Inter Press Service » World Social Forum News and Views from the Global South Sat, 29 Apr 2017 08:17:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Only the Crazy and Economists Believe Growth is Endless Mon, 22 Sep 2014 05:00:00 +0000 Justin Hyatt Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (

Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (

By Justin Hyatt
LEIPZIG, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

From the mid-20th century onwards, economic growth has come to count as a self-evident goal in economic policies and GDP to be seen as the most important index for measuring economic activities.

This was the premise underlying the recent Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equityheld in Leipzig to take stock of the “degrowth” movement’s progress in efforts to debunk the mantra of growth and call for a fundamental rethink of conventional economic concepts and practices.

Many followers of the movement, who argue that “anyone who thinks that growth can go on endlessly is either a crazy person or an economist”, base their philosophy on the findings of a 1972 book – The _Limits_to_Growth – which reports the results of a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.“In China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities” – Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador

After Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010) and Venice (2012), this was the fourth such conference but, with some 3,000 participants, the largest so far. Hundreds of workshops, roundtable discussions and films or presentations were organised for the scientists, researchers, activists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who gathered to discuss economic degrowth, sustainability and environmental initiatives, among others.

Internationally acclaimed Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, who was President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador in 2007-2008 told participants that in China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities.

Acosta, who developed the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a scheme to forego oil exploitation in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, is also an advocate of buen vivir, arguing that extractivism is one of the most damaging practices linked to latter day capitalism, as more and more non-renewable natural resources are taken from the earth and lost forever, while producing gigantic quantities of harmful emissions.

To counter extractivism, Acosta calls for the adoption of buen vivir, which is based on the Andean Quechua peoples’ sumak kawsay (full life) – a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive – and loosely translates as “good living”.

For Giorgos Kallis, an environmental researcher and professor at the University of Barcelona, degrowth needs to provide a space for critical action and for reshaping development from below, in an attempt to divert more time away from a capitalist and towards a care economy.

When asked if the concept of degrowth was not too radical or uncomfortable a message, Kallis said: “Yes, perhaps degrowth doesn’t sit well, but that is precisely the point, to not sit well – it is time to make this message relevant.”

Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, known for her criticism of corporate globalisation and author of No Logo – which for many has become a manifesto of the anti-corporate globalisation movement – joined the conference by Skype to tell participants that radical change in the political and physical landscape is our only real possibility to escape greater disaster and that reformist approaches are not enough.

One of the main driving forces behind the degrowth movement is Francois Schneider, one of the first degrowth activists who promoted the concept through a year-long donkey tour in 2006 in France and founded the Research and Degrowth academic association.

“Systemic change involves whole segments of society,” Schneider told IPS. “It doesn’t involve just one little part and we don’t expect a new decision from the European Parliament that will change everything. Dialogue is the key. And putting forward many different proposals.”

Taking the example of transport and mobility, he explained that it is useless to tackle the transformation of transport alone because “transportation is linked to energy and advertising is linked to the car industry.”

Vijay Pratap, Indian activist from the Gandhi-inspired Socialist youth movement era and member of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) pleaded for the inclusion of marginalised majorities in the degrowth movement. Pratap told IPS that “unless we initiate the processes so that they can become leaders of their own liberation, no real post-growth society can come into being.”

While he was satisfied with what he said as a very egalitarian and democratic approach to the organisation of the conference, Pratap said that inclusion should be guaranteed for those who do not speak English, those who do not know how to navigate social networking sites and those who do not have access to international philanthropic donor agencies.“

According to Pratap, who participated as an organiser in the World Social Forum (WSF) gathering in Mumbai in 2004, this was one major lesson of the WSF process.

On the final day, Lucia Ortiz, a programme director for Friends of the Earth International and active in Brazilian social movements, did not mince her words in the closing plenary when she proclaimed that “degrowth is the bullet to dismantle the ideology of growth.”

The movement to dismantle this ideology will now continue in preparation for the next degrowth conference in two years’ time.

And Kallis is convinced that it will be even more successful than this year’s event. Commenting on the increase in participation from a few hundred in Paris in 2008 to the 3,000 in Leipzig, he quipped: “At this pace, in twenty years, we’ll have the whole world at our conference.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Digital Age Demands Educational Transformation, World Forum Says Fri, 24 Jan 2014 00:54:09 +0000 Clarinha Glock Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

By Clarinha Glock
CANOAS, Brazil, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

The challenges of the digital age call for schools to develop an alternative model of education, with teachers who incorporate new technology and employ a more critical pedagogy, participants said at the Fórum Mundial de Educaçao (World Education Forum) in this southern Brazilian city.

Guadalupe Jover, a Spanish education expert, told IPS that information and communication technologies (ICT) must be used as a tool for building collective knowledge through pedagogical renewal, and not to perpetuate the worst aspects of the prevailing educational system.

“We are talking here about the offensive strategies of the markets aimed at those who want to be involved in education, that is, sales through ICT,” said Jover, the coordinator of Spain’s Platform of Citizens for Public Schools in Spain, at the forum held Jan. 21-23 in Canoas, 19 km from Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

In suffocatingly hot weather, more than 4,000 participants from 13 countries debated the forum’s central theme: “Pedagogy, Metropolitan Regions and Peripheries,” holding three plenary meetings and working groups on six sub-themes.

Porto Alegre was the cradle of the World Social Forum, an alternative movement which first met in 2001 under the slogan “Another World Is Possible.” Thousands of social organisations and movements from all over the world participate in its meetings, which are held in different regions of the developing South.

Jover was a panellist at the meeting on “Pedagogy, Territories and Resistance,” which discussed the problems posed by present-day curricula and the prevailing neoliberal concept that students should be trained to satisfy the needs of the market.

Jaume Martínez Bonafé of the University of Valencia, Spain, told IPS that “pedagogy continues to be autistic, obsolete, because previously the whole world was explained in classrooms, whereas now the focus is on the major commercial hubs.”

His concern, he said, is that ICT “will only change the tools without altering educational content.”

According to educators from different regions, ideally curricula should contribute to the growth of persons and their emancipation, as proposed by Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), one of the most innovative educational theorists of the 20th century, who did for education what Liberation Theology did for the Catholic Church.

His influential ideas heralded alternative education, through unorthodox formulas of learning based on freedom, and through his concern for promoting equality through education and increasing access to schooling for the oppressed.

