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Jubilee 2000

This year has been named by many Christian and socially concerned groups as Jubilee 2000. The idea behind this name is an Old Testament Law that, every 50 years, all debts should be forgiven, and the debtor can start over. The year 2000, being divisible by 50, sounds like a good time to enact this well meaning law to African countries who are horribly crippled by international debts.

The intention is good, but it will not accomplish much. To see why, let’s look at what happened to the original money loaned to these countries.

A lot of this money was loaned under the condition that it was to be invested into certain projects administered by western donors. Most of these western projects, led by high-priced western experts, did not work in Africa. Yet the Africans have to pay for this.

Money coming from loans allowed political leaders to divert funds from schools, roads, and hospitals into building armies. We in the West like to manufacture armaments that keep our economy growing and find their ways into African wars. Yet the Africans have to pay for this.

Money coming from loans went into foreign bank accounts of the political leaders. We do not want to tighten the international banking laws because our banking system is dependent on deposits from corrupt political leaders and organized crime. If this flow of money was stopped, we would see a shift in Western economics with unknown short-term consequences. Yet the Africans have to pay for this.

We in the West have to shoulder blame: our system of democracy has not worked well in Africa. Yet we insist that Africa adopt our democratic principles without ever thinking that there might be a better way to enact governance.

I guess I’m in favor of Jubilee 2000, but mostly for the reason that whoever was stupid enough to loan money to Africa should pay for their mistakes. If this means the Western economy suffers, so be it.

If, however, Jubilee 2000 is enacted, it won’t make much difference to the average African. If suddenly freed of debts, African countries won’t be able to find new loaners for at least another decade to develop their economy. And African leaders will still be putting away a very significant portion of their countries’ economies into armies and their pockets. And when the loaners do move back into Africa (and they eventually will), we will see the same mistakes manifesting themselves in two decades.

To me, Jubilee 2000 is like people bailing out a sinking ship with no plan to fix the hole. The intention is good — and perhaps a very good start — but we have to go further to solve the real problems.

Published in The Brooks & County Chronicle 2000

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