Senegal: World Social Forum 2011: One Week of Activism in Dakar

Dakar, the capital of the West African nation of Senegal, has been bustling with activists and campaigners from across the globe, gathered under the banner of the World Social Forum to say another world is possible. The tone of this meeting of anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist groups was set by Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, who told a cheering crowd at the opening of the event that capitalism was in agony and this was sustained by his leftist companion, Ignacio Lula Da Silva, who on Monday told participants at the Forum that the Global Financial crisis proves that capitalism is broken.

Women's rights activists at the opening march of the WSF 2011

PoliticalLeft blog, which has since been taken down, posted some of the striking quotes by the two Latin American leaders who rose from trade unionism to the presidency of their countries and also spells out the difference between the forum and the Davos Economic Forum:

While the latter draws CEOs who sleep in four-star hotels and take turns on the Swiss slopes, the participants in the World Social Forum are happy to camp on the sides of roads or sleep with locals in order to take part in the yearly anti-capitalist gathering. Instead of suits, they arrive wearing tie-die shirts and trousers of organic cotton, like Lula who addressed the cheering crowd in an informal white shirt. Presentations are frequently ad lib, including a fiery impromptu speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales on Sunday who told the assembled crowd that capitalism was in its death throes. “We can see it with the global financial crisis. We can see it with climate change and global warming,” said Morales, who in 2005 became the first leader to be elected from Bolivia's indigenous majority.

At a time when many countries in the northern hemisphere are toughening rules to close their doors to an ever growing number of migrants from the southern hemisphere, migration has been among the top issues discussed at the Forum. According to BAJI blogs there have also been workshops on inter-Africa migration that exposed the complicity of West and North African countries in the violation of migrants’ rights:

“The North African countries–Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Libya have signed undisclosed bilateral agreements with European countries–Italy, Spain, Malta, Portugal and France to act as their border control agents. North African countries routinely deport Senegalese migrants to their home countries, with many violations of their human rights. Migrants from all over West Africa are deported to Mali without regard to their nationality. The migrants are often brutalized, robbed and dumped at the borders. In exchange for their services, the North African countries receive development aid and military aid from European countries. Senegal has also signed agreements with some European countries to accept deported Senegalese migrants and to provide Frontex, the European Union border control agency, complete and free access to its territory.”

On Thursday, the Poverty Matters blog on the website of the UK newspaper The Guardian reported that migrants, small-scale fishermen and participants from the World Social Forum are converging on the streets and on the coast by the Frontex office in Dakar, Senegal, for a demonstration against the EU border agency:

“The protest's organisers say border patrols off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania are forcing pirogues to turn back on the open sea, which represents a risk to migrants seeking to make the journey to Europe and to local fishermen who take to the coastal waters to earn their living.”

Another world is possible. Photo courtesy of Priority Africa Network.

Landgrabbing has been the other theme that has drawn a lot of interest from priests under the auspices of CARITAS to well-known non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as Oxfam, ActionAid and La Via Campesina whose activists blogged the purpose of their presence at the Dakar World Social Forum:

“Farmers of the world against land grabbing: land for those who work the land and feed the world,” as one of their banners exclaimed. This theme will be developed through various workshops that La Via Campesina will host throughout the forum. In addition, La Via Campesina will focus on climate change, violence against women, and the need to preserve peasants local seeds.”

Amid the discussions and protests, there is however a feeling among many participants that the level of organization of the forum wasn't the best. The event is being staged at the Dakar Cheikh Anta Diop University whose lecture rooms were supposed to host the thousands of workshops but this hasn't been really the case. Classes continued and many discussions had to be cancelled or re-scheduled as a result.

Mbong Akiy blogging for GreenPeace had noticed this from day one:

“The logistics on the first day of the event left me a little worried. Heaps of rubbish could be spotted at different locations of the forum site while stands were erected on dusty ground, tables and chairs required by NGO’s to decorate their stands were either too few or simply unavailable.”

Dis-organisation has not prevented citizen actors from to acting. Ryan Schlief and Priscila Néri traveled to Dakar to meet with key allies in their forced evictions campaign and learn more about how activists around the world are using video in their advocacy on forced evictions and they have succeeded to discuss the issue and produced a video with Zimbabwean activists as seen here.

WITNESS and other land and housing rights organizations signed a public statement demanding a stop to the planned forced eviction of thousands in Ghana’s capital city Accra. The signature campaign was organized at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal:

The communities living along the railway were told on 21 January to leave their homes to make way for the redevelopment of the country’s railway system planned for February. It was reported that the forced eviction possibly occurring this week would affect as many as 25,000 people.

The World Social Forum usually receives mainstream media attention at the beginning and at the end but several participants have beentweeting and Facebooking their experiences in Dakar, while the Panos Institute West Africa through a group of African journalists has been covering the event in print (a forum daily), on radio and online including a Liveblog.

Other bloggers in Dakar are Nikke Alex who blogs at Thoughts of a Diné Woman and D2D – World Social Forum Dakar 2011. Black Alliance has beautiful photos from Dakar on their Flickr page.

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