Two Argentine educators inspired by Freire, Carla Azul Cassineiro and Laura Mombelli, travelled a long distance from their country to participate in the forum. Cassineiro teaches physical education and and Mombelli accounting. They are both popular educators in La Cava, Argentina’s second largest shanty town, in Buenos Aires.

Their students have access to the digital world, but many of their families see their devices and want them to buy food and get jobs, creating conflict and violence, they told IPS.

Cassineiro said the government Universal Child Allowance programme, which over the past five years has paid Argentine families with incomes of less than the minimum wage 31 dollars a month for each child, on condition that they attend school, has “helped integration and social containment.”

While Latin America is the second most urbanised world region, in Africa the school population is 60 percent rural, Aidil de Carvalho Borges, project manager for educational reform in Cape Verde, told IPS.

“This accentuates every kind of inequality, especially in relation to technology, which is only available in the cities,” she said. This hinders what ought to be a priority in education, that is, “for all children to have the same rights, no matter where they live.”

“Needs and demands are growing constantly,” said the Cape Verde education ministry official. “In some countries there may be one or two politicians who want to change the situation, but I think only radical social movements can bring about changes, or at least concessions, in education.”

Moacir Gadotti, the head of the Paulo Freire Institute, said that “schools need to discuss the kind of country they want, the kind of neighbourhood they want; there must be no fear of being free.”

He talked about the new Brazilian phenomenon of “rolezinhos”, in which large groups of young people from disadvantaged or peripheral areas occupy leisure spaces, especially shopping malls, after some of them, mostly Afro-Brazilian and poor, were expelled from one of these malls in São Paulo in late 2013.

“These young people have aspirations, they want to participate in the new Brazil,” Gadotti said. “Young people are connected to the social networks and this is something that politicians often do not understand or pay attention to.”

Popular educator Alberto Croce, the founder and president of Fundación SES in Argentina which promotes social inclusion of young people with limited resources, believes that the “rolezinhos” are a way of defying the system, connecting the movement with protests against educational and social exclusion in countries like Chile or Colombia.

Croce said that it is true that poor people are now better off in Latin America, but it is also true that inequality has increased in this region, the most unequal in the world.

The differences between educational models in big city schools and those in the poor suburbs is, in a way, a reflection of the contradictions of that inequality, he said.

The general run of schools prioritise the neoliberal model of preparing students for the labour market, but in the shanty towns and poorer districts there is resistance to this model because it discriminates against them and makes them invisible.

“One of the keys to education is respect for diversity. When education values cultural differences, integrates and incorporates them, then we can talk of quality education,” Croce said.

“Digital inclusion is a phenomenon that is present” in society, he said. Previously, young people wanted fashionable shoes, “but now they want to buy cell phones; there has definitely been a change, because access to technology is valued.”

In his view, young people have chosen mobile phones, the most personal device, to access ICT. “Inclusion is limited, but it has without doubt created a transformation,” Croce said.

It is a transformation that education cannot turn its back on, said participants at the Canoas forum, in debates on topics such as “Education as a human right,” “Education, environment and sustainability,” “Education in the emerging paradigm,” and “Education, diversity and inclusion.”

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Time to Decolonise the World Social Forum Wed, 17 Apr 2013 06:45:32 +0000 Justin Hyatt Of the 60,000 participants at this year's WSF, 20,000 came from Tunisia. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

Of the 60,000 participants at this year's WSF, 20,000 came from Tunisia. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

By Justin Hyatt
TUNIS, Apr 17 2013 (IPS)

When participants at the 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, received word that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down, swept away by a wave of popular resistance that brought millions of Egyptians into the streets, few could contain their joy.

But euphoria was quickly replaced by doubts: what is the purpose of the World Social Forum (WSF)? Is it even relevant anymore? How does it connect with people struggling to survive, and facing the guns on the ground?

“Yet here we are two years later,” said renowned commentator and social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein at the 2013 edition of the WSF in Tunis, “invited by the very people who made this revolution, who want us here, who want us to help strengthen their internal struggle in Tunisia. Is that irrelevant?”

His question points to the need, expressed by scores of participants who gathered here from Mar. 26-30, for serious reflection on the success and direction of the WSF, which has just completed its 13th year.

Although the event was held in Tunis to honour the revolutionaries who toppled Tunisia’s former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — and set in motion a chain of similar uprisings that came to be dubbed the Arab Spring — participants continue to wonder where the Forum will go, and what it is capable of achieving.

The workshop series “Decolonising the Forum” brought into focus the discrepancies of representation and accessibility.

This year drew a clear majority of non-Westerners: of the roughly 60,000 visitors, only 8,000 came from Europe, while up to 20,000 were from Tunisia alone. Yet, traditionally, large organisations such as the anti-globalisation Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens (ATTAC), along with Europe and North America-based NGOs, have been better able than organisations in the South to send major delegations.

Speaking on behalf of the Indian National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, Roma Malik recalled that the WSF started as a process to counter the negative consequences of globalisation and neoliberalism, which critics claim have created massive inequalities in the global distribution of income: just a glance at the Gini Index, which measures income inequality on a scale of 0 to 1, shows Namibia at 0.74, dangerously close to the point of “absolute inequality”, while industrialised countries like the Czech Republic, Norway and Japan hover around the 0.25 mark on the scale.

Thus, “The WSF should become less dominated by the big NGOs and efforts need to be made to bring more people to the gatherings who have less funding,” Roma told IPS.

This includes the kind of people that Roma works with, such as forest dwellers in India who are subject to land-grabbing and displacement, as multi-national corporations target these mineral-rich regions and replace natural forests with cash-crops and monocultures.

Over 1.1 million hectares of forest are under threat in the central Indian region, according to a recent report by Greenpeace entitled “Countering Coal”. Development of the Mahan coal block, located in the Singrauli district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, could alone displace 14,000 tribal people.

This comes at a time when rural dwellers in India are having to fight for their right to prevent large-scale investments from disrupting their way of life, as the Indian government recently forced a watering down of protective legislation in the so-called Forest Rights Act, once heralded as a victorious achievement for forest dwellers.

Steven Faulkner, international officer of the South African Municipal Workers Union, put the burden of addressing the challenge of representation squarely on the shoulders of the Forum’s leadership, which traditionally takes the form of the International Council (IC), a representative body of roughly 140 members.

“We need a bold leadership, which considers itself accountable to the poor and the marginalised,” he said.

