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.


  1. Great article - thank you so much for posting. Hey Lizzy and Will - great pic of the two of you rep-ing the USSF