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Publication Details

Reference
Bond, Patrick  (2007) From WSF 'NGO trade fair' to left politics? . Centre for Civil Society : -.

Summary
A mixed message - combining celebration and autocritique - is in
order, in the wake of the Nairobi World Social Forum. From January
20-25, the 60,000 registered participants heard triumphalist radical
rhetoric and yet, too, witnessed persistent defeats for social
justice causes - especially within the WSF's own processes.

* Kenya Social Forum coordinator Onyango Oloo listed grievances that
local activists put high atop the agenda: 'colonial era land edicts
and policies which dispossessed their communities; the impact of
mining and extraction activities on the environment and human
livelihoods; discriminatory policies by successive governments that
have guaranteed the stubborn survival of pre-colonial conditions of
poverty and underdevelopment among many pastoralist and minority
communities; the arrogant disregard for the concerns raised by
Samburu women raped over the years by British soldiers dispatched on
military exercises in those Kenyan communities; … and tensions
persisting with neocolonial-era settler farmers and indigenous Kenyan
comprador businessmen in hiving off thousands of hectares of land
while the pastoralists and minority communities are targets of state
terror, evictions and denunciations.'

* WSF organiser Wahu Kaara: 'We are watching [global elites] and this
time around they will not get away with it because we are saying they
should cancel debts or we repudiate them. We refuse unjust trade. We
are not going to take aid with conditionality. We in Africa refuse to
be the continent identified as poor. We have hope and determination
and everything to offer to the prosperity of the human race.'

* Firoze Manji, the Kenyan director of the Pambazuka
(www.pambazuka.org) Africa news/analysis portal: 'This event had all
the features of a trade fair - those with greater wealth had more
events in the calendar, larger (and more comfortable) spaces, more
propaganda - and therefore a larger voice. Thus the usual gaggle of
quasi-donor and international NGOs claimed a greater presence than
national organisations - not because what they had to say was more
important or more relevant to the theme of the WSF, but because,
essentially, they had greater budgets at their command.'

* Nairobi-based commentator Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (also writing in
Pambazuka): 'The WSFs show up Africa's weaknesses whether they are
held outside or inside Africa. One of the critical areas is our level
of participation and preparedness. A majority of the African
participants - even many from Kenya itself - were brought by foreign
paymasters or organisations funded by outsiders. Often they become
prisoners of their sponsors. They must attend events organized or
supported by their sponsors who need to put their partners on
display, and the partners in turn need to show their loyalty to
their masters.'

* New Internationalist editor Adam Ma'anit: 'The sight of Oxfam-
branded 4x4s cruising around flauntingly, the many well-resourced
charity and church groups decking out their stalls (and even their
own office spaces) with glossies and branded goodies, all reinforce
the suspicion that perhaps the WSF has become too institutionalized.
Perhaps more worryingly has been the corporate sponsorship of the
WSF. The Forum organizers proudly announced their partnership with
Kenya Airways. The same company that has for years allegedly denied
the right to assembly of its workers organized under the Aviation and
Allied Workers Union.'

* Blogger Sokari Ekine ('Black Looks') on the final WSF event:
'Kasha, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex activist from
Sexual Minorities Uganda, went up to the stage and asked to make a
statement. She was asked for a copy of what she would be speaking
about and gave them her piece. The organisers threw her piece on the
floor and refused to allow her to speak. Kasha stood her ground
saying she, like everyone else, had a right to speak here at the WSF.
Despite the harassment by the MC and organisers, Kasha took the mic
and spoke. She spoke about being a lesbian, about being a homosexual.
She refuted the myth that homosexuality was un-African. She spoke
about the punishment and criminalisation of homosexuals in Kenya, in
Uganda, and in Nigeria. She said homosexuals in Africa were here to
stay. Homosexuals have the same rights as everyone else and should be
accepted and finally that even in Africa Another World is Possible
for Homosexuals. Kasha was booed and the crowd shouted obscenities at
her waving their hands screaming: No! No! No! But she persisted and
said what needed to be said.'

These sobering observations were reflected in a statement by the
Social Movements Assembly at a January 24 rally of more than 2000:
'We denounce tendencies towards commercialisation, privatisation and
militarisation of the WSF space. Hundreds of our sisters and brothers
who welcomed us to Nairobi have been excluded because of high costs
of participation. We are also deeply concerned about the presence of
organisations working against the rights of women, marginalised
people, and against sexual rights and diversity, in contradiction to
the WSF Charter of Principles.' (http://kenya.indymedia.org/news/
2007/01/531.php)

Conflicts included arrests of a dozen low-income people who wanted to
get into the event; protests to forcibly open the gates; and the
destruction of the notoriously repressive Kenyan interior minister's
makeshift restaurant which had monopolized key space within the
Kasarani stadium's grounds.

Soweto activist Trevor Ngwane was a protest leader, but after the
first successful break-in by poor Kenyans, reported stiff resistance:
'The next day we again planned to storm the gates but found police
and army reinforcements at the gates. Those officers carried very big
guns. Comrades decided to block the main road until the people were
allowed in for free. This action took about half an hour and then the
gates were opened. The crowd than marched to the Organising
Committee's offices to demand a change of policy on the question of
entrance. Another demand was added: free water inside the WSF
precinct and cheaper food.'

Although that demand was not met, Oloo gracefully confessed the
'shame' of progressive Kenyans during the Social Movements Assembly
rally. WSF logistical shortcomings reflected the Kenyan Left's lost
struggles within the host committee, he said. The interior minister
('the crusher') snuck in at the last second, and the Kenya Airports
Authority systematically diverted incoming visitors to hotels, away
from home stays (2000 of which were arranged - only 18 actually
materialized thanks to diversions).

