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Publication Details

Reference
Amisi, B Baruti  (2006) Reports from the WSF Bamako Mali . Centre for Civil Society : -.

Summary
23 January 2006




Report 3
The last section of this report focuses on “NEPAD and South African imperialism”, the workshop on “Access to land in Africa and India: Exchanges and reinforcement of peasant struggles”, and “Struggles and resistance against globalisation in Niger”.

Access to land in Mali, Burkina Faso, and India: Exchanges and reinforcement of peasant struggles[3]

The Association Professionnelle Paysanne du Mali / Malian peasant professional association stated that land is not a commodity. It is a mystical part of Malian people’s day-to-day life because it provides everything they need for a decent life. Indeed, land provides medicinal plants, food, firewood, materials for construction, and their last dwelling place. That is why land is sacred and thus should not, in any circumstances, being sold. There is no life or freedom without land ownership.

There are four categories of land ownership in Mali. The first refers to traditional and consecrated ownership in which people could acquire land through exchange of a few cola nuts or a chicken. Decades later, through exchanges and some complicated mechanisms, some people, particularly pastoral people from the north of Africa who moved to Mali in quest of green pastures for their live-stock, ended up getting more land than they needed and consequently were willing to re-sell their surplus of land to other foreigners. This practice violated the mystical value of land. As a result, there are always disputes between indigenous farmers who live from harvest and trees, and pastoral people who cut down trees in order to get vast grazing ground and, in so doing, destroy natural ecosystems. If there are no appropriate measures for sustainable solutions, these conflicts will sooner or later become a civil war. From this second type of land ownership onward, land became a commodity. Indeed, the third group got access to land through property rights. And lastly, colonisation reinforced the commodification of land because people can accumulate as much land as they want and can afford. As a result, there is a deep crisis of identity.

The Mouvement Burkinabe de droits de l’homme / Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights argued that in Burkina Faso land-related issues need to be understood in terms of distribution of small pieces of land to households for subsistence agriculture. Yet, the advance of the Sahara desert has pushed pastoral people to move south, like in Mali, with similar consequences which may lead to open conflicts if necessary safety measures are not put in place.

Land ownership is characterised by common and modern laws. The former is respected by subsistence farmers and neglected by the agribusiness community, whereas both subsistence farmers and agribusiness respect the latter. In Burkina Faso, land law is mainly characterised by nationalisation and ability of the state to dispossess land from rural poor and assign it to the private sector, including the local political elites and bourgeois, South African companies, and big corporations under the auspices of globalisation. The focus of these land reforms if to attract and protect the private sector, and thus to alleviate poverty by the means of job creation. Any land claim needs to be backed up by proof of land ownership that many peasants do not have. As a result, subsistence farmers are getting poorer and this, in turn, raises social and political frustrations which, sequentially, threaten the social fabric, peace, and development initiatives. The poverty alleviation that this policy was intended to bring remains solely accessible in politicians’ dreams.

Rajagopal P.V. from India points in the same direction regarding economic globalisation and local struggles for land. Indeed, this organisation reminds activists from around the world that globalisation is a game of the powerful and of profit without a human face because it increases conflicts worldwide. Secondly, globalisation has a different vision of land. It considers land as a commodity rather than something of sacred value because land or a place to call home is the source of everything rural people need for their livelihoods. Thirdly, people question the role of the state vis-à-vis access to land and land reforms since the state dispossesses the poor of land and gives land to rich and big corporations. Lastly, Rajagopal P.V. stated that land reform is impossible in India in the current situation but social struggles at a global scale are necessary and unavoidable. If land is not redistributed, there will be civil war despite the pockets of successful land invasion.

In addition to what is common to all social struggles against land dispossession by neoliberalism around the world, in India, globalisation, through its Indian government agent, is trying to crush these voices and social struggles for land redistribution by the means of the same police which were supposed to equally protect all citizens and enforce property rights. Furthermore, there are more and more people using violent means to claim back what has been taken away from them because most works of “development” worsen the livelihoods of the poor. Indeed, the Indian government is taking land from the poor in order to build hotels, parks, and natural reserves. That is why social struggles in India are labelled “Struggles for land and livelihoods”. Each year, the Rajagopal P.V. organises a 100 000 km protest march with the intention of highlighting the concerns of landless people and lobbying the international community through media coverage. The organisation has made some success but believes that the struggles must continue until victory is complete, i.e. land is given back to the poor. In October 10, 2007, there will be a “Do or die campaign” in which a protest march of 100 000 km will be organised in Delhi followed by a sit-in until land is given back to its owners. The organisation is convinced that it is time to make both the international community and the Indian government accountable to the poor. To conclude, the organisation representatives quoted Ghandi, saying, “There is enough for everyone’s needs but there is no place for personal greed”.

