds of people to the Sept. 28 ceremony. The event kicked off a three-year campaign by the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, a coalition of several church and inter-church agencies.
The debt cancellation campaign is part of an international effort to convince the G-8 industrialized nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization to cancel the backlog of unpayable debts of 50 of the most impoverished countries by 2000. The total debt of the poorest countries last year was estimated by the World Bank to be $220 billion.
To help further its goal of debt cancellation, the coalition also launched a nation-wide effort to collect signatures to be added to an international petition for presentation to the G-8 leaders in Germany next year.
The coalition pointed out that forgiveness of debt is central to the teachings of Christ, who “announced good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.”
At a news conference prior to the national launch, church leaders and representatives of other non-governmental organizations urged the Canadian government to take the lead in debt cancellation.
“This is an achievable goal,” said Susan George, patron of Britain’s Jubilee 2000 and author of The Debt Boomerang and A Fate Worse than Debt. “The sums involved are paltry for us but they are enormous for the poorest people,” she said. Canada has already forgiven $2-billion worth of debt and “your economy has not exactly collapsed.”
In the sub-Saharan region alone, cancellation of the debt would save millions of lives, said Chris-topher Mwakasege, the leading spokesperson in Tanzania for Jubilee Africa.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has estimated that $9 billion invested in health and nutrition in the region could save the lives of 21 million people, he noted. “But African countries cannot afford this kind of investment because they must pay 1.5 times – that is $13 billion – in debt servicing payments each year.”
Mr. Mwakasege pointed out that the Jubilee 2000 campaign not only calls for the cancellation of debts but also for effective steps to prevent the buildup of debt in the future.
At a weekend workshop on the eve of the launch, Bishop Baycroft told participants that the need for cancellation of debts is real and very urgent. “The cause is just,” he said. “If an individual is absolutely bankrupt we do not keep forcing them to get deeper and deeper into a mess. It is sinful. It must be sinful for the rich people in the world to get even richer by taking the fruits of the world’s poorest people.”
He asked his audience of about 80, “Where do you think God is in this? If Christians truly believe that God wants these debts to be cancelled we should do it and God will bless it. Never mind whether or not the economists say it’s practical or not … It’s got to be done not because it’s practical but because it’s God will. And only when we do justice can we expect God to bless it.” Art Babych is an Ottawa freelance writer who works from Parliament Hill.