Setting these flaws aside, consider a deeper political tension. For
Oloo, 'These social movements, including dozens in Kenya, want to see
the WSF being transformed into a space for organizing and mobilizing
against the nefarious forces of international finance capital,
neoliberalism and all its local neo-colonial and comprador
collaborators.'

Can and should the 'openspace' concept be upgraded into something
more coherent, either for mobilizing around special events (for
instance, the June 2-8 summit of the G8 in Rostock, Germany) or
establishing a bigger, universalist left-internationalist political
project?

In South Africa, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) has hosted
several debates on this question, with at least four varying points
of view emerging. Last July, for example, the great political
economist Samir Amin presented the 'Bamako Appeal', a January 2006
manifesto which originated at the prior WSF polycentric event, and
which combined, as Amin put it, the traditions of socialism, anti-
racism/colonialism, and (national) development (http://
www.forumtiersmonde.net/fren/forums/fsm/fsm_bamako/appel_bamako_en.htm).

In support was the leader of the Organisation of African Trade Union
Unity, Hassan Sunmonu (also a WSF International Council member).
Complaining that 'billions of ideas have been generated since 2001 up
till the last Forum', Sunmonu found 'a lot of merit in that Bamako
Appeal that we can use to transform the lives of ourselves, our
organizations and our peoples.'

But reacting strongly against the Bamako Appeal, CCS student (and
Johannesburg anti-privatization activist) Prishani Naidoo and three
comrades criticized its 'last century' tone and content, which
mirrored 'the mutation of the WSF from an arena of encounter for
local social movements into an organized network of experts,
academics and NGO practitioners.'

For Naidoo, 'It reassures us that documents like the Bamako Appeal
will eventually prove totally irrelevant and inessential to struggles
of communities in South Africa as elsewhere. Indeed, the WSF elite's
cold institutional and technicist soup, occasionally warmed up by
some hints of tired poeticism, can provide little nourishment for
local subjectivities whose daily responses to neoliberalism face more
urgent needs to turn everyday survival into sustained confrontations
with an increasingly repressive state.'

In contrast, Naidoo and the others praise the 'powerful undercurrent
of informality in the WSF's proceedings [which] reveals the
persistence of horizontal communication between movements, which is
not based on mystical views of the revolutionary subject, or in the
official discourse of the leaders, but in the life strategies of
their participants.'

A third position on WSF politics is the classical socialist, party-
building approach favoured by Ngwane and other revolutionary
organizers. Replying to both Amin and the autonomist critique at the
July workshop, Ngwane fretted, on the one hand, about reformist
projects that 'make us blind to recognize the struggles of ordinary
people.' On the other hand, though, 'I think militancy alone at the
local level and community level will not in itself answer questions
of class and questions of power.' For that a self-conscious socialist
cadre is needed, and the WSF is a critical site to transcend localist
political upsurges.

A fourth position, which I personally support, seeks the 21st
century's anti-capitalist 'manifesto' in the existing social, labour
and environmental movements that are already engaged in excellent
transnational social justice struggle. The WSF's greatest potential -
so far unrealized - is the possibility of linking dozens of radical
movements in various sectors.

Instead, at each WSF the activists seem to disappear into their own
workshops: silos with few or no interconnections. Before a Bamako
Appeal or any other manifesto is parachuted into the WSF, we owe it
to those activists to compile their existing grievances, analyses,
strategies and tactics. Sometimes these are simple demands, but often
they are also articulated as sectoral manifestos, like the very
strong African Water Network of anti-privatisation militants from 40
countries formed in Nairobi (http://www.ipsterraviva.net/tv/nairobi/
en/viewstory.asp?idnews=838).

These four positions are reflected in a new book released at the
Nairobi WSF by the New Delhi-based Institute for Critical Action:
Centre in Movement (CACIM) and CCS. The book, free to download at
http://www.nu.ac.za/ccs/files/CACIM%20CCS%20WSF%20Politics.pdf,
contains some older attempts at left internationalism, such as the
Communist Manifesto (1848) and the Bandung Communiqué of the Asian-
African Conference (1955), as well as the 'Call of Social Movements'
at the second and third Porto Alegre WSF, the 2005 Porto Alegre
Manifesto by the male-heavy Group of Nineteen, and the Bamako Appeal
with sixteen critical replies.

There are also selections on global political party formations by
Amin, analysis of the global labour movement by Peter Waterman, the
Women's Global Charter for Humanity, and some old and newer Zapatista
declarations. Jai Sen and Madhuresh Kumar of CACIM have worked hard
to pull these ideas into 500 pages.

Lest too much energy is paid to these political scuffles at the
expense of ongoing struggle, we might give the last word to Ngwane,
who reported on his Nairobi debate with WSF founder Chico Whitaker at
a CACIM/CCS workshop: 'Ordinary working class and poor people need
and create and have a movement of resistance and struggle. They also
need and create and have spaces for that movement to breathe and
develop. The real question is what place will the WSF have in that
reality. What space will there be for ordinary working class and poor
people? Who will shape and drive and control the movement? Will it be
a movement of NGO's and individual luminaries creating space for
themselves to speak of their concern for the poor? Will it be
undermined by collaboration with capitalist forces? I think what some
of us saw happening in Nairobi posed some of these questions sharply
and challenged some of the answers coming from many (but not all) of
the prominent NGO's and luminaries in the WSF.'

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