The Bamako Appeal and the Maturation of the World Social Forum

Peter Waterman

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A modest workshop at the equally-modest (3,000+ participants) Netherlands Social Forum, held in Nijmegen, May 19-21, may turn out to be a first step towards turning the Bamako Appeal into a global dialogue.

The Bamako Appeal (BA) is a declaration, produced by noted Egyptian scholar-activist, Samir Amin and friends, timed and named so as to benefit from the aura of the World Social Forum event held there in January 2006 (Bamako Appeal 2006). This was the second of two such attempts to turn what has so far been a space open to all critics and opponents of neo-liberal globalisation into something more like an international anti-capitalist organisation. Launched for signature, at least on a website, shortly after Bamako, it has been met variously with approval, silence, hostility or critical consideration. What here follows should be considered reflections rather than a report, since I was preoccupied with my own presentation, or with interpretation, and did not make systematic notes. Moreover, I was only present for the first 24 hours of the NSF. However, I have tried to provide bibliography and links to relevant sources, and I am hoping that this note might be supplemented with those of others.

The NSF workshop was sponsored and chaired by author-activist Francine Mestrum, of ATTAC-Flanders in Belgium (who had already made a written contribution, Mestrum 2006a. See also Mestrum 2006b). An informal panel consisted additionally of another writer-activist Peter Custers, of the �horizonalist� Dutch NGO, X minus Y, of Karamat Ali, a co-organiser of the WSF in Karachi this year (Ebrahim 2006) and a veteran union activist, of Helen Hintjens (2006), a human-rights specialist at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Finally there was myself, connected with the Network Institute of Global Democratisation, someone who has written about the global justice and solidarity movement in general and about the Bamako Appeal in particular (Waterman 2006a). Also attending were another 40-50 people - possibly more interested in the future of the forum than they were familiar with the BA.

Peter Custers (Custers 2001), who had observed rather than actively participated in the BA Workshop in Bamako, summarised the Appeal before stating that he thought the document innovatory in the way it stressed democratisation as a continuing process, that the process of discussing it in Bamako had been quite democratic, and that its content deserved discussion within the International Council (IC) of the WSF. Until he spoke, I had not realised that the authors of the BA had been on the platform at the Bamako WSF. This helps me understand why certain WSF insiders had seen the BA � despite its denials � as an attempt to take over the WSF.

Karamat Ali was also sympathetic toward the content of the Appeal but had a number of criticisms of the process involved. Neither in the process nor in the Appeal was representation or recognition given to those many groups that have been long working on the issues raised. The intention to launch such an appeal had not itself been mentioned by the authors at previous IC meetings. There was other behaviour by the authors that suggested a cavalier attitude toward the WSF community or culture. Yet Ali was himself dissatisfied with the failure of the WSF�s International Council to take any position on, for example, the Guatanamo issue. And he hoped that the BA would stimulate discussion on policy within the WSF, during which many other voices would be heard.

My own opinion was that the �space versus movement� debate within the WSF was misplaced, and that what mattered was what kind of space and movement the WSF represents. There could be no objection to the BA in principle since it was just one of many charters, declarations or manifestos issued from within or around the WSF. Whilst, I suggested, the BA clearly had a �thirdworldist� background (in its reference to the inter-state conference of Bandung in the 1950s), it had new movement issues in the foreground. But I also felt that the process of its formulation and issuance were heavily marked by the manipulative style of the Old Left. I thought that the response to the BA, on such websites as the Network Institute for Global Democracy (NIGD), and Open Space Forum, had been simultaneously critical and constructive. I ended by referring to my own personal such response to the BA � the notion of a Global Labour Charter Movement (Waterman 2006b).

I was not present later when Samir Amin himself turned up at the NSF but I understand that neither he nor anyone else made further reference to the BA. I would have been surprised if it had been mentioned since this second edition of the NSF was marked, at least as far as the opening plenum was concerned, by an implicit understanding that our only problems are those caused by neo-liberal globalisation (though Sylvia Borren of Oxfam-Novib? did make some criticism of her own organisation). The BA, and our own little discussion, reveal, and require us to confront the problems of and tensions within the movement. Indeed, since there can be no social space without political significance, and since emancipatory spaces shrivel if they do not continually reinvent themselves, discussion around the present movement�s many declarations is essential for such development.

