Friday, February 11, 2011

Made entirely from discarded plastic, this display was in the middle of the campus at the Cheikh Anta Diop University where passers by were informed about the danges of increasing pile of garbage that is endengering the lives of people on a daily basis and contributing to environmental damages in the long run.
The food sovereignty movement had workshops, plenary sessions, media and information outlets.  The important connections that needed to be made globally about the threat from AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution for Africa - read Food First critique here) and the loss of enormous areas of land by local communities because African nations are signing bilateral agreements to 'lease' land for nearly a hundred years to countries who grow food (using harmful chemical fertilizers) to feed their populations.

A meeting of the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants' Rights was held parallel to the Social Forum; the Network conducted important business to move ahead the agenda of making visible the plight of African refugees internally within the continent and externally to the Middle East, Europe and the U.S.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Optimistic views persist despite continued challenges in WSF !

The WSF started out yesterday amidst additional challenges of access to accurate information about the workshops and events.  Since the beginning, it has been difficult to get printed programs ready ahead of time. When they were available, it was only electronic and only the day before - which means the majority of the participants, especially those coming from different African countries and rural communities have no access to the information. 

Despite the many challenges, the chaos, the gathering of some 70,000 (WSF estimates) in one location with constant motion, sounds, music and drumming, talk and laughter is such joy.  The colors of the people blend from the majority of local Senegalese, to many caravans who came from a number of West African countries, additional participants from elsewhere in Africa and of course many countries in Europe, the U.S. Brazil, China and several other parts of the world.  The WSF energy is high with a positive sense of purpose in the air where people wonder into the many tents to purchase books, posters, pick up brochures and other materials.  There are also many stands where local business people have set up their shops - the prices range from low to average and of course super high!  Others who don’t have permit for stands just set up shops on the sidewalk, or on their hands and shoulders as they look for buyers.

Amidst all this we managed to attend a workshop that took place with participants from Ghana, Cameroon, China, Sweden and India, looking at resource of mineral wealth that Africa produces, the policies of the U.S. and the E.U and other competing interests for the increasingly scarce resources.  One of the presenters was Dr. Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa, a Ghanaian economist who presented an excellent analysis on the current global policies, the role of African government, the need for regional unity and the future of mineral and environmental protection of Africa. This video is a must watch for all who wish to get a comprehensive sense of what is going on with minerals in Africa, the need for coordinated regional policy and the push from Europe and U.S. for WTO policy reform to ensure access to these minerals. (Link to Dr. Yao Graham's video presentation - click here.)

As many who have been to previous Forums will attest, the best conversations take place over food and beer (or something stronger).  Friends and collogues gathering  in the evening to debrief from the day, exchange stories and laughter and do some serious strategizing on how to move their organizational thinking and direction over the coming months, building on alliances and deepening our relations. This is what the World Social Forum and other forums are all about.

The unrest in Cairo continue to be discussed intensely and for those who’re only listening to CNN or BBC, be sure to check out interesting analysis on Pambazuka.  This electronic site has probably the best collection of news and analysis on Africa, written by the best minds in African civil society leadership and intellectuals today.  To continue on Egypt however, it has given many in Africa both a sense of hope and excitement but also apprehension on how it will be resolved.  We cannot watch the news on an ongoing basis but engage in discussions over it formally in workshops and informally outside the process.  

One aspect of the discussion that has engaged both PAN and BAJI is the migration discussion.  As we all know, when there’s conflict and unrest, a good number of the people who are able to leave the country do so.  Already the number of Egyptians who are migrating has alarmed neighboring countries as well as Europe.  The head of NATO stated a couple of days ago that the number of migrants increasing can pose a security threat to Europe over the coming months.  The economy of the country has also suffered a great deal as a result and the increase in cost of living, coupled with the loss of the currency will surely lead to more people being on the move over the coming months, if not years.

Related to migration, both PAN and BAJI took part in further strengthening the organization that was established in Bamako last July.  The Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants’ Rights is the first Africa-based, migrant-led organization, made up of migrants (deportees included) scholars, activists and others whose goal is to promote the voice and experiences of African migrants in a more systematic way.   The establishment of this Network is slow but inclusive of many voices from within Africa and many have pinned their great hopes on it.

In a couple of days time, the WSF will conclude and come to an end.  The day after the conclusion, on the 13th of February, a number of key organizations within the International Council will gather to hold critical analysis of the process; not just this one in Dakar but ongoing questions raised about the viability of the Social Forum process.  As the logistical, structural and other challenges of the Social Forum continue, there is need to look into the future of the process over the coming decade or more.  Foundations which had supported the process in the past are also asking questions on whether or not this process is beneficial and how does it contribute towards long term change.  

This debate is not new and will continue, it needs to be held in order to ask the critical questions of who is included, measuring the benefits to those who are least represented etc.  Despite all this, there is no question that the Social Forums provide unique space that convenes people from around the globe whose one demand is that we consider an alternative economic and political system for the world we have today.  We know that for the majority of the world poor, the current system is not working; it benefits those who have the most and further impoverish those who are on the margins. It is their voices the forum lifts up, it is in solidarity to them that we struggle in the U.S. in Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, India and any number of countries around the world.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day of the African Diaspora, WSF February 7, 2011

The challenges of organizing massive global forums with multiple parallel events, thousands of participants with different languages confront all World Social Forums - Dakar is no exception.   Today was the first day of the WSF and it started out with no printed programs and quite a bit of chaos related to logistics.  The organizers however had set up bulletin posts at different areas on the campus of Cheikh Anti Diop University so people could get to the workshops and plenary sessions of their choices. Most people had patience and took time to find their desired workshops.

