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The Dakar World Social Forum (7-11 February 2011)

N°395 july 2011

The economic, political, environmental crises have obliged us to question modes of living, of production, of consumption. Faced with globalization that excludes, the World Social Forum proves to be a formidable laboratory wherein the exchange of reflection and experience among actors of social change enables one to interpret the world and to act better for human and solidarity-based development. In this collective text, several members of the Development and Civilisations International Network provide us with their analyses of themes which mobilize people today

Sommary :


by Antoine Sondag

A Second Wind

There’s a bit of emotion here as I inaugurate my task as editorin- chief of this periodical in the wake of my great predecessors. In the service of the readers of this instrument of the Lebret Network -grassroots actors who identify themselves with the vision of a human economy. What has prepared me for this? My vocation as priest with decades of service to diverse associations. And today, in the service of international solidarity within Caritas-France, better known in France as Secours catholique.

I could not inaugurate this role any better than with this issue on the World Social Forum. Ten years after its founding, what are the new challenges for this WSF, which brings together alter-globalists who aspire for another world and who act in order to make it happen?

Where is the WSF going? What seems to be a fact is that it remains a space for exchanges, debates and is still not yet tempted to be transformed into a « movement of movements ». But it is looking for a new wind after some ten editions. It exists through specialized forums for teachers, for local governments, for theologians … new ways to develop further. One risk is undoubtedly that of a huge attempt to take over this initiative. The Davos World Economic Forum, parallel to which the WSF was created originally, continues its way, co-opting in the process civil society leaders, Cardinals and rock singers. … Is it better to be invited to the WSF or to Davos? The new world will be constructed from bottom to top, by everyone, and that has already started.

Antoine Sondag

The Dakar World Social Forum (7-11 February 2011)

The economic, political, environmental crises have obliged us to question modes of living, of production, of consumption. Faced with globalization that excludes, the World Social Forum proves to be a formidable laboratory wherein the exchange of reflection and experience among actors of social change enables one to interpret the world and to act better for human and solidarity-based development. In this collective text, several members of the Development and Civilisations International Network provide us with their analyses of themes which mobilize people today.

In 2001, the idea of gathering together members of civil society for the first World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil may have seemed utopian. Especially since the initiators announced this gathering as an alternative to the Davos Forum, this assembly of the « masters of the world » in the context of a more and more assertive economic globalization. As if to underline better this alternative, some met again in this luxurious winter-sports resort in Switzerland, and the others, for the first time, in the south of Brazil.

_The Brazilian initiators, committed persons with concrete experiences, their declared project was to widen the field of possibilities. The slogan which was then adopted and maintained through the years, "Another world is possible", sums up a conviction as much as an ambition. The interest across the world became affirmed through the years, the organization, too: to establish a "forum", in order to address experiences and analyses on the world level(1).

Forum — this means a place, a time, which, according to the first affirmation of the Charter of principles governing the WSFs, is "an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action". Thus, in contrast to a congress, there is no synthesis nor final resolution at the end of such meeting, and has no decision-making character as WSF. On the other hand, it can allow different organizations acting for the same cause to create alliances and make resolutions in view of common action. Thus, in Dakar, a dozen convergence assemblies have expressed articulations among the different workshops on related themes and have come up with ideas for common action. Those are the only explicit results which are published in the name of the WSF.

Thus, ten years later, what could have seemed an initiative with a bleak future has proven itself otherwise: the adventure continues(2), countries have volunteered to host and organize meetings. In the absence of an evaluation of experiences, we want to assess certain facets of the annual rendezvous that we have been able to perceive in Dakar, more particularly those relating to the concerns of our Development and Civilizations International Network.

Let us first of all give the floor to Chico Whitaker, one of the founding fathers of the WSF, who "by simplifying a very rich experience in construction", identifies "five principal innovative options for the WSF process(3)". . _ "It is, first of all, about the creation of these spaces for debate on the international level. Before, it did not exist and each organization, campaign or movement organized its own meetings, including those on a world level. But we did not have common spaces for everyone, around a principal objective that we shared.

