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World Social Forum:GLOBAL SPIRIT OF CHALLENGE MANIFEST IN NAIROBI, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,19 Februa Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 19 February 2007

World Social Forum


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Though a ritual now, this year’s seventh World Social Forum, which was held from January 20 to 25 last at Nairobi evoked immense interest and enthusiasm, especially among the African nations. Social movements in all 53 countries of Africa jointly organized this year’s conference. Around 46,000 participants registered and there were others who participated in the numerous workshops. Significantly the African countries did not participate in the numbers in Porto Alegre or Mumbai, they did in Nairobi obviously because of financial constraints which was also the same reason for the rather reduced presence from Latin American and Asian countries.

There were hundreds of workshops and seminars on various issues affecting the Third World countries. At one such meeting about threats from a proposed green revolution --- a technology-led attempt to increase agricultural output – Indian activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva described how chemical-dependent and costly monocultures of so-called improved varieties of crops had left farmers in India dispossessed and in debt, causing frequent suicides.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced a $ 150 million joint project for a green revolution in Africa. But Shiva pointed out Africa’s risks repeating the Indian scenario and promoting genetically modified organisms or GMO seeds. She described the project as “strategies of dispossessing Africa of food sovereignty and biodiversity”.

The campaigners from the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP) told the WSF that civil society pressure would have to increase if the millennium development goals (MDGs) had any chance of being met. They accused the Western governments of being short on substance and announced a series of action, culminating on the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17 this year. Hellen Tombo, a Kenyan youth movement leader and the African representative on GCAP, said promises have been broken. “Our leaders have not been accountable, our leaders have not been transparent”. However, Sunil Shetty, Director of the UN’s Millennium Campaign said that the MDGs were still achievable if activists could persuade governments to stand up to their responsibilities.       

The presence of a large number of trade unions at Nairobi pointed to a possible warming of relations between the unions and NGOs. According to Claire Courteille, a senior policy advisor of the world’s most powerful organization, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) “workers’ rights are a global problem but it manifests itself in different ways. In Africa, the lack of formal work is the real problem while in Asia it is more about what kind of conditions you are working in. In Europe, workers’ rights need to be protected as companies seek to find the cheapest sources of labour”.

Among the other issues that were debated were housing rights, international apartheid, debt-free world, labour, women, just trade etc. Eminent people not just from Africa but also from other countries of the Third World participated in the deliberations.

The Tax Justice Network, an international NGO, is voicing the loot of Africa’s resources as part of its development campaign. Speaking at the WSF, Kenyan coordinator, Alvin Mosioma, pointed out Africa resources were currently being siphoned off into tax havens and wealthy northern jurisdictions with the collusion of some of the world’s most powerful corporations and wealthy banks. He said research has shown that the continent was a net creditor to the rest of the world with about 30 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa being moved offshore. 

According to Tax Justice Network, about 25 billion pounds flowed into Africa in aid and loans in the last decade while an estimated 200 billion pounds flowed in the opposite direction – to British and Northern banks through corruption, money laundering and other criminal means. London banks were said to hold $ 6 billion from Kenya and Nigeria alone.   

Vitus Azeem from the Network in Ghana observed that the Third World governments were often pressured by the international financial institutions to cut corporate tax for multinationals. He cited the case of Zambia, which had signed away mining rights for a paltry 0.06 per cent in royalties (the world average is 3 per cent), no social obligations and tax-free concessions.

It is significant to mention here that there were sessions that called for fundamental reform of international institutions in favour of “democratic governance of globalization” and “the promotion of more equitable development and respect for cultural, natural and gender diversity”. The call was made in the Manifesto of the World Campaign for in-depth Reform of the System of International Institutions. This has been supported by a group that included Danielle Mitterrand, a social activist and wife of the late French President, Federico Mayor, former UNESCO head, Samir Amin of the Forum du Tiers Monde, Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Civicus, Sara Longwe of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network and Hassen Lorgat of a South African NGO coalition. The campaign to reform international institutions, which began in 2006 and is to run till 2009 has the support of eminent intellectuals and academicians the world over, including Noam Chomsky and Boutros Boutros Ghali.    

The Nairobi WSF has projected the severe inequality existing in the world today, specially in Africa, in the process of globalization and the logic of terror and war that feeds it. Given that Africa has been neglected by the world economic system and the reigning powers, the Nairobi meet brought together social activists from all over the continent. The voices of activists venting grievances against the imperialist West gave one the feeling that an alternative strategy for development can definitely be formulated.

How soon the WSF would emerge as a strong instrument to formulate proposals for effective action, foreseen in the Porto Alegre Charter of 2000, remains to be seen. But the fact remains that the WSF was no doubt successful in renewing the dialogue among progressive social movements and intellectuals, formulating proposals for new strategies for revolutionary engagement with neo-liberal globalization, sharing experiences and evolving action plans aimed at crafting alternatives for social transformation. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







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