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Isolda Agazzi, Africa World Social Forum: "We Don't Want Everybody To Think The Same"

Africa World Social Forum: 'We Don't Want Everybody to Think the Same'
Isolda Agazzi

Dakar — It is only the second time that the World Social Forum (WSF)
takes place in Africa, the first one having been held in Nairobi, Kenya,
in 2007. Since the start of the WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 10 years
ago, the organisers have been building African participation.

The number of people attending the WSF has steadily gone up: from 20,000
to 150,000. In Nairobi it dropped to 70,000, which made some observers
announce "the end of the anti-globalisation movement".

"But one has to compare apples with apples," says Chico Whitaker, one of
the founders of the forum. "Most of the participants come from the
country or the region where it takes place. Senegal has only 12 million
inhabitants, compared to 180 million in Brazil. Therefore, this year we
will not have a huge gathering."

He adds that, "our original intention was not to create a new movement
that would change everything but to increase the possibility of people
to get to know each other and come together. Politically, we needed to
change our methods. Instead of creating a pyramid based on power, we
decided to launch networks."

The WSF is still concerned with the globally dominant neoliberal dictum:
"We are told that the market is the solution and that it needs to be
free. But the market does not solve the problem of inequalities,"
Whitaker concludes.

The WSF kicked off on Sunday Feb 6 with the traditional rally. Thousands
of people marched in the city centre of the Dakar, capital of Senegal in
West Africa, to reclaim food sovereignty, debt relief, trade equity,
women's rights, access to health, liberalisation of migration and many
other causes aimed at fairer and more inclusive globalisation.

"The total number of participants is not known yet," Taoufik Ben
Abdallah of Enda Tiers Monde, the coordinator of the African Social
Forum and one of the main organisers of this year's event, told IPS in
an interview. Enda Tiers Monde is an international development
organisation with headquarters in Dakar.

"People have come from 130 countries. Many groups have arrived from all
over Africa, often by bus. The participation of Asia is rather low but
that is mainly due to the cost of the journey."

Ben Abdallah welcomed participants at the Cheikh Anta Diop University by
saying, "Africa is a rich region if you to let countries determine their
own policies". Asked by IPS whether the "Jasmine Revolution" could
spread across Africa, Ben Abdallah answered that, "the way the Tunisian
delegation was welcomed shows that what happened there is considered
very significant".

The actual work started on Feb 7 amid some confusion. Most of the
workshops scheduled in the university building had to be cancelled
because students were attending classes as if the WSF did not exist. The
former university director had promised use of the buildings for the
whole week but the current director decided not to suspend classes.

The organisers met with university authorities while tents were set up
rapidly. Several workshops were relocated there. Many participants think
that the Senegalese government is not making any effort to support the
global event but Ben Abdallah ensures journalists that it is only an
organisational problem.

Feb 7 was devoted to Africa and hundreds of self-organised workshops
took place on varied issues until today (Feb 9).

For Anna Dramé of the National Council of Civil Society Organisations of
the small West African state Guinea, "holding the WSF in Africa is a
good thing because it gives us the possibility to exchange ideas and
find solutions to common problems.

"I have been inspired by the workshops on violence against women and on
land grabbing," she told IPS. "I did not know about the situation in
Mauritania and Mali and, once I am back home, I will be able to pass
information along."

For Sidibe Abou from Covire, a coordinating body that attends to victims
of repression in Mauritania, "unity is strength and holding the WSF in
Africa will give visibility to the problems of the unemployed, the
widowed, the orphans and other excluded people. Discussing common
problems may help us to find solutions."

Nama Sidiki of Diobass in Burkina Faso, an organisation of small
farmers, is also concerned about unlawful expropriation of land. "It
creates conflict. In Burkina Faso, mainly rich locals and some members
of government - rather than foreigners - have grabbed land. The WSF
helps raise the awareness of people."

During the last two days of the WSF (Feb 10-11), delegates attending
"convergence workshops" will try to produce common positions and pave
the way forward on thematic issues. As usual, the WSF will not produce
any final outcome document.

"The WSF is based on a bottom-up approach. We do not want to make all
people think the same," explains Whitaker.