Another innovation: the organization of this space, in order to facilitate mutual recognition and apprenticeship, the exchange of experiences, the identification of convergences and the possibility of new alliances.

The third novelty is being able to begin to consider as a positive element in the political struggle, the diversity of action and the autonomy of different actors. Respect of diversity is one of the basic principles of the WSF Charter.

No less important is building up a new political culture, based on the horizontality of relationships, on co-responsibility, on the special concern not to impose but to dialogue, on the search for consensus which makes us all happier and stronger. A political culture which corresponds with the other possible world.

The fifth novelty is a point, still in gestation but which is slowly progressing: the affirmation of alterglobalism as a multiform movement with multiple and diverse facets, which enlarges political action beyond party limits and political power. An affirmation based on the conviction that parties cannot claim to have the monopoly of political action and that the action that will effectively transform the world would have to involve all social sectors and each member of society."

"Marching towards another world(4)"

Sunday, 6 February 2011, the WSF "was launched" by a great march in the Dakar city-center. The tone was given: constituted groups or individual marchers, popular music and dansers, young and less young coming from 143 countries(5). The banners mostly announced the themes that would be dealt with within the week; others, simple slogans on sheets of carton, recalling some African problems: "For the liberty of circulation" or "Me, a child, I am not a commercial activity" or even "War: we women are fed up, fed up, fed up!(6)"

_And the colours! A multicoloured crowd, the youth all made-up, from different continents. A total intermingling of races. And especially the women’s "boubous": uniform to mark the unity or harmonious diversity, to signify their force and carry their demands and their hopes. It is, above all, Africa, and especially Western Africa, which occupied the streets to mark the entry of a will to become visible to all, to other participants, to the inhabitants.

_Some hours later, the opening of the tenth WSF would take place in the campus of the Cheikh Anta Diop University. The next days would confirm the massive participation of organizations from Senegal and the other neighbouring countries: Mali, Mauritania, Togo …

"Dakar opens a world without walls"

The participants largely debated on the issue of migration, considering that here was a reality that concerns all countries, particularly those from the South that receive the quasi-totality of intercontinental movements of populations. The policies of Northern countries towards migration from Southern countries was denounced, whose figure represents less than 5% of the mobility among world residents.

_The discussion covered situations in their globality, with a particular view on the population movements between the Sahelian region and the coastal countries of West Africa, partly responsible for the recent conflicts, or on the rejection of migrants by South Africa. Another African particularity: difficult relationships within the same population divided by arbitrary borders resulting from colonisation.

Mostly led by migrant associations of Southern countries and in the continuity of the meetings held in the different continents since 2006, the discussions in Goree Island on 4 February 2011 concluded with a declaration of the World Migrant Charter. This Charter has the ambition of asserting the right for all to freely circulate and settle on our planet, with the hope – utopian, for the moment – , access to education, the right to vthat one day, a universal passport will be established. Beyond this general objective of free circulation whose feasibility is not immediate, the Charter enumerates a certain number of migrant rights: the right to obtain work and security, access to land, access to health servicesote in local elections. The migrant organizations and allied NGOs which could relate to this Charter were able to map out a plan of action to promulgate migrant rights and to deal with the ostracism that they are subjected to in many countries.

_"Putting an end to poverty"

Many well attended workshops were related to farming and food selfsufficiency. And the women came in great numbers. "The African woman takes on family responsibilities without the necessary means.", a Mauritanian woman reminded us. An association posted up : "The land is my life; hands off my land(7)!"

At the heart of these debates was the diminution of farmers’ lands due to expulsions related to urban development, but especially due to the land-grabbing of the best agricultural lands by private companies or by foreign countries(8). The emergence of this theme, which is relatively new, shows that the participants use the WSF to confront their own perceptions of actual problems, their demands, their initiatives.

