1. WORLD SOCIAL FORUM COMES TO AFRICA

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (2007-01-20)

  • Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem? is the Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN millennium, Campaign. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a concermed Pan Africanist.

Source: Pambazuka News @ http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/39303 (external link)

The World Social Forum (WSF) is holding its Seventh Session in Nairobi, for the first time in Africa, 20-25 January 2007.

This is a global Movement against globalization and the triumphalist neo-liberalism that underpins it. For any African who is casually aware of the painful history of this continent in relation to the rest of the world globalization should not be a new term. Slavery was global and so was colonialism. And Imperialism has always been global.

So why are we using globalization today as if it was discovered a few years ago? It is used as if it all has to do with technology, internet, freer movement of goods, services, people, skills, knowledge, etc. It is all these and more. It has both an ideological, political and class context. Technology is not neutral.

What is distinct about globalization today? One, it is happening in the context of a UNIPOLAR world that is dominated by an illiterate lone superpower: USA. Two, it asserts an end of ideology with another ideology: There Is No Alternative (TINA) thereby turning neoliberalism, into a gospel truth, from which there can not be deviation.

Democratization, progress and survival of humanity, in this discourse, become linked or even interchangeable with western political structures, capitalism and Western culture. Consequently the destiny of the world is to become Westernized and even more brazenly become Americanized!

If Westernization produced prosperity for all the peoples of the world and respect the dignity of all human beings there may not be much opposition to it and its hegemony. But slavery, colonialism, genocide, mass violence, expropriation of majority by the minority, destruction of cultures and peoples and many more atrocities in the pursuit of raw materials, profits and markets are the heritage and contemporary expression of this ideology. Hence it has always provoked resistance from its victims and other peoples who desire social justice and a better humanity.

The WSF movement has evolved from the late 1990s becoming organized expression of the peoples of the world at its first meeting in 2001 at Porta Allegro in Brazil. It brings together all kinds of anti-globalisation forces and social movements struggling against all kinds of class, racial, ethnic, religious, gender and other kinds of oppression at all levels of human existence. It is united by the twin ideology of opposition to the current imperialist anti –people globalization and the totalitarian ideology of there being no alternative to Neo liberalism.

Those may be the only two things they agree on because different groups, organizations and individuals decide where and how they go about confronting the two evils they identify. To the untutored in WSF dynamics it may look like an anarchists' bazaar. But there is a method to the madness. These are people committed to changing the world they live in and are prepared to sacrifice for it. They may sound like lunatics and champions of lost causes but so did many thought of Mandela who, as a firebrand youth believed they could overthrow Apartheid and bring about Black Majority rule at a time when people thought White power was impregnable.

Winston Churchill infamously and loquaciously declared his opposition to Independence for Non White British Colonies in his rude reaction to Mahatma Ghandi's mobilization of ordinary Indians against colonialism insisting he had not become the Prime Minster of 'His Majesty's government' to hand over the British Empire 'to a half-naked Kaffir'. But it came to pass in his life-time. Not only India, but also Ceylon (Sri Lanka now), and several Asian and African Countries became independent before Churchill's life snuffed out and they were welcomed to England by the British crown in pomp and pageantry at Buckingham palace.

History is full of the contributions made possible by people who were regarded as 'lunatics' by their contemporaries and the powers that be that they challenged but with time many of these ideas and issues they fought on became common sense.

Many will snigger and even be amused by the clarion call of the Nairobi WSF: "Another World is Possible". The cynicism will in part be due to many people believing that the world as we live it today has come to stay, that America will always gets its way and the west will always dominate therefore since you cannot beat them you had better join them or get lost. But this reading of the world's history is so short sighted as it is ahistorical.

Most of the territory we now know as the USA today used to be a colony of Britain, but now Britain especially under TORY Blair has become a vassal state of Britain. Yet at the height of British Imperial grandeur in the 19th and up to the middle of the 20th century its imperial propagandists use to boast that: 'The sun never sets on the British empire' because the colonies stretched against all continents.

Those struggling against British Colonialism used to retort that the reason the sun never sets on the British Empire was because: God never trusted the British in the dark! The Empire did collapse. Why should the American empire be any different? Were not Rome and the Catholic Church imperial power before? What happened to the Egyptians and Greek civilizations? From generation to generations, from one epoch to the other human beings continue to seek alternatives making change the only permanent condition of humanity.

