First posted 21 June 2006, Nairobi
International Strategy Conference on Debt Repudiation, Day 2, 19 June
0700 Wake up feeling unhealthy. Have not actually left the hotel yet apart from me and Dereje being kicked out of the lobby for smoking. Resolve to go to the gym before breakfast. Conferences are bad for your health.
0850 Meet Jonah from Zimbabwe to agree some “Hard Questions about Repudiation” to put to the small groups for a prompt nine o’clock start.
0920 Delegates start to arrive.
0940 Coffee break
1000 My group has to answer, “How can you say you believe in a fair global system based on the rule of law and then call for unilateral repudiation of debts?” We respond that the rules have been written by the powerful, and they must sometimes be rejected. It is an old argument in the history of social movements, but on a global scale. Many of the debts claimed are themselves illegal and illegitimate. A just global order must be based on, erm, justice.
1100 Plenary. There is broad agreement that while refusing to pay debts could be suicide for some countries, when done collectively negative impacts can be reduced, and some bigger countries could go it alone. But most importantly, the call for repudiation is a statement of intent: it is time for southern countries to start to shape the terms of the debate. If we plan to wait for rich countries to act justly we could be here for some time…
1300 My lunch tactic is to take small amounts of each buffet option and then go back for major seconds of the ones I like. Strong Indian influence keeps hotel food honest. Discuss joint working with colleagues from three continents. Patricia from Ecuador is seeking to reenergise work on auditing the country’s debt that the government supported but is now ignoring. Agree to work with RD, the Indonesian delegate, to demonstrate illegitimacy of UK claims on Indonesia (the UK’s largest debtor now that Nigeria has been forced to pay). In Niger, Aboubakar is organising a “caravan” to travel the country educating people about debt and related issues. A great idea but I fear Christian Aid will not support it as we don’t work in Niger. Was invited to join the caravan – chance would be…
1400 More small groups. Latins turn up late en masse implying they have been out for a walk. Am jealous. My group discusses how to make debt repudiation a reality. We focus on the need to change and improve southern governments, especially talking about Zimbabwe. I ask about the rights of NGOs and the media in Zimbabwe and am told that, “Of course there is freedom of speech. It is just freedom after speech that is difficult.”
1900 Social event. Three lads sing brilliant songs called “G8” and “Somebody tell me why” a capella. They sing intelligently of injustice and turning the tables on their oppressors both outside and inside their country. After days of sitting down the desire to dance is overwhelming. Embarrassing conference party commences until we get bored of Abba, the only CD available (!!!). Then go over road to bar till two in the morning. Amazing live music. Bloke grabs me by shoulder and says, “We love you guys. At least you are trying to dance.”