They also denounced the dependence on seed dealers, and more generally, on big agribusiness, the over-exploitation of mines and forests by big foreign industries. The approaches were concrete, oriented towards common action. The presentation of community and cooperative successes gave a lot of dynamism to the debates.

The same is true concerning access to water, a theme of several workshops. One of them prepared for the 6th World Water Forum, scheduled for 2012, in Marseille, in order to allow organizations that denounce the negative impacts of water privatization on populations to be heard.

The importance given by participants to these problems prove the continuing relevance of Louis-Joseph Lebret’s concerns, from the 1950s, for the satisfaction of basic needs(9).

« Gender: many writings, but no significant change »

« Women, always on the offside? » was the title of the 7 February 2011 issue of « La Flamme d’Afrique (African Flame) on land ownership, for the question of gender is crucial to it: women are excluded by regulations, but even more often, by the weight of tradition. And yet, the sessions dealing with agriculture, habitat, urban areas and territories, solidarity-oriented economy, etc., gathered a great proportion of women. They spoke up, debated with conviction, presented their activities and community projects. Only a few workshops had specifically feminine or feminist subjects, but the women made use of different themes showing their effects on their daily lives as farmers, craftswomen, mothers or heads of family, as heads of associations.

These were also the numerous women we found holding small stalls lining the discussion areas. There was no complaint over this open-air commerce which sometimes gave a festive air to the Forum, others were even pleased with it: a textile vendor advertised her « world social boubou », sold there at the same place where solidarity among persons from the whole world was being built! Should we deplore the fact that the Forum alleys were invaded by a crowd of vendors or should we, on the contrary, be happy that small local commerce has also somehow benefited from the economic effects of an international event?

For certain women, this commercial activity was also a form of participation. Some presented their association’s activities, gathered signatures for their manifestos, or sold collectively-made products. Others explained the fact that the sale of objects financed their trip or their stay.

"Political elites, a principal barrier to development … "

Under the effect of popular uprisings against dictatorial governments in Tunisia and in Egypt, the theme "Democracy and Participation" took a higher resonance. As climax, the closing of the Forum coincided with the announcement of Mubarak’s departure from Egypt! These mobilizations for more justice and citizen participation gave a particular depth to the exchanges on the practice of governance and on the malpractices which make a mockery of democratic principles. Indeed, the assessment drawn up by the participants show that there are still many countries wherein, by means of electoral fraud, pressures of all sorts, clientelism, corruption and even sometimes constitutional tampering, an oligarchy can grab power and hold on to it. Some organizations which made their own observations on elections testified to the complacency of old guardianship authorities and international organizations in favour of maintaining established powers and have recommended a sustained vigilance for 2011 and 2012, when presidential elections will be taking place in several African countries.

Several participants reminded us that, if elections are determinants in putting up a democracy, they don’t necessarily constitute the sufficient conditions to guaranteeing its functioning and consolidation. Without waiting for the electoral periods to mobilize, civil society must involve itself, even more actively between two elections, around the control and follow-up of the handling of public affairs.

The debates also pointed out the link between democracy and harnessing economic development. But, the system of free-exchange imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) disadvantages the developing countries whose natural resources are in the hands of multinationals without real returns for the national economy and, in the final analysis, the people. This neo-colonial strategy, source of all influence-peddling and financial haemorrhage, greatly handicaps the development of these countries.

A coalition of NGOs, "Publish what you pay", is carrying out an international campaign for clarity of accounts of multinationals, asking them to state in detail the charges and taxes really paid in the country and to whom they are paid.

The option for participatory democracy is now on the agenda among local groups as indicated by the holding in Dakar, on the same dates as the WSF, of the Local Government’s World Forum for social inclusion and participatory democracy.

The participants use the WSF to confront their own perceptions of actual problems.