Empires rise and fall. Just imagine the next fifty years with China, India, and Africa, Latin America and other previously marginalized peoples and regions of the world on the rise. The apostles of neoliberalism want to put an end to our imagination but the 'strugglists' assembling in Nairobi from all corners of the world for the WORLD SOCIAL FORUM (which should really be World Socialist Forum) just as the beneficiaries of the current unequal and unfair global power structures gather for their annual vultures' festival in Davos, for the World Economic Forum (really WORLD EXCPLOITERS FORUM) are defiantly reaffirming the truism that Another world , without hunger, poverty and greed is possible and desirable. But more than that they are prepared to work for it.

Karibuni to Nairobi to all of you. A luta continua

  • Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org (external link)

2. WSF debate

Victoria Ebin (2007-01-26) Source: Pambazuka News @ http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/letters/39462 (external link)

Your column on WSF by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem? is exactly the sort of stuff that US leaders point to when they want to discredit the WSF and those who support it (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/39303). It's full of mistakes and raving.


3. Challenging Tajudeen's view on WSF

Johannesburg Eric Gutierrez (2007-01-31) Source:Pambazuka News @ http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/letters/39502 (external link)

I would like to thank Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem? for his candid and courageous piece on NGOs as paymasters of CSOs. I share his basic sentiments, and think it is important to have this kind of reflection. However, he makes certain underlying assumptions that need to be challenged, and I hope he won't mind this deconstruction.

I disagree most with the sweeping statement that African participants "often become prisoners of their sponsors." This is a gross and simplistic caricature of the complex relationship between the "foreign paymasters" and CSOs. It tends to portray the latter as an uncritical 'rent-a-crowd' unable to see what they are getting into, and blissfully oblivious to the manipulation of those who have money. It seems to assume that paymasters and CSOs have never known each other before, have not built relationships of trust over the years (and trust is earned, not bought), and have done the transaction of attending the WSF only in front of the airline ticket booth just before flying to Nairobi.

I certainly think the participants Dr Abdul-Raheem? was referring to are not blissfully naïve. I would say they know their needs, they know exactly who they are dealing with, and they know the choices they are making — most of it involves complex calculations of benefit and cost, of what one may get in return for, say, turning up at a paymaster-sponsored event. Some of them may even turn their heads around and ask, "Who is manipulating whom?" CSOs are struggling and are in a constant battle to raise resources, and dealing with paymasters is not necessarily selling out.

I agree there is a need to challenge, even constantly, the legitimacy of NGOs. But again, Dr Abdul Raheem resorts to simplistic caricatures when asking who NGOs are accountable to and whom they are loyal to. I thought he would have known better that many NGOs have complex (sorry for using this term again) governance structures. They have functional boards (some of which have a majority southern membership), transparent recruitment, periodic evaluations and open books of account. Fund-raising, especially with northern government sources, is governed by policy and legal documents, and clear terms of reference. While such funding relationships may not be ideal, remain far from perfect, and one can poke holes into it, a simplistic conspiracy theory just won't hold.

I agree too that there are scams, and that these should rightly be exposed and opposed. Which is why some of these paymasters talk to each other, to sort out multiple accounting, bogus ticket refunds, etc. What I object to is the insinuation that nothing is being done about these serious issues, especially when the scams are brought out into the open. The problem with blanket accusations too is that it also smears those who are forthright and doing well. If there is a scam, the best way of dealing with it is to name and shame responsibly.

Another fundamental objection I would raise – do NGOs not have the right to make noise? Dr Abdul-Raheem? seems to imply that simply because they are paymasters, NGOs do not have the right to speak in events like the WSF. NGOs do "crowd out" CSOs who have a greater legitimacy to speak. Mainly because they professionals, NGOs tend to be slicker, quicker to the draw, and often become too zealous in marketing themselves and in getting others to carry their agenda. But please don't rush to the conclusion that they are not legitimate actors. I am sure that some NGOs can also be considerate when these issues are raised before their faces.

Finally, the most irritating question Dr Abdul-Raheem? asks, "how come the nationalists freed this continent from the yoke of colonialism without writing proposals to any funder?" They may have not written proposals, but many anti-colonial movements, I believe, recognised the contributions of people-to-people solidarity to their success. Proposals, if we take a less cynical view of it, can simply be seen as mechanisms to manage solidarity. My bottom line is, please, let us not go to the extent of denying the value of solidarity. When proposals become too cumbersome and have turned instead into mechanisms for manipulation, then by all means, let us challenge it.

I have no answer to Dr Adbul-Raheem's most insightful question – why are our peoples not willing or able to support our activism? It is spot on and a good point. Until someone else comes up with answers, I would argue that solidarity relationships shouldn't be ruled out, even if there are, clearly, problems that need to be sorted out. I maintain my belief that southern organisations can stand their ground in dealing with paymasters. I respect and value Dr Abdul-Raheem's sentiments, but his framing of the problem is flawed.