Having spent several decades working on labour issues throughout Africa, Faulkner stressed the fact that the world’s poor are not passive recipients of aid but are rather active survivors of a highly unequal economic, social and political world system.

This very act of survival is a creative process that “we should be looking at more carefully”, continued Faulkner, bringing in those directly affected to share their strategies.

“If we can free ourselves from the boundaries imposed by colonialism, and become genuinely free in the manner that Nelson Mandela talked about, then we can realise one thing: Africa has enormous potential.” Tapping into this potential involves “retention of humanity” by installing political, economic and environmental relationships based on mutuality instead of competition.

Other voices at the WSF pointed to the Forum’s great unifying and renewing effect. Hassen Ltaief, an activist during the Tunisian revolution, drew huge applause from the audience when he said: “We here are not the same anymore as we were before the WSF. We came to bring a new spirit to the Forum and as I can see in the eyes of the older activists, it appears this was a true success.”

What made the forum significant, Ltaief informed IPS, was that it opened the space for the development of a collective conscience, and highlighted the importance of collaborative organising, two critical lessons for Tunisia, which is experiencing the growing pains of a new democracy and is under enormous pressure to safeguard the hard-won gains of the revolutionary period.

Now, organisers are beginning to lay the groundwork for future meetings. The IC’s plans to hold its next planning meeting in the Maghreb region has given a boost to the Maghreb Social Forum, while a decision regarding an upcoming Maghreb/Mashreq Social Forum is expected in May.

The Maghreb Social Forum has been in existence since 2005, when it was called to life in Porto Alegre by Moroccans and Tunisians. It has since developed along the lines of a regional social forum, and has made special efforts to address issues pertaining to women, youth and broadening the civil society sector in Northern Africa.

Formal proposals for the next World Social Forum are also anticipated in the near future, while currently the ideas floating around range from India to Mexico, Canada, Brazil, or even Tunisia.

“The WSF has traditionally been a nomadic experience,” said Nicolas Haeringer, a long-time participant and observer of the International Council. “It needs to grow roots, more than previously, and as Tunis provided one of the most inspiring gatherings I’ve attended, it would not be so far-fetched of an idea to hold it here again.”

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Social Forum Spawns a New Form of Solidarity Thu, 04 Apr 2013 07:03:06 +0000 Justin Hyatt The Palestinian struggle took centre stage at the 2013 World Social Forum. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

The Palestinian struggle took centre stage at the 2013 World Social Forum. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

By Justin Hyatt
TUNIS, Apr 4 2013 (IPS)

The conference drew both supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; conflicting opinions about the Polisario Front and the politics of Western Sahara; Palestinian activists and the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. In short, the 13th edition of the World Social Forum, held in Tunis on Mar. 26-30, was a melting pot of struggles and a search for common ground.

To the thousands of participants gathered in Tunis – where determined public protests toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 – it was clear that a key function of the annual meeting is to build solidarity across movements for peace, justice and freedom.

Widely recognised as the cradle of the Arab Spring, Tunis was selected as the site for this year’s WSF in part to pay homage to the deceased fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation sparked the Tunisian revolt and the ongoing Arab Spring.

Together in what is now an iconic city, over two years after the Tunisian revolution, activists reaffirmed their commitment to international unity.

“Our mission is to create a new form of solidarity, which is opposite to competition and exists to engender equities,” Mamdouh Habashi, member of the Egyptian Socialist Party and the South-South People’s Solidarity Network, told IPS, calling this “the spirit” of South-South cooperation.

The network comprises numerous grassroots movements throughout the world, and sees itself as a champion of democracy, equated here with people’s power and social progress.

For Rita Silva from the No-Vox Network, founded during the first European Social Forum in 2002, international solidarity could be the make or break factor in a successful movement. When the No-Vox Network addresses formidable tasks such as preventing evictions or demolitions in developing countries, she said, international support is key.

Those struggling in countries like Angola or Zimbabwe, for example, are largely cut off from the rest of the world. “They can easily be killed and no one says anything – but if they are connected (to international networks), they have protection,” she said.

Representing the International Alliance of Inhabitants, Mike Davies stressed the need to have a functioning platform from which local communities can speak to the world. Problems often arise, he said, when northern NGOs mediate the voices of their constituencies, who are either forced to learn the jargon of the NGO world or get lost in the process.

“Our sole focus is to strengthen communities to (enable) them to help themselves, and not continue to be victims of charity,” Davies said.

Although the Arab Spring has inspired protest movements for democratic change around the world, not all of its outcomes are cause for celebration. The Syrian civil war, which has so far claimed over 60,000 casualties according to conservative estimates, served as a grim reminder to the WSF participants that the consequences for failing to find common ground can be catastrophic.

Sara Ajlyakin, an activist in the Syrian uprising, stressed that while the outcome of the conflict is not yet clear, it has opened up vital spaces for organising and building unity.

“It is a historical advance that can not be reversed,” Ajlyakin told IPS. “We felt the power of the streets, the collective, and no one can take that away.”

Until the Arab Spring, she said, the population of Syria had no outlet for its frustrations and grievances. “But that is gone now – if you are a woman, a worker, a student, a member of the LGBT community, whichever walk of life you come from, you can now collectively express your opinion.”

Acknowledging that conflicting visions and ideologies impact the nature of a movement of conflict, Ajlyakin dismissed the notion of “Islamists versus secularists” as a false binary.

The only binary she recognises is between “revolutionary and anti-revolutionary” activity. “The Islamists are not the devil,” she said. “By isolating them you encourage the historical mistake of the Arab Left, which equates secularism with atheism.”

“It is my job to communicate a message to political Islamists: ‘I’m not planning to eliminate you, I’m a part of you, you’re a part of me, but you also can’t isolate me’,” she said, echoing the conference’s theme of sowing unity, rather than division.

In the true spirit of international solidarity, the Palestinian cause took centre stage at the Forum, with the concluding event consisting of a march through Tunis that ended at the Palestinian embassy to commemorate Palestinian Land Day.

According to Amjad Shawa, director of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations Network, it was “fully apparent” that the Palestinians were in the minds and hearts of the participants here.

“Solidarity comes from all sides,”  Shawa told IPS, naming the presence of such organisations as the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network who came to the Forum and demonstrated alongside the large Palestinian delegation.


