Re: [OPE-L] What happened at the WSF in Bamako?

From: Patrick Bond (pbond@MAIL.NGO.ZA)
Date: Fri Jan 27 2006 - 10:41:22 EST

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jerry Levy"
> Speaking of the WSF, was anyone on the list at the meetings
> in Bamako, Mali that just ended last week?  What happened?

(A fairly rudimentary report below, but I haven't seen many ... from

3. Comment and Analysis
Organisers hailed the first phase of the World Social Forum (WSF),
which ended on Monday in the Malian capital of Bamako, as having
created an "Afrocentric" focus that was missing in previous forums.
Quoted by IPS, coordinator Mamadou Goita said: "This is the first
time we have had a majority of Africans attending a WSF. Usually
there have been less than 100 African NGOs (non-governmental
organisations) at any of the other WSFs. It was too expensive for
most Africans to travel to Porto Alegre or Mumbai." But after nearly
six years, where has the WSF come to? Pambazuka News provides
questions and answers about the movement that seeks to challenge
corporate globalisation.

1. The WSF has been around s! ince 2001. Where is it now and what
happened this year?
The World Social Forum changed its format this year. Instead of one
centralized meeting (which until now have been held alternatively in
Mumbai, India and Porto Alegre, Brazil), several polycentric events
took place. Caracas, Venezuela; Bamako, Mali and Karachi, Pakistan
will all host the WSF in January, 2006.
This has been an important progression in the history of the forum,
as it serves to expand access to the forum by making it easier for
activists and civil society players to participate. The forum thus
claims to "offer to progressive forces in Africa a very first
opportunity, following to the huge range of popular resistances
during the nineties, to significantly set their fights and their
alternatives in a global seeking of the construction of a fair wo! rld
with more solidarity and respectful of People's sovereignty."
The goal of the WSF is not to produce agreements on specific policy
positions but to offer a space for dialogue and engagement, with
resources to strategise, network and plan joint ventures for the
future. It has been successful in creating a loose network of forces
around the world who advocate for social, political and economic
justice. It has often been called an "anti-globalisation" movement,
but is in fact one of the most globalised movements in the history of
social justice.
The movement has been criticised, however, as simply a popularized
gathering of wealthy NGOs and funders. Past forums have also been
dominated by certain interests, leading to debates about whether the
WSF represents revolutionaries or reformists. The WSF is anti-
globalisation, anti-war, etc. This has also been criticised, leaving
many people to question the process of the WSF which is characterised
by endless debate and pose questions such as: What is the WSF for?
What solutions does the WSF offer? How can the movement move forward,
rather than simply critiquing social, political and economic problems
as they exist? Further criticisms of the forum focus on the lack of
structure or organisational support - whether it be the complicated
and often non-functioning website, poor planning at the actual event
or the need for more support for participants.
2. There seems to be a lot of criticism over its form, structure and
decision making. What does this involve?
The WSF is popularly characterized by a reputation of embodying a
complex and confusing decision making process. In order! to preserve
the plural and open consensus style that is the mandate of the forum,
the goal of creating a bottom-up, grassroots event is often planned
in an extremely heavy handed, top down manner. Some critics argue
that the WSF is not transparent or accountable, let alone democratic
and that their Charter of Principles, size, lack of resources and
goals of planning massive events make organizing unmanageable. The
numerous organisations and individuals involved also offer competing
views and ideas, adding to the layers of difficulty in planning such
an event.
3. What were the focus areas in Bamako this year?
Each year the WSF appoints thematic areas. This year, in Bamako, 10
were chosen. Topics included war and militarisation, security and
peace; globalised neoliberalism; aggression against peasantry; the
alliance between patriarchal and neo-liberal systems; culture, media
and communication; destruction of ecosystems, biological diversity
and resources control; international order and the role of the UN;
international trade, debt and economic and social policies; social
fights, human rights, social organisations and political rights;
alternatives. The areas to be discussed are meant to be kept quite