These topics were followed by huge debates and discussions, as well as exchanges of efficient strategies to fight globalisation in its different facets. Some activists were so agitated and apparently ready for some kind of immediate actions (revolts?) that the moderator quickly intervened. He reminded them, in fact, that activists’ struggles against neoliberalism are non-violent. Their strategies include lobbying and advocacy. Thus, activists need to adapt their shared strategies to specific historic factors and cultures because “if we see that the heart of a tree is rotten, we must bear in mind that it starts by its bark”, says an African proverb. As a result, we need to start by assessing and understanding both the enemy (globalisation), in its diverse and complex forms and manifestations, and its agents (local political elites and NGO officials) in order to define appropriate strategies. This is one of the tasks that the 2006 World Social Forum will deal with in Nairobi, Kenya.

Struggle and resistance against globalisation in Africa: Example of Citizen Movement of March 2005 in Niger
Niger is among the poorest countries in the world. Seventy percent of its population is illiterate. In 2002, it had been under a structural adjustment programme for 20 years, and experienced a drought in the last two of those years. This country was and still is characterised by the looting of natural wealth and public assets by the current regime, whose election victory is read differently by different people according to whether they support or oppose the current government. Yet, it was not prepared to miss the rendezvous with globalisation. Indeed, like in many other African countries, the government commodified and privatised the basic services such as education, health care, and housing, to list few.

This economic policy entailed massive social and political frustrations and turmoil. The trigger was a set of two events. First, there was a general increase in the cost of living through price liberalisation which excluded the majority of people from affording their most basic needs. Second, there was the closure of the University of Niger due to a perceived threat that students posed to globalisation and its local agents, including political elites and the bourgeoisie. As a result, there was a conscious revival of the concepts of citizen, basic rights, and public accountability from rural people, teachers, and civil servants. This consciousness pushed some individuals to take the lead and call for the first Citizens’ Forum in 2002, which investigated the politics of the country and concluded that the latter was at the edge of a precipice due to neoliberalism. The Citizens’ Forum then led to the creation of the Citizen Movement which includes both politicians and ordinary citizens.

The first task of the Citizen Movement was to educate all residents about government’s actions through awareness campaigns. This was conducted through the media, with the commitment that social struggles need to start by popular education on citizenship. In contrast, neoliberalism selects candidates to run for elections by the means of complicated bureaucratic mechanisms. It limits democracy in elections rather than educating people on the day-to-day management of public affairs and how to participate in decisions which affect their lives.

The second task of the movement was the organisation of protest marches, sit-ins, strikes, and public debates against both the government and globalisation in order to lobby the international community against the misery and suffering of Nigeriens. The government reaction was simple and fully expected: arrest and torture of the Citizen Movement leadership. Fortunately, the Citizen Movement did not give up and the international community came to rescue the leadership in detention.

To sum up, the Citizen Movement is so strong in Niger that it gets enthusiasm from different people around the world that would like to see real changes in Niger. It also successfully initiated direct dialogue between Nigerien political leadership and the masses and the international community. Lastly, the Citizen Movement has restored the culture of public accountability in Niger. It democratises social interactions in order to redress inefficiencies of the past.

This experience is of course small compared to the giant International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, and the globalisation that these institutions impose on poor and undeveloped countries. Yet, it is an indication that with a common will, vision, and determination, it is possible to slow down the high speed of globalisation and try to give it a “human face”. If a small and very poor country like Niger did it, others with lot of resources can do better.

NEPAD and [Is] South African Imperialism [?]
This is the most controversial session that I had participated in during the Bamako 2006 World Social Forum. Indeed, one group of activists asked the presenter whether the author needs to put “is” between NEPAD and South Africa, and then subsequently a question mark at the end or leave “and” between the two because the former implies a question which needs to be proved whereas the later is a confirmation. Another group points to a different direction and questions the “imperialism” or “sub-imperialism” of South Africa. To these questions, the presenter reminded activists that they should instead focus on the content of the booklet because the aim pursued by the author is to create debates. The author believes that it is time to assess what South Africa, which received so much support from many African countries to fight the apartheid regime, is able to do to other African countries.

