The World Social Forum and the Bamako Appeal: Yes, but no …

Most participants (30 to 40) agreed on the usefulness of this debate, though the difficulty was its time limit and the lack of information on the Bamako Appeal itself. Nevertheless, several speakers were able to present a clear opinion that can take the discussion forward.

A brief introduction was given by Peter Custers, writer and campaigner, who was present at the Conference in Bamako where the appeal was discussed and adopted; afterwards, comments were given by Peter Waterman (NIGD), Karamat Ali (co-organiser of the WSF in Karachi) and Helen Hintjens (ISS). The session was chaired by Francine Mestrum (Attac Vlaanderen) who presented a written contribution on BA. Samir Amin, co-author of the Bamako Appeal was in Nijmegen, but arrived too late to participate in the discussion.

In the following sections, attention will be given to the process of the WSF and the Bamako Appeal, the democratic content of this process, and the political content of the BA.

As one participant underlined, and as FM also noted in her contribution, the most important advantage of the BA is its existence as such, whatever criticism on the political content we may have. Without any programme, the WSF-process seems to lead nowhere and it may soon fade away. KA stressed that we need many programmes and many movements, that we need to defend plurality as an important value. The WSF will not be lost if there is no programme. We should be able to have broad based discussions on many programmes and give more chances to young people to have their say. HH questioned the link between this document and the harsh everyday reality people live in. Spaces itself decide nothing, she said, only actors and their actions can do that. According to PW, the ‘space versus movement’ debate is rather useless, we should look at what kind of space and what kind of movement we want. The BA has many merits, though there is a case for creating many such manifestos. What we should do, according to Jasper, one of the participants, is to write a Nijmegen Appeal, based on local experiences. We do not need this ‘hurried appeal to prevent the WSF falling apart’. According to another participant, the risk of ‘falling apart’ does exist, since most movements have made their networks and alliances, and are now only seeing their partners, looking for ‘sameness’ in stead of diversity.

As to the democratic content of the BA, PC defended the open process of the conference that adopted the BA, though he admitted that a serious selection had been made in the invitations. FM stressed the non-democratic way of presenting this document to its audience, without any possibility to amend it. Why was there no discussion on the Manifesto of Porto Alegre, two years ago? Several other participants agreed with this view. A broad-based discussion on the former manifesto could have led to a better result than what we now have. The BA, according to Jasper, is not only written by a group of intellectuals, but also for an intellectual audience, the ‘managers’ of another world, those who will work in the offices of Imperialism Watch and Ecology Watch. It is a sign of another elite becoming aware of loosing control. Another participant asked what role the Africans played in the drafting of the BA. The Bamako Appeal, according to HH, looks like an undergraduate project, where the student has been asked to give advice to world leaders and global institutions about what to do to solve the world’s major problems. However, it is not always clear to whom the advice is being given. And it is not clear who signed it or who funded it.

As to the political content, many remarks were made on its positive and negative points.

PC stressed the importance of the labour chapter, though he would have liked a more profound analysis. He pointed to the weakness of the chapter on agriculture and regrets the serious omission of a demand for the abolition of nuclear production. Furthermore, he stressed that the worldwide movement needs to question and oppose the misuse of religions for political ends.

PW stressed the importance of the labour chapter and proposed to use it for creating a ‘Global Labour Charter Movement’. He thinks the chapter may well be the most radical political statement on the topic to be found within or around the WSF.

FM agrees with most of the content but regrets its wording in a language of the old left, as well as the omission of ‘new issues’, such as global public goods or global taxes. A specific chapter on social policies would also be most welcomed.

HH sees the BA as a utopian socialist document without any link to reality. There is a sense of everything just waiting to be done, though many of the proposed organisations in fact already exist. The BA seems to be a utopian reinvention of the world. Nonetheless, the document is brave, though its ideas do not appear as a threat.

A participant stressed that we should try to define our basic human values and create a human structure, beyond politics, since all policies have failed.

Why is it so difficult to write a programme, asked another participant. Do we not all have the same goals? The answer to that question is, unfortunately, negative. Beyond the common goals of promoting democracy and fighting neoliberalism, there is much divergence in the movement.

This was only a first discussion on a topic that was after all, not familiar to many participants. There is a real lack of understanding the difficult differences of opinion within the WSF and within the IC. The real advantage of the BA surely will be that it provokes many discussions and that it may lead to some other programmes, hopefully as a result of a more open process. We do not need one single programme for the whole of the movement, other manifestos have already been created and will still be drafted. All these efforts can help us to better define our own positions and find out our divergences. In the end, it will also help us to find our common agreements. We need more time to look at the future of the WSF, as KA said, and maybe we can bring more people together to reflect on the separate chapters of the BA.

The best thing the WSF-organisers could do is organise a couple of seminars on these programmes and organise a worldwide debate on some or all of its chapters. The WSF needs to re-invent itself, as PW said.This might create a new dynamics and clarify the often obscured horizon. Too many questions now remain unanswered at the WSF and the authors of the BA certainly have a point when they stress the need for concrete political proposals. The WSF needs politicizing, and the BA surely contributed to it.

The BA is an important document, though no one seemed ready to adopt it as a final programme for the movement. Even if the discussion on space, movement and process did not give any positive result, there is a strong belief in the necessity and the usefulness of the WSF. More attention should be given to the links between the local and the global level, so that ‘global’ documents can be used at the ‘local’ level.