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Vol 41 No 19

Published 29th September 2000


Economic battlefield

Africans have won the moral argument on debt: now they must win a much tougher one - over access to markets in rich countries

Two days of violence between demonstrators and police at the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the Czech capital, Prague, on 26-27 September left African delegates bemused and frustrated. 'On whose behalf are they demonstrating?' asked Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, Uganda's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. 'They want the IMF and World Bank closed down. We don't.' Uganda, whose economy was growing at more than 6 per cent a year throughout the 1990s, was the first country to benefit from the Bank's and Fund's debt-cutting plan for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). While Tumusiime-Mutebile praised anti-debt campaigning groups such as Jubilee 2000, which has publicised the issue globally, he said the solidarity of some other protest groups was misplaced. They should be pushing rich countries to drop their trade barriers, not demanding the end of the Bank and Fund, he said (AC Vol 41 Nos 11 & 12). Groups such as Jubilee 2000 and Friends of the Earth, both of which meet regularly with Bank and Fund officials, distanced themselves from the more radical Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (Inpeg) which led moves to surround and lock-in delegates in the congress centre in Prague's Vysehrad suburb. Attitudes to the protests - Jubilee 2000 had organised a peaceful funeral march two days earlier to commemorate casualties of the debt crisis - showed the difference between the new brand of campaigning non-governmental organisations which want to influence policy-making directly and the old-style street demonstration and civil disobedience groups.

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