First posted 23 June 2006, Nairobi
International Strategy Conference on Debt Repudiation, Day 3, 20 June
0900 Smiles and jokes at breakfast as we remember last night. First meeting of morning in small (thank god) regional group and atmosphere is slightly giggly. But we get down to some serious strategy nitty gritty. Northern campaigns can support southern counterparts by explaining why repudiation is a serious and sensible option. If debt movements had existed in the north 20 years ago, attempts by southern governments to repudiate may have had more success.
1100 Brilliant talk by Julius Okara of the Kenyan Debt Network (Kendren) explaining how debt repudiation is back on the agenda after many years, and that this conference will spur the Kenyan movement on as it builds to the World Social Forum in January. Kenya has borrowed $17bn, paid back $51bn, and still owes $10bn. It has received no debt cancellation because its debts are described as “sustainable” by the mad professors in Washington. Meanwhile life expectancy has fallen from 57 in the late 1980s to around 48 today.
Kendren is going round the country explaining that the money spent on servicing debt could pay for six government ministries. He pleads for support from northern organisations, some of whom, he worries, may undermine the call for repudiation. 10,000 postcards have been sent to President Kibaki calling for repudiation: “Debt is poverty! Debt is slavery! Refusal to pay is justice!” I will take some of the postcards back to show UK government colleagues.
1500 Serious conference fatigue leads to all out revolt. There appears to be no interest in taking seats as delegates wander aimlessly around the hotel trying to avoid creating the critical mass that would mean a resumption of proceedings. I eventually adopt the role of bouncer, directing people forcefully to the conference room. When we have begun some express frustration at those inside the movement that do not support the call for repudiation. I argue that persuasion will be as important as confrontation as we seek to progress our goals – well received.
1630 The UN in miniature as we write the inevitable “Nairobi Declaration” by committee. Except that people are actually quite sensible and only suggest broad changes to the draft rather than rejoining infinitives. Inevitable list of countries requiring special support gets longer and longer and is eventually (predictably) chopped completely.
1830 Its over. It has been a brilliant conference, as organised and strategic as it was inspirational. Am looking forward to going home to get started. I hope I haven’t made too many promises! How will I stay in touch with so many incredible people?
1930 Totally refuse to go to the planning meeting for civil society events in Indonesia during the Singapore IFI Annual Meetings.
0000 A good result. We proved we can play and then proved that we need to try harder. Kenyan’s split 50/50 between supporting England and Sweden, presumably a variety of reactions to history…