One of the sessions we attended was on “Strategies for International Year for People of African Descent.”  Doudou Diene, the former U.N Special Rapporteur on Racism on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance -  was one of the key speakers. He spoke extensively on the process that led to the Durban Conference Against Racism in 2001 and the challenges related to the declaration and subsequent attempts towards the full implementation.  
Also on the panel were Mareille Fanon-Mendes from France, daughter of Frantz Fanon and President of the Franz Fanon Foundation. She spoke passionately about the need to continue building on the foundations set in Durban, South African.   She urged participants the world over to join the mobilization for the next gathering towards this that will take place in New York in September of this year.  Following her was Jan Lonn, Secretary of the World Against Racism Network and Coura Mbaye Swedish Committee for the International Year for People of African Descent.

As is the case of all Social Forums, many events happen at the same time making it difficult to make choices and prioritize which workshop to attend.  The presentations for today ranged a wide spectrum of issues around Africa and the diaspora; a few examples were:

AGRA, land grabbing and GMO in agriculture and alimentation
Gender & Food Sovereignty
Contribution of Muslims in the struggle for the emancipation of peoples in Africa and the Diaspora
Launching of the Campaign 'Let's celebrate family agriculture in Africa'
The Voice of African Migrants from Andalucia
Historical Reparation for Haiti and Diaspora
Local struggles in Western Africa and international solidarity

The best way to get the most was to have colleagues who attended other sessions to take notes and reconnect later in the day for debrief.  Some of the sessions on migration were attended by BAJI whose blog you can see here

A most wonderful conclusion to the events was a reception hosted by Priority Africa Network to celebrate the conclusion of D2D.  The initiative started over a year ago with a group of activists who launched the initiative to make the connections between the U.S. and African countries as well as civil society leaders from across the continent.  In Dakar, D2D has gathered some 15 delegates to attend the WSF in Dakar, and more importantly, to take the connections made here to build alliances back in our respective bases.

Participants included PAN members, delegations from Detroit, foundation representatives, activists and friends from different parts of Africa.  It was a wonderful way to connect, outside the hectic rush from workshops - to sit and hear each others' stories, organizations, strategies and visions for the future of our collective work.

The WSF march started out with thousands of participants from all over the world – the colors, the sounds and chants and the energy from the gathering was immeasurable. The photos and videos help but do not do justice to capturing the collective energy of chants from French, Wolof (one of the ethnic groups in Senegal) English, Portuguese and many other languages.  There were a high number of youth from various organizations, with unbound energy of dancing and chanting as they held up their banners and supported their different organizations, coalitions, campaigns and the movement as a whole.

The March officially started at 1 pm with people gathering near the Grand Mosque of Dakar in the center of the city; from where we marched for approximately 3 miles to the Chiekh Anta Diop University – moving slowly with our banners and chanting along the way.  

There were a high number of securities visible, intermittently along the march route.  They stood, in full riot gear along the roads, smiling and responding to our greets as we moved along.  This, from what our Senegalese friends tell us, is unusual.  Dakar is a city that does not have visible presence of police and security all over (unlike many other capital cities within African nations).  The analysis from our Senegalese friends is that there is added tension on the part of the government and President Wade that the mass protests may contribute to local groups jumping on this opportunity to start similar demands as Tunisians and Egyptians.

Conditions of mass people’s protests in the two countries and what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire have been much discussed among many activists.  The undeniable wave of democratization that is spreading across Africa, particularly in North Africa is clearly encouraging many other countries who have lived under dominant and repressive dominant systems.   Participants to the WSF have used different forums of express support and solidarity to their continued resistance with hops that similar initiatives will take place elsewhere in Sub Saharan Africa.

Despite the encouraging beginning of the march and high hopes for the process; there are structural challenges to the WSF process.  For example, there are not enough rooms to hold many of the workshops and plenary sessions that have been submitted.  The organizers are planning to use tents that have been erected for this purpose, as well as some of the open space within the campus, to hold many of the sessions which have not been designated spaces.   

Despite the logistical challenges that’ll be ahead, there is unbound energy and positive approach to ensuring that groups and individuals work together to put forth the best possible programs, make connectives with allies from across the world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Preparing for tomorrow - opening of the WSF

Tomorrow, February 6, 2011 is the official opening of the WSF. It is expected to begin with a march of over 50,000 people.  According to the WSF Secretariat: The Opening March will start at 1pm and end at the Cheikh Anta Diop University, which will host all the Forum’s activities on the following days.  The March will enter the University greeted by the music group of Afro-Brazilians Ile Aye.

The following day, February 7th is the official Day of the African Diaspora.  According to the program, there will be discussion on issues of African economic, political and social development, women, militarism, land rights and food sovereignty, Haiti, African diaspora and much more.  Of course there’s quite a spread of cultural entertainment, film screening, poetry, art and discussions as well.  To see the list of topics of workshops as well as organizations, click here

Today was spent in preparation for tomorrow and there will be images of tomorrow’s march to come.  Stay tuned !

Friday, February 4, 2011

Goree Island - World Assembly of Migrants

February 3, 2011 Goree Island. Consultation continued today on crafting a Charter on the World Assembly of Migrants. Individual migrants contributed in language and principle, defining the meaning of "who is a migrant" as well as conditions that force people to migrate and policies against migrants in their settled countries.

For more details on the content of the Assembly go to the BAJI Blog here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Welcome to the first posting of the D2D Africa activities at the World Social Forum in Dakar.

February 2, 2011. Visit to the Africa Secretariat. Preparations are being made for the final stage of the WSF launch.

This poster was on the wall where the Secretariat,was conducting it office. It is quite an art piece, depicting the amount of energy that is sucked out of the continent to generate supplies and resources for France.