Sometimes I can’t stop myself from banging my head against brick walls. Today’s impact was a response to this piece in the Florida Baptist Witness:
My wife passed me a link to the page on your website carrying an article about whether Southern Baptists should support the One campaign. Having read the article, I felt compelled to respond due to a number of inaccuracies it contained, as well as the presentation of a particular brand of economic thought as though it were beyond dispute.
Firstly, the One campaign is not “entertainer Bob Geldof’s” but is instead run by a coalition of faith-based groups, charities and other NGOs who have come together to form this campaign. One of those groups is DATA, the group that was founded by Sir Bob Geldof, Bono (of U2) and Bobby Shriver, but DATA is not the sole originator of this campaign. Secondly, Bob Geldof’s call for a million people to demonstrate at last week’s G8 summit is not the “one” of the campaign’s name, nor even a stated goal of the campaign, but is instead a personal plea by Sir Geldof.
The causes for which One is advocating are indeed complicated and warrant serious attention. Deep-seated corruption has indeed been one of the causes which has led to the terrible poverty experienced by many around the world, particularly in Africa. That corruption itself has many sources, including the poorly managed transition from colonial to self-rule, and a lack of democratic accountability.
That corruption has also been fed by western banks and corporations who have been willing to lend to corrupt regimes, and pay the bribes that support them. Particularly well documented is continued lending on the part of numerous organisations to Mobutu’s Kenya, even though memos have been published showing that the IMF and other bodies were well aware that Mobutu was placing up to a third of the money borrowed into his own private bank accounts. When the people of these countries have finally risen up and replaced corrupt dictators with democratic rulers, those rulers are handicapped by the legacy of these odious debts.
The campaigners calling for debt cancellation are inspired by the biblical call for Jubilee, the 50th year when debts were to be cancelled and property that had changed hands was to be returned to the families that previously held it. But we are well aware that mechanisms need to be put in place to stamp out corruption on both sides, to ensure that future loans are only given with adequate securities and guarantees that the money will go to the people and projects that most need it, and that any cancellation is carried out through a fair and transparent process which is open to scrutiny. We are also aware that the bible is very clear on the subject of usury, and many countries despite having paid back more than they originally borrowed find themselves still further indebted due to the build up of interest payments.
The responsibility for the debt burden that now hangs heavily on many poor countries is not owned by any one person or body. Insufficient scrutiny before loans are given (those of us who use banks surely hope that our banks check that projects will be successful before lending our money to them?), corrupt officials and corrupt borrowers are all to blame. Those of us who are concerned that justice should be done — who would echo Jesus’ call that the hungry be fed and the homeless given shelter — must work through this sorry mess. A robust new method of cancelling internatioanl debts is a vital start.