"Create solidarity actions for citizen information"

Considering the difficulties met by groups of committed citizens in making their achievements known, some workshops dealt with a theme which, until then, had rarely been addressed: information, with the objective of questioning the place of traditional media and its uniformed world vision and to identify alternatives for citizen information. « It is essential to create a counterweight to the logic of traditional media which now wants that it is them who decide on what is to be spoken of, on the manner to speak of them and on what not to speak about. It is important to reinforce the alternative sources of information, citizens’ vigilance, the counter-expertise(10)». The current tools of communication - cell phones, Internet or Facebook - facilitate information. Their massive use during the recent mobilizations in Tunisia or in Egypt has proven this. But the high rate of illiteracy in many countries render inevitable the village radios which have multiplied by 20 in 15 years, in West Africa.

On the contrary, the debates have not resulted in a common position as to the necessity or non-necessity of building convergences with traditional media. Is it possible to create links in view of echoing citizens’commitments? Or, are the objectives too different or even conflicting, to devote any time to them? In conclusion, the priority cited in the declaration of « The right to inform and be informed », remains the reinforcement of alternative medium which say to as many people as possible that another world is building up.

"Which other world?"

Of Chico Whitaker’s statements, we shall retain the fact that the WSF allows for the creation of spaces for debate on the international level. The presentation of the Haitian situation in workshops, at the initiative of Haitian organizations, is an illustration of this. If the many participants, whatever their country of origin may be, were informed of the 2010 earthquake and its consequences, here they discovered the extent to which the population was excluded in the reconstruction process - priority being given to international NGOs, despite the recognized capacity of local associations, - the dependence on Western powers and international institutions concerning the attribution of funds and political choices… The speakers gave their interpretation of the mechanisms which create the state of dependence in which the country is struggling, the reasons which are both actual and historical (Haiti has long time paid, in the literal as well as in the figurative sense, the conquest by its army of slaves, of independence against French power). An analysis which contrasted the often sordid ones diffused after the earthquake. Popular initiatives were mentioned: rural-urban mutual aid, the hosting of displaced persons… The associations are not giving up, they are building alliances and Camille Chalmers(11), animator of these workshops, presented the project of holding, in Haiti, in 2012, a Forum on Food Sovereignty. Let us underline the specific importance of the Dakar Forum for the African participants: they actively prepared for it during the preceding year. They looked for financial means. Organized in caravans, they sometimes crossed several countries… These men and women lived through a unique life experience which cannot be confused with that of NGO members and big associations that are used to international meetings. Grassroots citizens, even when involved in militant action, are usually confined as such, in day-to-day realities: feeding the family, paying for medical care, ensuring employment, facing natural disasters… Within the framework of a Forum of free expression, they find themselves able to address a new economic reality with a world dimension which directly or indirectly intervenes on this day-to-day existence: the price of raw materials, unemployment, exclusion from knowledge and from power, delocalization and social dumping, fiscal evasion… The WSF has the primary interest of giving a voice to those who “animate” the world. These assemblies of dialogue give the opportunity to field actors to situate their territory in a global world. They render possible the establishment of long-term relations with other actors. They reinforce one’s capacities for analysis. These world assemblies for ordinary men and women are a source of hope and it is in this sense that the WSF can convince, that another world is possible.