Then one activist intervened and argued that we (activists) need to explore the common characteristics of imperialism before answering by “yes” or “no”. In addition, activists need to understand how monopolistic capitalism operates in South Africa. Imperialism, he continued, is characterised by national oppression, war, misery and suffering of local people, excessive exploitation.… These signs are present wherever and whenever South African companies operate, including Zambia with Checkers, Zimbabwe with financial institutions, DRC with South African mining companies (particularly in the Eastern part of the country). In the last example, it was proved that one of the South African companies based in Johannesburg was paying money to a rebel faction in the DRC in order to secure its activities. Since South Africa is destroying other African countries’ economies and worsening the precarious livelihoods of locals, whether it does it individually or in conjunction with other multinationals, South African imperialism or sub-imperialism is present throughout Africa.

A delegate from Tanzania reminded the presenter that her country scarified its economic development for the struggle for liberation in South Africa. In 1994, South Africa expressed its gratitude to and signed contracts with Tanzania but what they see now is a new imperialism or apartheid of black South Africans towards other African people by the means of many imbalances including visa and trade. An activist from Uganda wished that South African imperialism or sub-imperialism would be better than western imperialism because South Africa is an African country. As a result, its imperialism or sub-imperialism would be less harsh, and with a human face. A student in politics from the United States of America who is passionate about African political economy asked the presenter to convey his wishes to the author of seeing the booklet re-worked in order to fully present a platform for more interesting debates than its current state.

The presenter then replied and said that it is not South Africa as a whole which is imperialist or sub-imperialist but the Sandton [a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg] bourgeoisie. In Soweto, Alexandra, and Kennedy Road, for example, people are suffering maybe much more than some residents of many other African countries where there is South African imperialism or sub-imperialism. The particularity of South Africa is that there are two South Africas: the first refers to rich and developed South Africa with “American standards of life in Sandton and other few areas of South Africa” whereas the second represents poor and underdeveloped South Africa with “Malian standard of life in Alexandra, Kennedy road, Soweto and other similar areas without sufficient or any social and economic infrastructures”. There is a big divide between the two countries within South Africa.



Report 2: 23 January, 2006

The session with the theme of “Globalisation and the agrarian question in Africa” explored how the World Bank and the IMF affect the agricultural sector, mainly focusing on Indonesia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Ghana. Discussion focused on the importance of this sector to the livelihoods of the poor majority and the economic development of these countries, the resurgence of popular struggles, and the different strategies used in these struggles from specific socio-cultural and historical contexts in order to exchange with similar struggles around the world for the WSF 2007 in Nairobi.

In Indonesia, the struggles over land needs began with colonisation, which dispossessed the local communities of 11 percent of arable land for the development of big plantations for export-oriented agriculture. This situation led to widespread social discontent and created the breeding ground for future struggles. In the post-independence era, the pro-capitalist regimes massacred more than 100 000 with the intention of destroying any attempts at creating social movements. Later on, student activism arose and people began to organise in the rural areas. This initiative ended up with a landless social movement, with the goal of claiming land back through land reform. This movement challenges the neoliberal policies that the state adopts and implements and occupies ± 600 000 ha. Its recent strategy consists of transforming the landless social movement into a political party. Yet, the agrarian questions remain unanswered because nobody knows whether this victory is sustainable or whether landless people will lose as they have before.

In Mozambique, agrarian issues are dealt with by UNAC in partnership with VIA CAMPESINA from Brazil. These two movements reject globalisation on the grounds that it lacks a social component. In addition, globalisation carries problems around economic policies, social issues, ecological and biological concerns, etc. Globalisation is solely driven by profit, whereas these movements strongly believe that development is about social progress. Furthermore, these movements compare globalisation to a high-speed train that they catch. As a result, the only realistic solution is to reject it. They do so because after 500 years of colonialism under Portugal, there was a long civil war and then peace in 1992. In 1977, after independence in 1975, there was nationalisation of land by the state. In 1994, a new approach to land issues was adopted; the new land law claimed that land belongs to the state, and gave men and women equal access to land, exempted tax payments for individuals and companies who have access to land, etc. Anyone who needs land goes to the government, which refers them to the community leadership for approval as a claim or vacant space. The strategies, which are used by the UNAC in partnership with VIA CAMPESINA, include organising the masses and explaining to them the real value of land beyond the economic component at local, regional, national and international levels by the means of marches. They also take the same opportunities to expose land abuses and fights for land.