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Refugees of Libyan War Protest at World Social Forum Sun, 31 Mar 2013 13:58:27 +0000 Alberto Pradilla Refugees from the Choucha camp in Tunisia are demanding recognition of their legal status. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

Refugees from the Choucha camp in Tunisia are demanding recognition of their legal status. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

By Alberto Pradilla
TUNIS, Mar 31 2013 (IPS)

“We need a solution. The U.N. has created the problem, and they should do their work and fix it,” says Bright, a young Nigerian stuck in the Choucha refugee camp in Tunisia, a few kilometres from the Libyan border.

Bright and hundreds of other refugees have spent the last two years in a camp that has turned into a no man’s land. They are mainly immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who were living in Libya but fled the country at the start of the armed clashes that led to the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011).

Of the thousands who originally crossed the border, 250 are left, from different countries. Their refugee status is not recognised, and officially they don’t exist. The United Nations rejected their applications for asylum, and they can’t return to their countries of origin or Libya, where blacks are suspected of being loyalists or mercenaries and face repression.

They are living in extreme conditions, and their plight is ignored by international institutions and the Tunisian government.

During this week’s World Social Forum, held in Tunis, a group of 50 refugees made it to the capital to demand a solution. Thirty-seven of them declared a hunger strike on Friday Mar. 29 outside the office of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

The hunger strikers pledged to continue their fast until a solution was found. The situation of the refugees will become even more complex if the camp is closed in June, as the UNHCR has announced.

“In my country I was active in political issues, so I was persecuted. That’s why I went to Libya,” Mousa Ibrahim, from Chad, tells IPS. People from Chad are the largest group in Choucha, numbering around 80.

Until Mar. 20, 2011 Irahim was working in Zawiya, a city on Libya’s Mediterranean coast 45 km west of Tripoli, where he also recruited young men to fight in his country, to which he still had ties. When the civil war broke out, he fled with his then-pregnant wife and their five-year-old son.

“I registered in the camp because they promised that they would recognise us as refugees,” he complains. But more than 48 months have gone by; his daughter Jalida was born in Choucha, and his situation has merely gotten worse and worse.

“The Tunisian refugee commission has rejected me. They say I have two options: to go back to my country or return to Libya. In Chad I would be thrown into prison or killed. And in Libya, black people are persecuted. I just want to be recognised as a refugee and allowed to go to a country where I can live in safety,” he says.

Two years ago, the Libyan conflict triggered an exodus that overwhelmed Ras Jdir, the main border crossing into Tunisia from Libya, and led to its temporary closure.

The UNCHR gradually transferred most of the refugees from the Choucha camp. The remaining families, from Chad, Nigeria, the Western Sahara, the Darfur region in Sudan, or Palestine, complain that they were left out of the transfer, for one reason or another.
At first, dozens of organisations were working to address the humanitarian crisis in the camp. But now, hardly any aid is arriving. The refugees continue to sleep in the tents in the camp, but the assistance is drying up.

Food stopped arriving five months ago, and they do what they can to find food. And since their applications for refugee status have been rejected, they don’t have the right to be relocated to another country. In practice, it is as if they didn’t exist.

“We aren’t immigrants and we aren’t trying to go to another country because we’re looking for work. The problem is political: we are refugees,” Bright tells IPS during a sit-in outside of the European Union office in Tunisia on Wednesday Mar. 27.

Frightened by the prospect of the closure of the camp in June, the refugees have begun to mobilise.

But survival itself is difficult, let alone carrying out a campaign to raise awareness of their plight and demand solutions.

On one hand are the economic problems. They hardly scrape by, and need the help of Tunisian and foreign activists who collect funds to pay for their trips. Then there are the obstacles put in place by the Tunisian government, which has sent in police to keep the refugees from moving about.

That happened in January, when around 100 of them managed to reach the capital, where they spent five days informing people about their situation. And it happened again before the World Social Forum. When they were heading out of the camp, the police stopped their buses at Ben Gardane, 443 km south of Tunis.

But half of the refugees who had set out, including Ibrahim and Bright, made it.

Their signs were visible at the entrance to the World Social Forum, held Mar. 26-30 on the El Manar university campus. The placards were also seen outside official buildings like the U.S. and British embassies.

Their demand is clear: a solution to leave behind the limbo in which they are living.

But although the question of the refugees came up in several workshops this week at the WSF – the largest global gathering of organised civil society opposed to the direction globalisation is taking – and many activists expressed solidarity with their cause, no clear statement was issued urging the U.N. to reconsider their status.

“This is a real case, not theory,” Bright complains. His tired eyes show how fed up he is with all the doors being slammed in his face, and reflect his lack of confidence in institutions that have failed to help him and his fellow refugees.

The refugees say official representatives have tried to negotiate in parallel with the different national communities in the camp, while the deadline of closure looms.

The WSF ended Saturday in Tunis with a closing act and a demonstration for the Palestinians’ Land Day. Meanwhile, the unrecognised refugees will stay here, waiting for a solution.

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Arab Spring Shifts Focus of World Social Forum Fri, 29 Mar 2013 19:02:12 +0000 Alberto Pradilla Booths and stands at the World Social Forum on the El Manar campus in Tunis. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

Booths and stands at the World Social Forum on the El Manar campus in Tunis. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

By Alberto Pradilla
TUNIS, Mar 29 2013 (IPS)

The World Social Forum’s traditional focus on economic, political and social injustice caused by globalisation shifted towards the revolts and unrest of the Arab Spring, in the current edition of the global gathering in Tunisia.

The WSF “contributed in Latin America to the construction of governments that are with the popular classes. We hope that will also happen in the Arab world,” said Tarek Ben Hiba, a human rights activist in Tunisia and France.

He was referring to the Tunisian left’s expectations with respect to the 12th annual WSF taking place Mar. 26-30 in the capital, Tunis, where demonstrations forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in January 2011.

The WSF got its start in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in 2001, drawing together hundreds of NGOs and movements critical of the direction taken by the globalisation process.

The 2013 WSF was organised in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab revolts, to express support for the processes of change triggered by the December 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, an impoverished fruit vendor whose desperate last act sparked the Tunisian revolution and, ultimately, the ongoing Arab Spring.

The first WSF edition hosted by an Arab country has become a reflection of the achievements and pending challenges in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, and of the contradictions and unresolved clashing visions.

On one hand is the broad conflict between secularists and Islamists, especially in Tunisia and Egypt. And on the other is the war raging in Syria and the uncertainty and instability in Libya.

The conflict in Syria has been one of the main sources of tension in the WSF workshops and panels held this week across the Tunis El Manar University campus.

Supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been sharing space on a campus that has been turned into an encampment of heterogeneous global struggles.

On Thursday, for example, while four Syrian communist and two Kurd organisations discussed future action against the regime, supporters of al-Assad held a rally in the central square. The two groups did not cross paths, so no confrontation took place, but the tension was palpable.

Participants in the debate held by the Syrian communists and Kurds told IPS that they had agreed on a document recognising the importance of the individual and collective rights of all ethnic groups in Syria, which is especially significant for the Kurds, the largest minority.

They also agreed to hold a day of solidarity with the Syrian uprising, in the first week of May.

The sources said a congress was being planned for June, to bring together “the Syrian, European and Latin American internationalist left” to coordinate support for the revolt.

The situation in Libya has been another source of tension. On Wednesday, two groups clashed when one of them tried to hold up a sign in support of Muammar Gaddafi (who governed the country from 1969 to October 2011, when he was captured and killed by rebel forces).

That provoked a reaction by supporters of the uprising, who have several stands at the WSF, where the revolution’s tricolour flag and the flag of the nomadic Berber or Amazigh people can be seen.

“We are better off than they are saying,” Fatma, a woman from Tripoli who belongs to an organisation fighting for women’s participation in political life, told IPS. “There are problems, but we are learning from scratch, because there was no civil society before.”

The disputes between Islamists and secularists that are heating up the political processes in Tunisia and Egypt have also been reflected at this week’s WSF.

One of the novel aspects with respect to previous WSF sessions is the presence of organisations with ties to mosques, in booths on campus as well as specific protests.

For example, for over a month, female university students have staged a sit-in on campus to protest university regulations that prohibit the niqab – the full Muslim veil that only shows the eyes. Muslim students argue that the ban violates their freedom of religion.

The protests are occurring in a climate of growing clashes since the assassination of leftist politician Shokri Belaid in February.

“The participants in the Forum are demanding freedom, which is why we’re asking for your support,” said Nabi Wahbi, one of the young demonstrators taking part in the pro-niqab protest.

The integration of these groups in an environment marked by the struggle for women’s rights is a challenge for these gatherings.

Progressive groups in Tunisia accuse Islamists of trying to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, and of undermining the rights of women.

But the Arab revolutionary processes are not the only challenge facing this week’s WSF. There are also deeply-rooted nationalist conflicts.

The central ones involve Palestine and the Western Sahara. But while Palestine is the main cause espoused by several delegations, the Sahrawis are facing off with the enormous delegation from Morocco, who tried to discredit the demands for independence of the inhabitants of the former Spanish colony.

“The Polisario Front is lying,” read a sign referring to the political movement leading the struggle for the independence of Western Sahara, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976 by the independence fighters.

Moroccan activist Benis Ghitah complained about the Sahrawi refugees, who have been living for decades in remote camps in southwest Algeria.

But the Sahrawis combat the campaign against them. “Morocco tries to confuse people,” Dih Naocha told IPS, who expressed fears because this was the first time representatives of the Sahrawi people had come to Tunisia to defend their rights.

The change of region by the WSF also involved a shift in focus. But it is also true that, as Ben Hiba indicated, the WSF sessions in the first decade of the 21st century served as support for emancipatory processes in Latin America – something that the revolutionary Arab forces hope to repeat with this week’s event.

Bloggers, human rights groups and activists of different stripes have had a chance to meet face to face. Time will reveal the results.

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Zimbabwe’s Railroads Riding to Extinction Mon, 25 Mar 2013 14:11:22 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Old and grounded commuter trains belonging to National Railways of Zimbabwe in Harare lie in disuse. The country’s rail transport system is in crisis. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Old and grounded commuter trains belonging to National Railways of Zimbabwe in Harare lie in disuse. The country’s rail transport system is in crisis. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 25 2013 (IPS)

Zimbabwe’s rail transport system may be nearing extinction if the government does not take drastic action to solve the series of operational challenges that have made commuter and goods train services rare here.

“The railway services are certainly in crisis because they have to keep paying about 7,000 people – most of whom have little chance of actually earning revenue for the system. The services are a drain on the economy,” John Robertson, a prominent economist from Robertson Economic Information Services in Harare, told IPS.

Independent economist Richard Laiton added that there is a possibility that it could mean the end of this southern African nation’s railway system. “It is unfortunate that the railroad transport system is turning idle and passive and may for the first time in history be phased out in Zimbabwe,” he told IPS.

According to statistics from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), just before 2012 there were 120,000 daily train commuters countrywide. It has since dropped by 20 percent, a figure that NRZ officials said continues to fall.

“We used to have regular local commuter trains, but now they are rarely available and (minibus taxi) operators are daily milking us of our hard-earned cash,” Dickson Chirambwi, a commuter from Harare’s Budiriro high-density suburb, told IPS.

The recent fuel hikes have done little to ease the situation. On Mar. 11, Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced a 20 and 25 percent increase in excise duties on diesel and petrol respectively as a way to raise money to pay for Zimbabwe’s elections later this year. Currently, a litre of fuel costs between 1.53 dollars for diesel and 1.59 dollars for petrol.

Locally, minibus taxis charge between 0.50 dollars per trip to and from town, fares which often double during peak hours as taxi operators take advantage of desperate commuters who have little or no alternative transport. It is steep compared to the 0.20 dollars that commuter trains charge per trip to and from town.

But these commuter train services are now rare. Speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, top NRZ officials in Harare told IPS that the railway’s numerous locomotives, wagons and coaches were now out of order, resulting in the struggling company battling to keep most of its workers.

Disgruntled NRZ workers continually protest for increased wages and operations at the railway are often disrupted because of this. Recent protests over wages saw the NRZ cancelling its Bindura and Chinhoyi line.

Dabuka is a commuter train marshalling yard in Gweru, in central Zimbabwe, and is supposed to be the epicentre of the country’s rail network, connecting trains between Harare and Bulawayo and linking the country with Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But it is now desolate owing to reduced train commuters and goods trains passing through the siding.

Robertson said that considerable funding was needed to restore the railway services.

“We also need to restore stability to many of the sections of railway after years of neglect and we have to virtually rebuild the electronic traffic control and signaling systems. Many of the more important technical skills have been lost over the years of decline, so these too must be replaced. It all adds up to a very large and very expensive challenge,” he said.

