It is with great sadness that Keele University announces the death of Martin Dent on Saturday, 3 May 2014, aged 89.
Martin was one of Keele University’s most remarkable former staff members. He was a lecturer in the Politics Department from 1963 to 1993 specializing in the politics of Africa and on issues related to the peace-making and peace-keeping in multi-ethnic societies. He not only researched these topics but also sought to put some of the insights generated by his scholarship into practice both as an Honorary Nigerian Tribal Chief and through his determined efforts to bring about Third World debt relief. A number of us worked with Martin, or campaigned for the same progressive causes together, over years. For those who didn’t meet him personally, I just would like to say that he was one of those very rare extremely inspirational and visionary individuals I have ever met. I was lucky enough to know Martin and worked with him in the second half of the 1990s.
He was one of the originators of Jubilee 2000 campaign in Keele for cancelling the un-repayable debt of third world countries, which was later discussed at the G8 meetings, and is now considered a major breakthrough in the history of the developing world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a patron, and among the strong supporters of the movement were Bono, Muhammad Ali, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’dour. A journalist from the Independent once described Martin as “MARTIN DENT finds it almost impossible to keep his shirt tucked in, but he may turn out to be responsible for cracking one of today’s most intractable economic problems. For his brainwave – which moved tens of thousands of people to form a human chain round the Birmingham summit yesterday – has brought the Third World debt crisis to the top of the international agenda.”
Martin, the great-great-great-grandson of Thomas Buxton who took over the campaign against slavery from William Wilberforce and with sheer determination forced a reluctant British government to abolish it, thought that debt imposed a “new slavery” on most of the world’s people. In 1990 a group of students at Keele University walked to the front of their lecture theatre to sign a petition started by their politics lecturer, Martin Dent. They called for the cancellation of the crippling debt owed by the world’s poorest countries by the year 2000. At the turn of the century more than 20 million people from 155 countries had added their names to the Jubilee 2000 petition and campaigners estimate $120 billion of debt has been written off, giving aid to developing countries a fighting chance of succeeding.
Martin spent most of the 1990s promoting the aims of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which inspired a mass movement and caught the attention of the world’s leaders. Another journalist, who met Martin in 1998, described him with the following words: “His grey hair flies from his head at every angle, his tie has food stains on it, his trousers seem perilously close to slipping down and he carries his tatty documents in a plastic supermarket bag. … In contrast to the clumsiness of Dr Dent’s physicality, his speech is elegant. He often quotes poetry, has a lovely rhythm in his sentences and is able to simplify complex economics into terms that almost anyone could understand.”
He worked as a district officer with the Tiv people of Nigeria for almost ten years. He was sacked from the colonial service for being bad for the empire, lost his pension, and then later getting an OBE and MBE from the Queen because of his Jubilee 2000 campaign.
Martin was, after all, an extraordinary man. Hugely popular with students, a kind friend to all. He is described by former students and colleagues as a well-loved lecturer, a great English eccentric, a campaigner for justice, a fantastic academic and a true philanthropist.