For South Africa, I was expecting that land issues would be presented by a representative from the Landless People’s Movement. It was instead presented by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation South Africa. Presenters stated that, in the South African context, agrarian issues need to be understood in terms of dispossession and lack of social protection of farm workers, and particularly women farm workers. With freedom in 1994 the country inherited a situation whereby 80 percent of arable land belonged to the minority white community because, under the apartheid regime, blacks had no right to own land in a more formal way except in the Bantustans. Dispossession of land entailed dispossession of the necessary skills to survive by working on the land. Nevertheless, in 10 years of democracy, less than 3 percent of dispossessed land was returned to landless people because the South African government has opted for market-led land reform through “willing buyer, willing seller,” i.e. at market cost.

Restitution is another policy of land acquisition, requiring written papers and proof that the land belonged to such or such community. Thus it is difficult for rural people who claim their land to prove that the land belonged to them after so many years of dispossession under apartheid. Landless and rural people are organised in order to face the strong repression in these areas. However, their Achilles heel is the lack of organisation into a peasant union and their struggles are very fragmented, according to presenters.

In Ghana, land issues did not exhibit a different trend. It occurred with dispossession and impoverishment of the rural poor communities for the benefit of export agriculture. Electoral slogans such as “operation feed yourself” and “green revolution” were indeed empty shells, since this motto did not translate into concrete strategies and policies for food security. Since 1986, the politics of liberalisation and free import of agricultural products and tools under the structural adjustment programme have sped up the collapse of local production in poultry, oil, and cotton. The presenter believes that to meet the food requirements of their people, African governments or civil society needs to advocate and introduce efficient systems of land reform and distribute land to the needy and poor landless people via the Via Campesina. Central to this must be skill-building and empowerment of rural people.

(In my third report, I will report on “NEPAD, and is South Africa imperialist?”, the workshop on “Access to land in Africa and India: Exchanges and reinforcement of peasant struggles”, and “Struggles and resistance against globalisation in Niger”.)



Report 1

The World Social Forum 2006 opened its doors with a protest march against neoliberalism in its different and complex forms, including the privatisationn or commodification of basic needs such as water, electricity, primary health care and reproductive health, education, to list few.

After uncertainty and hesitation about the time for the march - some said noon, others predicted 14:30, then 16:00 - finally at 16:30 the march began.

At least 10 000 representatives of civil society organisations and social movements from around the world marched over 4 km from the Place of Liberty to the Modibo Keita Stadium with flags, placards and banners shouting slogans including: Another world is possible Fair Trade Organisation George Bush Terrorist. They condemned neoliberal policies and claimed justice for all.

Activists faced three main challenges in Bamako: shortage of rooms in different hotels in town and lack of taxis, and the language barrier for English/ Bambara speakers. As a result, many activists rushed in order to get accommodations, places to bath and some thing to eat after so many hours of flight, instead of participating to different events. Other activists found alternatives for hotel accommodations, renting household residential rooms or houses.

For transport, other delegates illegally used motorcycles to move from one side of the city to the other. To overcome language barriers, delegates asked local people to help communicate in both Bambara and French (rarely English). One way or another, all the delegates seemed to find a place to stay.

The following day, Friday the 20th, delegates completed their registration and became familiar with the 11 Forum sites, located on both sides of the Niger River. They attended many presentations within the thematic axes: war and peace, globalisation, questions of land reform and peasants, women issues, communication, destruction of ecosystems, cooperation, debt-IMF-WTO, and social struggles. Many helped establish the Thomas Sankara international
youth camp.

Themes were presented in parallel throughout the 11 sites. Regrettably, with activists criscrossing the Niger River to chose which theme to attend, the programme of different activities was not available to many.

On Saturday the 21st, I attended two presentations on Globalisation and
agragarian questions in Africa, NEPAD and on South African Imperialism.
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