WORLD SOCIAL FORUM:

On the Eve of the Nairobi Gathering, a Glance Back

Almahady Cissé

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BAMAKO, Dec 26 (IPS) - Almost a year ago, IPS interviewed a cross-section of people in Mali to gauge expectations for the African leg of the 2006 World Social Forum (WSF), held in Bamako. Certain interviewees were sceptical about whether the meeting could effect political and economic change; others proved more hopeful. So, were their expectations realised?

Barry Aminata Touré of the Debt and Development Coalition was an optimist ahead of the forum in Mali's capital (see 'WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Cynicism and Hope Ahead of the Bamako Gathering'), and the meeting did not disillusion her.

"The polycentric forum of Bamako was a success for us, because it reinforced the creation of networks and partnerships between different African movements," said Aminata Touré, who is president of the coalition, a non-governmental organisation based in Bamako.

Similar words come from Mamadou Goita, one of three coordinators at the WSF National Organising Committee in Mali.

"At a personal level, the Bamako forum allowed me to expand my network of contacts. Since then, I'm invited just about everywhere on the continent as a result of themes developed during the forum (and) through campaigns on alternative education against debt, Economic Partnership Agreements…" he told IPS, noting further that the quality of debate at the Bamako meeting had made it a success.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are meant to enter into force by the start of 2008 to make trade between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. The EPAs will require European goods to be given access to markets in ACP countries, some of which fear they will not be able to withstand competition from the imports.

Traoré Oumou Touré, executive secretary of the Coordinated Women's Associations and Non-governmental Organisations of Mali, also pointed to the international perspective provided by the 2006 WSF when asked for her impressions of the gathering.

"The forum enabled our activists to know that everywhere in Africa and elsewhere, our problems are the same: we (women) are in the majority…However, we are marginalised, under-represented and uninvolved," she said.

In the run up to the Bamako forum, Oumou Touré said the challenge for her organisation was to have "greater women's participation in this fight (against marginalisation) — and above all to show that women have to be actors in world affairs, rather than submit to them."

Looking back on the gathering, she noted that the principal lesson drawn from the forum was that "the improvement of conditions of our lives will only be achieved in the context of a synergy of action, and a steadfastness in the fight."

Sékou Berthé, a Malian small-scale farmer who participated in the Bamako WSF, took home a different lesson.

"We did not know in the beginning that with the introduction of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), we are going to lose our food sovereignty and be more dependent on Western firms," he told IPS. "The forum opened our eyes."

For Nouhoum Kéita, a Malian activist, the 2006 WSF underscored what he already knew: "The forum reaffirmed my conviction to pursue the fight and show the soundness of the arguments that we are putting forward concerning neoliberal policies, the militarisation of international relations and the blockage of any prospect of independent development."

However, a good number of Malians who would like to relive the achievement of this year's forum may find themselves unable to do so during 2007 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where the next WSF is scheduled to take place from Jan. 20-25.

"The World Social Forum of Nairobi will be difficult in terms of mobilisation, the cost of the air ticket — 800,000 CFA francs (about 1,600 dollars) — and visa problems," Aminata Touré told IPS.

These concerns are shared by others. "Nairobi must be an extension of Bamako…and for its success, organisations must search for and obtain a large participation at the level of the continent to deepen the themes that were debated in Bamako," said Kéita.

While more than 21,000 people attended the 2006 WSF, according to Goita, some 150,000 delegates are expected in Nairobi.

The 2007 forum will mark the first instance in which an African country is serving as sole host of the WSF. This year the meeting was held in several cities — Bamako, the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, and the Pakistani financial centre, Karachi — causing it to be dubbed a "polycentric" gathering.

The WSF was established in 2001 as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering in the Swiss resort town of Davos that attracts business and political leaders. It has mostly been held in the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre, bringing together mainly groups and individuals from civil society that oppose globalisation in its present form. (END/2006)