The Anglican Archbishop of Kenya, David Gitari, has criticized Japan for what he called an inadequate response to the Jubilee 2000 message of canceling the unpayable debts of the world's poorest countries. Archbishop Gitari was speaking to Ecumenical News International (ENI) April 13 in London en route from Tokyo, where he and two colleagues from Tanzania and Uganda had urged the Japanese government to soften its stance on debt. In July Japan will chair the annual summit of the Group of Eight (the seven leading Western industrial nations plus Russia), and the visit was aimed at influencing the summit. Jubilee 2000 is an international movement in over 40 countries calling for a one-off cancellation of the unpayable debts of the world's poorest countries under a fair and transparent process. Archbishop Gitari acknowledged that his group had had mixed success when they met officials from the Japanese ministries of finance and foreign affairs."We were listened to very carefully, and then in most cases they were just giving us the official line," he said.The Japanese, according to the archbishop, argued that they had already written off about half of the bilateral loans to HIPC (heavily indebted poor countries). They proposed to reschedule the remaining debt over 40 years with a 16-year grace period for making payments. They would then match repayments with further aid.Dr Gitari said he did not accept the Japanese argument that this amounted to 100 percent cancellation of the original debts. (According to Jubilee 2000, under the Japanese procedure the new aid must be spent on imports, and so cannot be used for essential domestic spending on poverty reduction.)The archbishop praised the United States and Britain for their lead in planning to write off 100 percent of bilateral debt. Jubilee 2000 has noted that all seven leading Western industrial nations have now promised some form of "100 percent" cancellation for the poorest countries although this did not mean, according to Jubilee 2000, "total cancellation of poor country debt."Dr Gitari said he and his two colleagues from Tanzania and Uganda had been chosen for the advocacy mission because they could speak at first hand about the suffering caused by unpayable debt.In Tanzania, he pointed out, more was spent paying the interest on external debt than on education and health combined, while in Kenya debt represented about US$85 for every man, woman and child. Meanwhile, 500 Kenyans were dying of AIDS every day. Tuberculosis and yaws were among diseases making a comeback in East Africa.In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, primary school enrollments had actually decreased since 1980.The development charity Christian Aid has estimated that impoverished nations are having to pay the West US$3 for every US$1 they receive in new aid.Archbishop Gitari said the Japanese had questioned the rightness of simply writing off debts.He added: "We were arguing for a question of justice, to consider the effect on the poor. We are telling them to think again."Dr Gitari was a guest of the Anglican Church in Japan, and the visit was sponsored by two Anglican missionary societies, the Church Mission Society (CMS) and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), which are members of the Jubilee 2000 coalition in the UK.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

Jubilee 2000 Japan's site (offered in both English and Japanese) offers a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on Japan and debt forgiveness.See our earlier coverage of Jubilee 2000:Now You Must Forgive Mozambique its Debts, Methodist Bishop Tells West | Economic situation 'has gone from precarious to catastrophic' after flooding (Mar. 15, 2000) Poor Nations Get Debt Relief | After Congress passes Jubilee 2000 legislation, campaign rolls onward (Jan. 4, 2000) Churches Seek Debt Cancellation (Oct. 5, 1998)See more information on Jubilee 2000 at the Bread for the World site, the Jubilee 2000 Coalition site, Jubilee 2000/USA, the Vatican's Jubilee site, Sojourners, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Jubilee site.