WORLD SOCIAL FORUM-CAMEROON:

NGOs Long on Vision, Short on Detail?

Sylvestre Tetchiada

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YAOUNDE, Dec 21 (IPS) - As the countdown to the 2007 World Social Forum gains momentum, anti-globalisation activists from around the world are no doubt rolling up their sleeves for spirited debates on the flaws in the current economic order. In Cameroon, however, such debates are already underway.

"In the coming days, we are going to finish with the capitalism that has caused us much suffering," said Henri Dikoumé, a member of the Federation of Civil Society Organisations of Cameroon (Fédération des organisations de la société civile du Cameroun).

"Our alternative vision of Cameroon," he told IPS, "is that of a country centred on the human being. The future of the Cameroonian people must be in the hands of its children, and we are in solidarity with all the forces in this country that are working to bring about real alternatives."

Last month saw groups of farmers, women's associations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), union leaders and intellectuals meet to condemn globalisation, and demand an increase in development aid and local implementation of international labour standards.

For certain NGOs, neoliberalism — the rejection of government intervention in the economy, and push for limited restrictions on business — is at the root of ills in the global economy.

But Paul Mboui, coordinator of the Development Experts Goup (Groupement d'experts en développement), a firm based in the capital of Yaoundé, says the alternatives to globalisation that are being proposed by activists are "vague".

While lauding civic groups for going "to the trouble of improving the organisation and coordination of social movements of this country in the face of fundamental development problems", he notes that it is "difficult to say if these people also succeeded in defining alternatives to the current economic order".

"They denounce 'neoliberal globalisation', but they have difficulty speaking with one voice on exact changes of policies."

Certain NGOs say there is room for improvement, and that better mobilisation against current economic policies can only occur if Cameroonian social movements adopt a common position on the problems that will be tackled at the upcoming WSF, set to take place in the Kenyan capital — Nairobi — from Jan. 20-25.

For her part Hermine Dipanda, an economist teaching at the University of Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, believes the debate on globalisation is regrettably confined to academic circles. However, "It is the ordinary people who suffer and feel the effects of neoliberalism, without even knowing that this term means," Dipanda told IPS.

Still, says Christophe Essomba, a member of the Agricultural Cooperative of West Cameroonian Farmers (Coopérative agricole des planteurs de l'Ouest Cameroun), the movement against neoliberal policies is slowly gaining ground.

"Some time was needed for fellow citizens to understand the plot that was hatched against them," he told IPS. "But people are suffering and dying, and they know now that it's mostly because of the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). We are thus looking for different policies."

In the late 1980s, Cameroon embarked on a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) overseen by the World Bank and IMF. This followed an economic crisis created in part by falling prices for commodities such as petroleum, coffee and cocoa, which formed the backbone of exports from the Central African state.

SAPs involved the acceptance of measures such as privatisation and the lifting of trade barriers and price controls in countries assisted by the two institutions — this in a bid to obtain economic improvements. However, the programmes often served to worsen the plight of nations that adopted them.

Cameroon has become mired in debt, leading to its participation in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) — launched by the World Bank and IMF to assist nations with unsustainable debt burdens. In May, just over a quarter of the country's debt was forgiven under HIPC.

Marie Claire Mani, an economist for the World Bank in Cameroon, says the accusations against the institution are understandable.

But, she maintained that reforms imposed by the bank which included better oversight of expenditures were central to economic recovery in Cameroon. "It is our right to ask that our aid be spent in a transparent manner," Mani told IPS.

Cameroon is often criticised for having high levels of corruption. In the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, produced by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, the country was jointly ranked 138 of the 163 states surveyed — alongside Ecuador, Niger and Venezuela.

Created as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of business and political leaders in the in the Swiss resort town of Davos, the WSF brings together those who oppose globalisation in its current form.

It was first held in the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre in 2001, moving to Mumbai, India in 2004 — and returning to Porto Alegre the following year. This year the forum was staged in three cities: the Malian capital of Bamako; Caracas, Venezuela; and the Pakistani financial centre, Karachi.

The 2007 forum in Nairobi will mark the first instance in which an African country is serving as sole host of the WSF. (END/2006)