Zambia: Being economical with the actualité

2 May 2005

I’ve found the phrase to describe the attitude of CAFOD and J&P and Christian Aid, and many others to Zambia’s debt: publicising the debt repayments to creditors without mentioning the aid from creditors.

It’s in Alan Clark’s “Last Diaries”. He was Minister of Trade. An engineering firm had sold equipment to Iraq, which could be used for peaceful purposes, or for armaments. The equipment was exported for peaceful purposes, and the use for munitions was not mentioned, the firm having been given the nod by Alan Clark. The firm was in the dock. Alan Clark gave evidence and was asked about this:

AC: Well, it’s our old friend being economical, isn’t it?
BARRISTER: With the truth?
AC: With the actualité. There was nothing misleading or dishonest to make a formal or introductory comment that the Iraqis would be using the current orders for general engineering purposes. All I didn’t say was ‘and for making munitions’.

In the Zambian debt debate being economical with the actualité is “Zambia pays creditors $350,000,000 in debt servicing” without adding “and the creditors pay Zambia $500,000,000 in aid.” Or “Zambia pays more in debt repayments to creditors than on health and schooling combined” without adding “Zambia receives much more from creditors than it spends on health and schools combined.”

Large numbers of Christians either believe, with Alan Clark, that there is “nothing misleading or dishonest” in being economical with the actualité, or they don’t know all the facts. Mainly the latter, I think.