David Waller, ACORD, [email][email protected]
Last year the first World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre in Brazil. At least 14,000 people (some say as many as 40,000!) attended from all sorts of civil society organisations: peasant farmer organisations, networks, researchers, unions, NGOs, the media, consumers, religious groups, women and young people as well as organisations interested in human rights, the environment and other aspect...read more
David Waller, ACORD, [email][email protected]
Last year the first World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre in Brazil. At least 14,000 people (some say as many as 40,000!) attended from all sorts of civil society organisations: peasant farmer organisations, networks, researchers, unions, NGOs, the media, consumers, religious groups, women and young people as well as organisations interested in human rights, the environment and other aspects of development. Of these participants only about 50 were from Africa and about the same number from Asia. There was also very little anglophone participation.
During 6 days, participants in 400 workshops discussed various aspects of globalisation under the general rubric of “A different world is possible” demonstrating the disastrous effects of the many different facets of the neo-liberal model of globalisation on the poor.
During 2001 the Presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal led the development of a document called the New Partnership for Development in Africa (NEPAD) which was structured like a strategic plan for Africa with a vision and strategy for its future based on an analysis of its history, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This document was endorsed by the G8 summit in Genoa which promised to respond more fully to it at the G8 meeting to be held in Canada in June 2002.
With the Second World Social Forum due to start in Porto Alegre at the end of the January, ENDA in Senegal and the Centre Joliba in Mali took the lead in organising the first African Social Forum in Bamako between the 5th and 9th of January 2002. The objective was to strengthen Africa’s input to the World Social Forum and more specifically to discuss the NEPAD initiative.
The African Social Forum provided an intensive course in the state of thinking about the nature and effects of a range of neo-liberal strategies in the areas of trade, debt, the funding of development, the governance of the UN and the International Financial Institutions, the situation of women in Africa, the effects of privatisation of basic services, the effects of culture and the consequences of a failure to learn the lessons of history.
Some of the main points included:
· The statement that globalisation is just a new and more acceptable term for imperialism
· A clear description of the inextricable links between economics on the one hand and politics and military action on the other
· That double standards applied – always to the detriment of Africa – with the selective imposition of rules about free trade, market opening, the rule of law, state intervention, protection of industries, application of multi-lateral rules and the “inclusive” decision making processes.
· The Orwellian use of language to mean the opposite of what it implies, the inclusive and rules based WTO which relied on hidden arm twisting and bullying in Doha, the “donor countries” which receive more money (through trade and debt repayments) from Africa than they provide in aid and credit (even before one thinks of all the other things that Africa provides to the world), the “integration and inclusion” of globalisation, which, through exclusion and marginalisation is making the gap between rich and poor increase at an accelerating rate.
· The example from the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee which took direct action in the form of reconnection in response to the electricity company’s attempts to cut off electricity to those with debts. What are the respective roles of such direct action compared with the NGOs’ more familiar tactics of lobbying and advocacy.
· The idea that African have “roots and rights”: they have their own view of their priorities and they should be able to shape their own future without having it imposed on them by external powers. To do this it was suggested that Africa must address its over-dependence on that external world. To achieve that it must build a culture based not only on its past but also on its current realities.
· That Africa’s relationship with the world is not going to be properly resolved as long as the rest of the world “likes Africa but not the Africans in it”. To achieve this the Durban conference on racism must be followed up.
· That the future of Africa needs to be planned with a sound understanding of its history: the rich countries cannot just pretend that their involvement in Africa from slavery and colonialism to structural adjustment programmes have not been responsible for a large part of its problems.
· Concern that the NEPAD was based on accepting the neo-liberal analysis and strategies of the rich countries and that therefore it was not acceptable as a basis for planning Africa’s future.
During the course of the discussions amongst the participants it became clearer how the systems of aid, trade, debt, governance and the role of the International Financial Institutions and UN are all being woven together to create a straight jacket within which nation states cannot control their futures. While such a loss of sovereignty is also an issue in rich countries (vis the UK’s relations with the EU) at least they have the advantage of relative prosperity. In Africa the elites benefiting from this global system are tiny and the power of African states, let alone ordinary Africans, to manage the introduction of change in a way that is appropriate to their circumstances is almost nil. The ASF revealed something of the anger and frustration that is developing in the face of this combination of high principle and hypocrisy, global rhetoric and shameless self interest and acute poverty and extreme powerlessness to build a future that is under Africa’s control or even addresses the suffering of most of its population.
The importance of the African Social Forum was in presenting development in Africa as a political issue about power to decide on Africa’s future. For too long development has focussed on the physical consequences of this unjust world order and has limited itself to addressing the lack of water, health, incomes, basic services etc. This has led to NGOs becoming instruments of neo-liberal globalisation that have colluded in undermining the state by providing services and using funding destined for them.
If in the coming years “development” becomes development and social justice” and if all work is considered from the perspective of its relation to the global structure of relations between the rich and the poor, then this first African Social Forum will indeed have been a decisive turning point in development in Africa.
* David Waller, ACORD