WSF Bamako – What it means for Africa

The World Social Forum (WSF) is a yearly gathering of civil society groups and social movements that meets every year in order to try to find solutions to fight against the continued domination of corporate capitalism. For the first time this year the WSF changed its format from one centralised forum to a more global one with events taking place in 2006 – Bamako, Mali (January 19th-23rd) Caracas, Venezuela (January 24th-29th; and Karachi, Pakistan (date to be set).

The first WSF was held in Porto Alegre in 2001. The organisers say they began the forum as a response to neo-liberalism and corporate
capitalism and to enable activists, NGOs and civil society groups to come together to share ideas, experiences and seek solutions. This is now the 6th year and some people at this year's forum began to question the fact “that nothing seems to be coming out of this enormous effort

“This forum will not lead to anything; we'll just hear the same speeches,” said a teacher from Bamako to South Africa's Mail & Guardian on 18 January, the eve of the forum. “Before, it was politicians putting us to sleep with their words – now it's those who question globalisation…” Similarly, the secretary general of Civicus, a world alliance of non-governmental organisations, Kumi Naidoo, called for the forum to agree on and propose real solutions instead of only complaining about the world’s problems

The holding of the WSF in Mali was important to Africans for a number of reasons. First it allowed the participants to feel “more connected to the process than if it was held elsewhere“. Secondly it enabled Africans to lay down their own agenda and discuss issues that are more specific to their countries and needs such as Female Genitle Mutilation, early marriage, literacy of girls, the occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco, and the conflicts in Darfur and the DRC. The forum also enabled groups such as the Ogoni of Nigeria and the Yaaku of Kenya to speak to their particular concerns. Finally the forum in Bamako acted as a preliminary to the WSF 2007 which is to be held in Nairobi Kenya and for the other landmark events in 2007 which will mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and the 50th anniversary of Ghana's Independence

In addition to the above debates there were 9 major themes at the WSF: War and Militarism – Security and Peace – Globalized liberalism – Aggressions against peasantry – Alliance between patriarchal and neo liberalism systems, and marginalisation of women’s fight – Culture, Media and Communication – Destruction of ecosystems – International trade, debt and economic and social policies – Social fights, social and human rights.

Heida of Economy & Society was one of the few blogs that covered the Bamako forum. The extremely well organised and informative blog has a number of reports but two in particular stand out. The first is the “World Court of Women“. The court was created in 1992 and acts as a “symbolic process” holding hearings on gender violence. This year's theme was: “Resistance to Wars – Wars of Globalisation, Wars Against Women.” The second report on employment and poverty was attended by male and female trade unionist which ensured there was a gender dimension to the discussions. Indymedia South Africa reported on the failure of the Bandung du Peuple discussion which was supposed to be a debate on Imperialism from a grassroots perspective but whose outcome was “poor”.

“The tone of the conference was openly anti-american. Although a critique of the forgein policy of the United States of America is not only everbodys right but also more than understandable, the voices to be heard in the conference argued partly in a very unreasonable way and ignored that in today’s world of interconnection and global gouvernance it simply doesn't work to single out one country to be responsible for all the evils in the world. In Bandung in 1955 the states of the Third World were not even that one-sided in their critique and condemned the Soviet Unions, US and French imperialism equally. Here in Bamako it was all one-sided. Members of one panel discussion went so far to call for the unconditional support of the Iraqi resistance and quite a few people supported this. And no one objected. So I do it now”:

The Bandung revival issue was also raised in an article by Open Democracy. The issue is that Bandung was a movement which led to the creation of the Non-aligned Movement between countries whilst the WSF is a “gathering of social movements where neither governments nor parties are invited”.

Pambazuka News has a report on the WSF and what it means to Africa. The report asks a number of questions the first of which is “Who funds the WSF?”

“It's very difficult to determine who pays for the WSF: The website cites no sponsors, and it is hard to find any organisations or funding bodies highlighting their role as sponsors. The WSF charter is silent regarding what kinds of international sources of funding may be tapped. The registration fees are minimal. All organisations participating in the WSF are asked to contribute towards a translation solidarity fund, which is intended to help cover the WSF's translation budget”.

Their second question is “Are grassroots organisations represented?” The answer to this highlights the problem faced by many grassroots organisations and explains why so few Africans have previously been unable to attend. Unless groups can find sponsorship from private foundations attending is not possible.

“Organisations working on the ground are usually far more cash-strapped than those that network, train, research or sponsor them, and the former usually (hopefully) spend their money largely on meeting the direct needs of their beneficiaries. Several private foundations did manage to sponsor representatives of grassroots women's organisations to attend the events in Bamako, enabling many to make voices heard that are frequently absent in international ‘jamborees”

Open Democracy also covers the question of whose views are represented at the forum.

“Do the people at the forum represent the views of the organisation whose name they carry around their neck? Do they represent all the people their organisations claim to work for? It wouldn’t be democratic to pretend they always did. A new study by Ibase in Brazil actually shows the majority of participants do belong to an “unaffiliated leftist elite”, that rejects hierarchical structures and “the old practices” of power politics.”

It is difficult to see exactly what has been achieved after six years of WSF forums. However it is possible that the change in format from one centralised gathering to this year's format spread over three continents may enable more participation and decision making at grassroots level by activists and civil society members.

It is unfortunate that there has been little coverage of the forum in Bamako by either bloggers or the mainstream media. When compared with the coverage taking place in Caracas this is even more lamentable. The African blogosphere has also been sadly lacking in commentary on the forum. One reason for this may be the lack of publicity about the WSF in Mali by all sections of the media. More to the point though is most Africans on the continent do not have access to the technology needed to blog and Mali does not have the infrastructure or the funds to provide the necessary technology for WSF participants. Mali is one of the poorest nations in the world and though there are internet cafes in Bamako, service is sparodic and limited due to poor telecommunications and electricity provision.

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