Zimbabwe is still recovering from an economic crisis. Between 2003 and 2009, the country had one of the worst rates of hyperinflation in the world and its year on year inflation was reported as 231 percent. Prices of goods doubled here everyday and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was forced to issue a 100 trillion  Zimbabwean dollar note.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce economist Kipson Gundani told IPS that the state-owned NRZ should be allowed to operate on a commercial basis.

“The NRZ suffered because of a decade-long economic crisis and doesn’t have a profit-making intention, resulting in the pegging of fares that are not cost-driven,” said Gundani.

A development economist with the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe, Prosper Chitambara, told IPS that the NRZ needed recapitalisation to save it, but the government said it did not have the funds.

The NRZ needs recapitalisation to the tune of between 300 and 400 million dollars for upgrading and rehabilitating infrastructure, but this year the government only allocated it 7.4 million dollars. Biti had said the NRZ infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance surpassed the government’s budgetary capacity.

Businesspeople said they have also been affected by the dwindling rail transport services.

“Business used to be more viable for me during the days when I used to transport my tires for resell using goods trains from South Africa, but now I have to fork out more money hiring heavy trucks because goods trains are no longer reliable,” Brighton Mugadzi, a local businessman, told IPS.

Public relations manager for the NRZ, Fanuel Masikati, has been on record blaming the ailing company’s poor performance on the more than 90 Bulawayo firms that shut down last year.

But many are afraid that without trains, and with the increased transport costs, ordinary citizens and pensioners will be strained by consequent increases in prices of basic commodities.

Women vendors are among those hit by the reduced commuter rail services as they used to rely heavily on the trains to get to Mbare-Musika, an old, poor township in Harare, which has a major trading fruit and vegetable market.

“Commuter trains used to charge us 0.20 dollars per trip, but now we rarely see them operating,” 43-year-old Margret Chihwai, a vendor and single mother from Mufakose, a low income suburb in Harare, told IPS.

She said to get to the market now she has to use minibus taxis and fork out one dollar per trip during morning peak hours.

Many who once operated as vendors on commuter trains, like the blind 46-year-old Garikai Zinhu, have since plunged into suffering.

“I used to follow commuter trains on a daily basis, vending on the trains and that used to help me sustain my family. But now I’m without means to fend for my family,” Zinhu told IPS.

Meanwhile, industrialist Nickson Mhike told IPS that something needed to be done soon to avoid a crisis.

“Zimbabwe may face the subsequent disappearance of commuter and goods trains if urgent efforts are not made on time to solve the crisis at the NRZ inflicted by a decade-long economic meltdown,” he said.

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The World Flocks to its Forum Fri, 22 Mar 2013 08:19:31 +0000 Justin Hyatt A youth delegation from Tunis heads to the countryside to spread the word of the World Social Forum. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

A youth delegation from Tunis heads to the countryside to spread the word of the World Social Forum. Credit: Monika Prokopczuk/IPS

By Justin Hyatt
TUNIS, Mar 22 2013 (IPS)

In the final countdown to this year’s World Social Forum (WSF), Tunisian civil society and the country’s capital, Tunis, prepares for an influx of over 50,000 visitors. With the dates of the forum set for Mar. 26-30, uncompleted tasks are being fast-tracked while the university campus that will host the forum is being given a security face-lift.

The biggest question on the minds of the organisers and their international guests is the security situation in the country. It was only last month, on Feb. 6, that popular left-wing politician Chokri Belaid was murdered near his home in Tunis. His death led to political uncertainty and eventually the resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, as well as protests on the street.

Legitimate concerns that the country might slip into turmoil and instability have spread fast and are keeping visitors at bay.

“We get many emails every day from people who are worried about this,” said Haifa Nakib, who is in charge of logistics and administration of the WSF. “I tell them: ‘Don’t believe all the hype on TV! Tunisia is not at war and the situation here is peaceful. There is no terrorism here, in fact the government is even going to secure the location’.”

The government is indeed cooperating fully with the organisers of the massive gathering, and has even deployed a security team to locations surrounding the campus, which organisers hope will be “discreet”.

Cheima Ben Hamida, a volunteer coordinator, informed IPS that security would also be provided to organisers inside the campus. She is further comforted by the fact that the government “has instructed all its ministries to aid the WSF to the fullest extent possible”.

Meanwhile, enthusiasm over the event is at full throttle. Over 4,500 organisations from over 85 countries have registered. France and Tunisia top the list of participants: each plans to have representatives from over 300 groups present. Brazil, Belgium, Italy and Morocco are also high up, with each represented by at least 50 organisations.

The U.S. is also sending its largest WSF delegation to date. With 66 groups currently registered, this marks the highest level of participation from the North American country. Canada is likewise dispatching a large contingent.

Among the many topics to be addressed and debated are women’s rights, youth and culture. Though the main theme of the Forum is the Arab Spring, other issues — from the global economic crisis to the global ecological crisis — will be given due importance.

Demonstrating their commitment to the success of the event, the Tunisian immigration authorities have made participation accessible to visitors from countries without diplomatic accords or the presence of embassies. Fresh arrivals who produce a letter of invitation will be granted an entry visa. Thus, citizens of countries like Peru or Israel will have no problem attending the meet.

The third edition of the World Free Media Forum (WFMF) will be held simultaneously, starting on Mar. 24 and carrying on throughout the entire duration of the WSF.

Several hundred media representatives are expected to participate in workshops, discussions and media coverage of the forum. A free media village has been set up for this purpose, while non-profit community radio has been targeted as a preferred media format.

Another “forum within the forum” will be an international youth camp, which will bring together young people aged 18 to 30 and provide a space to organise sports, dances, cooking competitions and debates.

Khalil Teber, a member of the youth commission and co-organiser of the youth forum, shared his excitement with IPS: “We are providing the youth with a space of their own. Activities have been planned for day and night – it will be like four days without sleep.”

“Our vision,” added Teber, “is to present Tunisian youth to the world, including the version of the Tunisian revolution as the youth see it. And we want all Tunisian youth there, regardless of their political stripes.”

Besides being a celebration of the birthplace of the Arab Spring, this year’s convergence is significant for another reason: participants plans to discuss, in detail, the future of the World Social Forum.

It is clear to all those attending and organising the event that numerous other social and grassroots mobilisations – such as the Occupy movement – continue to play a major role. While not able to replace this forum, they do point to the need for the WSF to reflect and then evolve. This entails the integration of sundry movements and initiatives into the evolutionary process of the WSF.