loose, and can be kept extremely localised or made to be more general
depending on the needs of the participants.
4. What does the WSF mean for Africa?
Africa will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the
slave trade in 2007 and the 50th anniversary of the independence of
Ghana. It's also a year in which the World Social Forum will be hosed
in Nairobi, Kenya, so the Bamako forum offers the potential for the!
WSF to entrench itself in Africa ahead of 2007. Malian author and
social activist Dr Aminata Dramane Traoré has pointed out that the
polycentric organisation of the forum is the first step in the
process of rooting the WSF in Africa and mobilizing those people on
the continent who have been hardest hit by globalization (http:// tory.asp?idnews=442) In the
same interview, she went on to say: "Holding the WSF in Africa will
increase African awareness as far as the link between poverty and
globalisation is concerned. Also, Africans will feel more connected
to the process than if it were being held elsewhere." The Bamako
Forum has also provided the space for groups from around Africa to
articulate their concerns, with the Ogoni people from Nigeria and the
Yaaku community in Kenya re! ported to have made their case in Bamako
( tory.asp?idnews=476) ,
and sessions dedicating to discussing the issue of land bringing
together groups from around the continent (
5. What global solutions is the WSF generating?
The WSF attracts thousands of people from across the world who work
in many different areas and have diverse outlooks, not only about the
problems that the world faces, but also in their beliefs about how
these problems should be tackled. This has made the articulation of
united policy positions difficult and therefore led to frustration in
some quarters that while there is a great deal of marching, singing
and slogan shouting, nothing much seems to come out of the effort
(! ation-w orld/wsf_3211.jsp) .
Certainly, after six years of existence, its possible to detect a
degree of cynicism from veteran WSF travelers that they've heard the
same speeches a number of times before. Moreover, while the forums
have provided an area for meeting and debate, there's no discernable
change to a world where neo-liberalism runs riot and poverty deepens
by the day. Before this year's forum there were calls from the likes
of Civicus Secretary General Kumi Naidoo for "different civil society
actors to find common ground, engage in joint strategising, and plan
joint activities for the future" (
wsf2006/views tory.asp?idnews=462) . But, says founders of the forum,
this is not what the forum was intended for in the first place. "The
primary purpose of the forum is to create a space for free! dialogue
between social movements, and that its openness should not be
compromised by confining participants to any narrow statement of
intent," says Chico Whitaker in an article on
6. 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.
There is some mention of a funding policy for the WSF held in India,
such as the limit of Rs. 25 lakhs limit ! per donor being raised to Rs.
50 lakhs for WSF 2004. The WSF India website also mentions plans to
approach state, local administration, authorities and public bodies
to providing facilities free or at subsidised rates and to hold
cultural events "with discretion" to raise funds. According to the
WSF Charter as adopted in India, the WSF can seek funds from Indian
industry and commerce.
Although it appears from the WSF India website that some foreign
funding would be raised and managed, Kukke and Shah (http:// .php?id=148) claim that a
decision was taken not to accept foreign funds, and that all funding
needs would be "addressed by the local organisations that had come
together to host the event".
7. Are grassroots organisations represented?
The question of grassroots representation is quite closely tied with
those around funding. 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'.
Sending representatives to WSF meetings is thus only possible with
sponsorship, and again, it is difficult to find information about
where to go about applying for travel and accommodation grants. This,
together with the fact that air travel within Africa is often
prohibitively expensive! , leaves grassroots organisations based in the
country where the WSF is held. However, the relationships between
Northern NGOs and African movements are seldom balanced. According to
Njoke Njehu: "Governments tend to listen first to the IFI's and to
international NGO's before they listen to their own civil
society." ( ycentricWSF2006)
* Compiled by Karoline Kemp and Patrick Burnett, Fahamu and Joy
Olivier, Fahamu volunteer
* Please send comments to

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