As thousands of demonstrators converge on Washington DC to protest the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, we speak with activist Njoki Njehu about destructive free trade agreements and structural adjustment programs as well as elections in South Africa and water privatization. [includes rush transcript]
Thousands of protesters converged on Washington DC last week to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Though IMF and World Bank policies deeply affect the world’s most impoverished nations, the IMF has always had a European president and the World Bank president has always been an American.
Demonstrators took to the streets to protest destructive free trade agreements, structural adjustment programs and more.
- Njoki Njoroge Njehu, 50 Years is Enough Network.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Thursday, as Democracy Now! was broadcasting from D.C., Amy Goodman had the opportunity to interview Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of the “50 Years is Enough Campaign.” Amy began by asking her why she was protesting the IMF and World Bank.
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: Well, we were protesting again because the harmful effects, the impact of the institutions continue. The debt has not been canceled in spite of valuable efforts in campaigning for debt cancellation.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by the debt? Who owes this?
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: This is one of the questions about who owes whom? This institution, especially during the cold war and in years past loaned billions of dollars to dictators and military regions, to corrupt leaders and now as countries become independent and as countries move towards democracy where they have people in office who are respective — they reflect the will of the people, and for instance in South Africa, where after Apartheid, they just have had the third round of democratic elections. The South African government in the new South Africa is expected to pay back Apartheid’s dead. And the people are saying no, not only was the dead loaned to a regime that was cited as being a crime against humanity by the United Nations, it is denying us the promises of struggle of liberation, water, shelter, housing, education–all of those things are not able to be provided by the current South African government because of some of their policies, economic policies, but also there’s this huge dead where they are spending a huge percentage of their budget in servicing the debt.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens in the country with Thabo Mbeki newly inaugurated just as now?
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: What he says, if you want to say no, I think this is one of the tragedies, because I think in 1994 there was enough goodwill. There was enough support for South Africa. I think that support exists actually even today. For them to say, no, we are not going to pay this debt and have this as a part of the world and have the moral authority to say that, and to begin a process that would allow Argentina, that would allow Brazil, that would allow Nigeria, Indonesia, Haiti, all of these countries where dictators were loaned billions of dollars to be able to say, our debt is owed, yes, too. One of the tragedies is they did not do that, and now in 2003 and 2004, we saw the argument that we have been making about all this debt being picked up by the U.S. government and saying that it only applies to Iraq where they were saying that the people of Iraq should not pay back Saddam Hussein’s debt, which I think it’s actually the right way to go. But it shouldn’t just be the people of Iraq, it should be the people of Indonesia and the Philippines and Kenya and Nigeria and Haiti and Nicaragua. This is one of the reasons why we continue, because a lot of people are still dying. A lot of children are still out of school. A lot of mothers are burying their children too early and too often and too young because they do not — they do not have the resources. Their governments do not have the resources to spend on taking care of the population.
AMY GOODMAN: How does war, how does the invasion of Iraq connect to, link to the World Bank and the IMF?
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: Well, for one, I think that the — you know this is a shooting war, but there has been an economic war being waged on billions of people around the world. Words and numbers get thrown around about, 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day. So many children are not in school. So many women die each year from — in childbirth. So many people don’t have access to clean water. There is an economic war that has been waged against people around the world. When we look at the war, the current state of war against terrorism, the so-called war against terrorism, the war on drugs, we see that those kinds of wars are still being visited on the same people who have had to endure an economic war. In 2001 and 2002, we saw both at the UN, Kofi Annan and the president of the World Bank make the logic, which I think is very shabby logic, where they were saying that poverty breeds terrorism. So fighting poverty equals fighting terrorism. There’s also a great deal of concern because the sort of coalition of some — beyond the G-8, the eight most powerful countries, there’s another group called the OECD, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. I believe it’s something like 13 countries that includes countries like Mexico and others. This comes out with the proposal that the security budget, the monies being spent on security should be counted towards development. Imagine in a more cynical situation where billions of dollars being counted — being spent in Iraq, in the war in Iraq — being counted towards developments. So they say you need so many billion dollars to fight poverty and so, to have the war bugged being counted as being part of the aid development would be a disaster and would be — I think would be very harmful to people who are struggling and would be ventured. We have ruined all the money that we can, and money is not the answer.
AMY GOODMAN: You are saying that if you oppose the World Bank funding, they’re saying, it’s to end poverty that you are getting in the way of the war on terrorism?
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: Yeah. You are getting in the way against terrorism. You know, you are against poor people. I mean, we have seen this time and time again. When I was in Cancun or even in Seattle, and in Doha, that those people who are calling for a different economic model, for a different development model, for priorities, as World Bank and IMF and governments call more for what they call public-private partnership, that if you oppose that, if you oppose Suez and Vivendi being a public-private partnership to provide water in South Africa where there are installing pre-paid watermeters, then you are against poor people, you are against poor people who do not have clean water.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking Njoki Njehu who is the director of the “50 Years is Enough Campaign,” and yet we’re talking 60 years?
NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: We are talking about 60 years. This is the tragedy of the fact that institutions if anyone else, any other kind of institution performed in the way that these institutions performs, they would be out of business. The joint economic commission of the U.S. Congress did some research in 2003. They have found that 55 to 60 % failure rates in terms of their policies and projects of the World Bank. They went then went to say, when you get to Africa, it gets to be 73% or more. It’s, you know, they’re failing in three-quarters the time, and yet they continue to be fed with taxpayer money. This is part of the expose that we are trying to do, to get people to understand not only are they doing those terrible things, they’re doing terrible things with our tax money and the tax monies of people around the world and they’re doing it in our name.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That does it for today’s show. If would you like to get a copy of the program or any Democracy Now! program, call 1-800-881-2359.