“If the content is effective and the social forum becomes refreshed with this edition, then it will move forward,” according to Ben Hamida.

Romdhane Ben Amor, the man in charge of communication at WSF, stressed: “What is really important is what comes after the forum. A new way of thinking needs to emerge, a new vision of the world. If the forum can help both Tunisian and worldwide social movements to build on their strengths and find new ways of cooperation, then it will have been a success.”

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World Social Forum Faces Criticism, Tragedy and the Arab Spring Tue, 05 Feb 2013 01:14:31 +0000 Clarinha Glock Participants at a debate during the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Participants at a debate during the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

By Clarinha Glock
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Feb 5 2013 (IPS)

The tragedy at the Kiss nightclub cast a dark shadow on proceedings at the Thematic Social Forum held in Porto Alegre, the southern Brazilian city renowned for hosting the first World Social Forum in 2001.

People around the world were deeply shaken by the deaths of hundreds of young people who perished in a fire at the Kiss nightclub, located in the university city of Santa Maria, 292 kilometres from Porto Alegre, early on Jan. 27.

By Friday Feb. 1, 236 fatalities had been confirmed, while dozens of young people remained in critical condition. The fire was apparently caused by negligence and a series of errors on the part of the club’s management and the band.

The organising committeee of the Thematic Social Forum (TSF), held Jan. 26-31, immediately cancelled the cultural events that had been planned, but decided to go ahead with the debates on this year’s overall themes: democracy, cities, sustainable development and decent work.

The World Social Forum (WSF) is the largest global meeting for open debate for thousands of civil society groups and organisations, whose common denominator is criticism of the ethos and effects of capitalist globalisation.

A few days before the TSF, Brazil’s foremost trade union confederation, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), and the World March of Women announced they would not be participating in the debates, in protest of what they called the “institutionalisation” of the forum by the Porto Alegre local government, which passed a law providing for the WSF to be held annually.

Another criticism was aimed at the participation of “right-wing” organisations, such as representatives of the business community and religious groups.

Perhaps because of the criticisms, the cancellation of the entertainment or the sobering effects of the tragedy in Santa Maria, expectations that 40,000 people would come to Porto Alegre were not fulfilled.

According to Cícero Pereira da Silva, a delegate from the União Geral de Trabalhadores (UGT) and one of the coordinators of the group debating the world of work, 15,000 people registered as participants, including visitors from Latin American countries, Europe and the United States.

The “Carta de Porto Alegre“, which documents the conclusions and proposals of the TSF, will be presented in March to the International Council of the WSF, which will be held in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

With regards to the world of work, “We decided on uncompromising struggle for human rights and quality of life in big cities,” Pereira da Silva told IPS. “We had a major debate on decent work, which was always one of the overarching issues at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and we focused a great deal on the tragedy in Santa Maria. We blame the authorities for lack of regulation and oversight,” he said.

Regarding health issues, the Movimento Saúde +10 — a movement of professional medical organisations, university bodies, trade unions and religious groups — proposed collecting 1.5 million signatures in support of a bill that would allocate 10 percent of the federal budget for healthcare.

The Carta de Porto Alegre also emphasises the need for a new ethic, for education and for preservation of traditional farming techniques.

The group that participated in discussions about racial equality condemned religious intolerance, violence against women and the absence of local government plans to increase participation by the Afro-descendant population.

José Antônio dos Santos da Silva, coordinator of the Fórum Permanente de Educação e Diversidade Etnicorracial (Permanent Forum on Ethno-Racial Education and Diversity) for the state of Rio Grande do Sul, mourned the nightclub deaths and, simultaneously, recalled that many young black people are murdered every day in this country of nearly 200 million people. However, the press does not publicise these facts, he said.

“The lack of employment opportunities for young black people and their co-option into drug trafficking (schemes) are alarming,” Silva told IPS. “This strengthens our demand for a quota policy in public education. Violence indices show that seven out of 10 young people who are killed are black, and 90 percent of them live in the shanty towns” surrounding cities.

At the same time as the TSF was being held, social activists were meeting in the southern city of São Paulo for the “Dialogue toward the World Social Forum” organised by the Group of Reflection and Support for the WSF Process.

Messaoud Romdhani, one of the organisers of the Tunis WSF, was optimistic about the gathering — in spite of the uncertainties and tensions currently plaguing his country, the cradle of the popular movements that shook the Middle East and North Africa two years ago, which the press dubbed the “Arab Spring”.

Romdhani, a 56-year-old English teacher and human rights activist, hopes the WSF will boost positive exchanges between the Tunisian population and representatives of international civil society organisations.

“We want them to see the situation in Tunisia and we hope they can help us get over the transition that has been very difficult, because the government has so far not shown any interest in (fostering) democracy and guaranteeing human rights,” Romdhani told IPS.

After the uprising that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, there was a series of reforms in Tunisia including the election of a constituent assembly to write the constitution, and the formation of a provisional government, in which the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party holds a majority.

But Romdhani maintained that “the practices of the old regime persist, and there are threats from the religious party that dominates the government.”

The activist fears a lurch towards Islamist extremism, hence the importance of maintaining the struggles for gender equality and freedom of expression. “The WSF will help us to attract attention towards Tunisia and it will supply fuel and solidarity for these struggles,” he said.

According to Romdhani, the Tunisian authorities have not put any restrictions in the way of the WSF, “perhaps because they want to show the international media that the government is behaving properly.”

The Arab Spring — mass protests in which people demonstrated for freedom, dignity and equality — sparked a dream, he said. “We who had fought for all this for such a long time became aware that overthrowing a dictator is much easier than (instituting) a democracy.

“Democracy takes time to overcome years of oppression, vested oil interests and intolerance,” he concluded.

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“Occupy” is the Watchword at Thematic Social Forum Thu, 02 Feb 2012 08:04:00 +0000 Clarinha Glock By Clarinha Glock
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Feb 2 2012 (IPS)

Traditional social movements of homeless and landless people have for years been organising occupations as a pressure tactic. Now “occupying” is a key element for fighting the capitalist system in its hour of crisis, and also in the realm of virtual reality.

Global Connections meeting, part of the Thematic Social Forum. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Global Connections meeting, part of the Thematic Social Forum. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

With a shout of “Let’s occupy Flamengo Park!” in Rio de Janeiro, representatives of trade unions, landless rural workers, women, indigenous people, Afro-Brazilians and “quiombolas” (descendants of former slaves) wound up the Thematic Social Forum (FST) last weekend in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

The FST was held Jan. 24-29 as a preparatory meeting for the June People’s Summit that will take place in Rio in June, in parallel with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Meanwhile, at the Global Connections meeting in Porto Alegre, held within the framework of the FST, internet activists called for a campaign to block corporate web sites, as a form of virtual occupation.