Say to as many people as possible that another world is being built

Feed-back on field experiences: our activities at the WSF

Just as the 2004 Mumbai Forum in India was occasion to deal on religious extremism and its impact on development, the World Social Forum which was held in Dakar in 2011 allowed us to address human economy, governance and active citizenship, religious diversity and secularism. It was interesting to address these issues – on which members of the Development and Civilizations International Network are exchanging – with the diversity of analyses and experiences among the Forum participants. The multiplication of political and social crises have uncovered in several countries, the serious lack in the practice of good governance and of democracy. These situations give rise to difficult or even nonexistent citizen participation. With the aim of better analyzing and supporting the emergence of processes rooted in the people, we organized a workshop which was nourished by three national experiences of our Network members. In India, L.A. Samy exposed the work carried out for 30 years now, by AREDS, a support organization for rural development, so that marginalized social groups (the Dalits, women …) may obtain their full rights as citizens and build up accession to political representation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Achille Biffumbu, founder of an agro-ecological farm school, explained his efforts at restructuring the social and economic tissue which was damaged by several years of persistent intercommunal civil wars whose first victims have been the youth and the women. In Madagascar, Lily Razafimbelo retraced the militant activities of the CCOC, a collective of civil society organizations, whose objective is to offer citizen and concerted response to the political crisis which, since 2009 has been undermining social cohesion and compromising development in the whole country. From these different situations, a common factor is evident: organized civil society must play an important role, to conscienticize, train, organize citizens and demand that political leaders ensure that institutions and laws really respond to the people’s needs, without neglecting any particular group in society. And yet, a real danger exists, of getting "taken over" by the dominant structures in place. Lily Razafimbelo insisted on the fact that, in order not to be tamed by the very people who are responsible for the very situations that social mobilization wants to change, there’s need to learn to take a stand on principles regarding commitment and to resist the lure of money and power. It is the "collective" that can guarantee that action remains aimed at the common good and can avoid manipulation. Faced with the need to reflect on religious realities, as felt by many development actors, we coorganized with ENDA and IFAPA a session on the link between religion and social change. The speakers denounced the danger of "double instrumentalization" : the political arena that uses religious discourse and/or institutions to serve its own interests and the religious sphere that tries to infiltrate and to manipulate the political sphere. On this particular point, Sophie Bessis, Tunisian researcher, stressed the need to reflect on a way that the religious sphere could somehow occupy social space without being an obstacle to citizenship, taking up examples of Islamist states as well as in the West or even in Brazil which has seen Christian churches intervene in electoral debates. In view of the approach of L.-J. Lebret action and the Economy and Humanism movement, from which our International network takes inspiration, we proposed a debate on human economy. The evening was introduced by Chico Whitaker, a militant Brazilian alterglobalist and one of the organizers of the World Social Forum, who particularly linked up with the WSF, "the space for creating alliances and exchanges", in order to reinforce the initiatives that puts back the economy at the service of the human person. The debate then allowed the participants to show the way human economy is manifested in the context of their own territories.


[1] - Cf.Chico Whitaker’s article in Faith and Dévelopment, No. 313, May 2003 (www.lebret-irfed.org/IMG/pdf… Francisco 03.pdf).

[2] - The world Social Forum is now held every two years. Between 2 editions,regional or local fora are organized.In 2010, 55 regional fora took place, 28 of which were Arab countries

[3] - Interview realized by S. Ferrari of the press office E-CHANGER, on their site, entitled "Five WSF innovations", 21 March 2011

[4] - Sub-titles taken from la Flamme d’Afrique (African Flame), daily paper in 3 languages (French, English, Arab) publisher by PANOS during the WSF.

[5] - Organizers’ evaluation: around 70.000 persons representing 1.200 organizations."80% of WSF participants generally come from countries of from the region where it is held, and Senegal has 15 times less inhabitants than Brazil", points Chico Whitaker on the Pekea site. the preceding year, 150 000 persons met in Belem, in Northern Brazil.

[6] - One country out of two on the African continent has experienced war since 1960, quite often civil wars. The number of daths are estimated at 9 milion, to which must be added the wounded, the women and children who were raped, the displaced

[7] - In Sub-Saharan Africa, the women assure 70% of food production and 60% of market sales. In Pambazuka News.

[8] - Cf. Dévelopment and Civilisations, NO.375, June, 2009 (www.lebret-irfed.org/spip.ph…)

[9] - Cf. Jalons pour une économie des besoins, (Milestones for an economy of needs), L-G. Lebret et G. Célestin, Economy and Humanism No.84, 1954 (www.lebret-irfed.org/spip.ph…)

[10] - Sophie Gergaud and Myriam Meriant - RIMITO.

[11] - Director of the PAPDA (Plateforme haïtienne de plaidoyer pour un développement alternatif : Haïtian platform Advocating Alternative Development)

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