It seems to me that we need to think further about the form of such forums and workshops.

Within the NSF I noted the customary contrast between a 2-3 hour opening plenary of notables - admittedly charismatic figures with relevant messages - and 150 inevitably fractured one-hour seminars or workshops. Despite the significant diversity, this tends to leave overall impact with the opening and closing plenaries. The nature of the opening plenary was such that even the representative of the Dutch Internationale Socialisten (IS) � a political party with vanguardist revolutionary pretensions � came out sounding no more anti-capitalist than the rest of the platform. A sign of WSF maturity and self-confidence would surely be if we could have some difference expressed, thus stimulating critical reflection rather than admiring applause from the audience. As things are, the NSF was largely dominated by the state-funded Oxfam-Novib? development agency and the IS (which compensates for its conciliatory platform performance by energetically pushing its newspaper on participants). My feeling is that those who have either financial or organisational power should, if seriously committed to the spirit of the new movement, be rather facilitating than dominating. (For an NSF report on the forum, in Dutch, see the website indicated in the resources below).

As for the workshop form� Well, even the interesting one I attended on Utopian Socialism turned out to be a plenary-session-write-small � though admittedly with a certain amount of discussion. But our session on the BA would have had to be carefully and imaginatively planned if it was to have taken account of the different levels of familiarity amongst a substantial audience. I do not have an answer to this one ready to hand. The event was useful for me and, I am sure, for the other panel members or participants familiar with either the Bamako Appeal or with discussion about the future of the WSF (further discussed in other workshops). But for the less-informed participants � some of whom approached us later for more information � it could only have served as a hypothetical stimulant.

There remains, it seems to me, a case for creating many such manifestos as the BA or the one I proposed. The latter itself was inspired by the Global Women�s Charter for Humanity (2004). There is even a case, I think, for an overarching Global Emancipation Charter. Neither of these could or should be rushed out by a handful of elite intellectuals or vanguardist politicians, for mere endorsement by the rest of the movement (this why I have now attached the word �movement� to my charter proposal). There could, would or should be a plurality of such declarations. None of them should use or abuse the name of one or other WSF event. To the extent that such declarations both address and appeal to the broader movement, they should, of course, influence the WSF. In the absence of such pressure from outside or below, �Alter-Globalisation� may translate as �capitalist globalisation with a human face�. It is surely time to surpass the originally brilliant slogan, �Another World is Possible�. A dialogue on and between documents such as the BA could help to do this.

References and Resources

Bamako Appeal. 2006. �The Bamako Appeal�. (external link)

Custers, Peter. 2001. 'Globalisation from Below. The Genua Protests against the G-8. An Eye Witness Report'. (external link)

Ebrahim, Zofeen. 2006. �WSF Karachi Ends: �The First Step Has Been Made��, (external link)

Hintjens, Helen. 2006. Internationale Socialisten. (external link)

Nederlands Sociaal Forum. �Verslag NSF 2006�, (external link)

Mestrum, Francine. 2006a. �Some Comments on The Bamako Appeal�, (external link)

Mestrum, Francine. 2006b. �World Social Forum of Porto Alegre: What Future? nigd/docs/WSFPortoAlegreWhatFutureFrancineMestrum2006

Netherlands Social Forum. (external link)

NIGD, Network Institute for Global Democracy. 2006. �NIGD News and Notes Double Issue 02-03/06: A Critical Utopia Moves to Africa�. nigd/wsf/1142604417/index_html

OpenSpaceForum?. (external link) &topic=12

Waterman, Peter. 2006a. �The Bamako Appeal: A Post-Modern? Janus?� (external link)

Waterman, Peter. 2006. (external link) Women�s Global Charter for Humanity. 2004. (external link)

X min Y. (external link)