Back in 1985, at the height of the Sally Struthers “starving children” ad campaign, the Western world felt pretty charitable about the help it was lending to third world countries around the globe. Led by pop music moguls like Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan, the “We Are the World” and Live Aid projects raised approximately $200 million for famine relief, most of which was donated to Ethiopia.
In 1995, after ten years of back-patting, an English man named Jamie Drummond took a BBC news crew to Ethiopia to document the decade-long progress sparked by those projects. However, as Drummond walked past rows and rows of poverty-stricken tents, he did not find a country prospering from the West’s benevolence.
“It occurred to me while I was out there that there was a travesty going on,” Drummond says. “Those events which the music industry, and to some extent the entertainment industry, saw as the biggest effort of their lives raised $200 million, which sounds like a truckload of money. But Ethiopia paid us — the rich West nations — $500 million each year in debt repayments. That’s a travesty.”
Each single year, Ethiopia had to pay back more than twice the amount they received from Live Aid and “We Are the World” combined. It would be an exaggeration to say that those projects were useless, but in light of the third-world debt situation, a new paradigm was crucial if progress was ever to be made.
And so enters Jubilee 2000, a coalition that aims to pressure the globe’s richest nations into forgiving the debt of the world’s poorest nations. Their deadline is the Millennium and their strategy rests almost entirely on “Star Power.” Borrowing from the success of “We Are the World” and Live Aid, special initiatives manager Drummond asked the celebrities involved with those projects to jump aboard the Jubilee 2000 campaign.
“I said to them, ‘Look, here’s the situation,'” Drummond says. “‘If only you could put in the same amount of effort as you gave to the Live Aid campaign, which is trying to deal with the structural causes. We could do something much more significant than Live Aid.'”
Among Jubilee 2000’s ranks are Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, Bono and The Edge from U2, Thom Yorke from the band Radiohead, and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros. Even the Pope has spoken out for Jubilee 2000, citing the power of forgiveness and renewal. With the help of these spokesmen and volunteers, the coalition has collected 17 million signatures petitioning for debt relief.
The ball has started to roll. At last month’s G8 summit, G8 leaders announced they would forgive close to $90 billion of third world debt. While that represents a step in the right direction, coalition members aren’t ready to celebrate just yet. Drummond says at least three or four times that amount has to be cancelled before these countries see any real difference. Jubilee 2000’s initiative has never been to cancel the entire $371 billion owed to the West, only the “unpayble” debt. “Unpayble” is defined by the coalition as either money that is not being repaid anyway, or money that is being repaid but at an unacceptable human cost.
“The United Nations has estimated that if the money spent on debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries each year was instead spent on health and education, the lives of 7 million children a year could be saved,” Drummond says. “That’s the UN, not us.”
Drummond says that the heart and soul of Jubilee 2000 lies in its grassroots support and admits that it would be best if its supporters didn’t have to get rock stars to help them acquire the attention they feel they deserve. However, at the same time, Drummond recognizes the necessity of having celebrities on board to complement that grassroots support.
“This would never get an ounce of coverage unless we worked to the agenda dictated by the media?and celebrities are the bottom line,” Drummond says. “We’ve got people like Bono, who believes passionately in this cause for a whole range of reasons, and Bob Geldof, who was talking about third-world debt in 1985, but no one would listen to him about it then. They lend their celebrity to the campaign because they know it is also the only way that we’re going to get our message across.”
Drummond says his objective for the remaining months left in the millennium is to pound Jubilee 2000’s message home in the United States and get Americans to change the way they think about third-world debt. Those interested in lending support can visit Jubilee 2000 on the Web at www.dropthedebt.com, and www.jubilee2000uk.org.
“There’s no question about it,” Drummond says. “In a few months time my objective is to get this campaign on Oprah.”