The FST, an outgrowth of the World Social Forum, prompted discussion of modern forms of protest. Representatives of popular movements like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the “Indignados” (Indignant) from Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom took part in the debate, in person or via the internet.

Two issues captured the most attention: What to do after the occupations? And how to get the new information technology tools into the hands of traditional social movements that do not yet have access to them?

In a video conference from the U.K., communicator and researcher Matheus Lock would not hazard a prediction on the future of the occupations. “At Occupy London, people were waiting around for political directions over Twitter,” he said.

“There is no leadership. There are discussion groups, and some real representatives. Even homeless people participate,” he added.

In the same discussion panel, Wilhelmina Trout of the World March of Women spoke of the difficulties of making the world aware of what goes on in sub-Saharan Africa, where most people do not have electricity, let alone access to internet.

Journalist Emiliano Bos, who has covered several conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East, recalled how one million people fled Libya last year and entered bordering countries like Egypt and Tunisia.

“We could follow the movement in city squares in Egypt, but we could not see the millions of people who were mobilising, off the radar of the news broadcasts, in refugee camps,” he said.

“These people are not represented, they do not protest, they do not occupy. The only means of expression they have is flight. All they hope for is a piece of paper that will let them out of there,” he said.

For his part, Moroccan national Hamouda Soubhi of the Maghreb Social Forum said, “Our struggles are the same, although we speak different languages.

“When the media announced that a revolution was happening in the Arab world, we were taken by surprise, because for many years we have been denouncing human rights violations and going to prison for it, but the West wanted to preserve the regime, for the sake of oil exports and exploiting raw materials,” he said.

“As far as we were concerned, this was not a revolution. It was only the right to have democracy, justice and freedom. We are at a historic crossroads with a great number of opportunities: Rio+20, the Maghreb Social Forum, The World Social Forum Free Palestine and young people’s movements in Europe and different parts of the world which are making change possible, not tomorrow, but today,” he added.

In the view of sociologist Sérgio Amadeu da Silveira, a professor at the Federal University of ABC in São Paulo who took part in the Global Connections discussions, change requires the construction of “interactive democracy”, not only participative democracy.

“Traditional social movements need to unite more closely with activists in the hacker culture and online,” he told IPS.

“That way it would be possible to construct a new public sphere that is interactive and interconnected and would act as another platform for formulating policy,” he added.

According to Silveira, “it is necessary to open up the ‘source code’ of power,” alluding to the lines of text instructing a computer to execute a given programme – access and understanding of which is synonymous with control.

Civil society has the capacity to force powerful corporations whose decisions can cause environmental, social and economic devastation to face up to their social responsibility, he said.

For instance, “Occupy Wall Street can make these large corporations pay the cost of the crisis. Political parties in general cannot do this, because they are financed by the very same companies,” said Silveira.

Meanwhile, French economist Gustave Massiah, speaking in the great hall of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, said the crisis is social, geopolitical, ideological and ecological, and the challenge is to connect the new popular movements with the groups that are already fighting for global justice.

Occupy London activist Sam Halvorsen concurred, recognising that environmental issues had not so far been a central concern. “We’re thinking about how to link the problems arising from the crisis with climate change. It’s time we thought about forging those links.”

The more than 30 local and international organisations working at the FST meeting to formulate demands to be presented to the People’s Summit have already used the internet to disseminate their manifesto, although they know that more effort is needed in order to make a real difference.

The People’s Summit activities will start Jun. 5, World Environment Day, followed by workshops on “struggles, denunciations and connections” until Jun. 10; Jun. 15-16 are days reserved for discussion; then on Jun. 17 there will be a march to mark the opening of the Permanent People’s Assembly, which will be in session until Jun. 21.

A big march is being planned in Rio de Janeiro for Jun. 20, which the organisers hope will be replicated all over the country and in several world cities, in order to visibly occupy the streets.

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Thematic Social Forum Awash with Criticism for Green Economy Mon, 30 Jan 2012 17:55:00 +0000 Clarinha Glock By Clarinha Glock
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Jan 30 2012 (IPS)

Critical voices raised against what was dubbed “the gospel of green capitalism” resonated in every discussion and street march held during the Thematic Social Forum, which brought thousands of activists to the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil.

Labour and other activists flood the streets of Porto Alegre in environmental protest. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Labour and other activists flood the streets of Porto Alegre in environmental protest. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Spurred by the global economic and financial crisis, participants at this year’s thematic edition of the World Social Forum, which ran from Jan. 24th through the 29th, called on governments to implement changes in production and consumption, even as they were sceptical that a commitment along those lines could be secured at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), scheduled for June in Rio de Janeiro.

Professor Edgardo Lander, of the Central University of Venezuela and a member of that country’s Social Forum, said there was “an attempt to rebuild capitalism with a new, green face.”

“Rio+20 comes at a time when capitalism faces a profound crisis and when the severe problems arising from the limitations of growth and the destruction of the conditions that make life on the planet possible are more evident,” he told Tierramérica.

In this context, “green capitalism” offers a solution to the severe crisis, primarily of the financial sector, through the increasing commodification of everything from education and healthcare to the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, he said.

Lander appealed to participants to act to shatter this model.

A roundtable in the auditorium of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul brought together a representative of the Occupy London movement, a member of the Social Forum of Northern Africa, a rural leader of La Vía Campesina, and Brazilian, French, Thai, and Venezuelan activists, symbolising this new period in history that is marked by popular uprisings, like the Arab Spring, and by one of the most acute crisis of the capitalist system ever.

According to João Pedro Stédile, one of the founders of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and a member of the social organisation Vía Campesina, the situation faced by the industrialised world today is similar to the 1929 crash.

“But the difference is that for the first time the crisis touches every country,” he said.

For Stédile, global capital no longer heeds the decisions of national governments. “The U.N.’s (United Nations) resolutions are not taken seriously, which is why Rio+20 is going to be a cruel joke,” he said.

Part of the problem lies in “the eagerness of big global capital to protect itself until the next period of accumulation,” Stédile added. There is a huge offensive by capital to snatch up raw materials, lands, water, oil and other resources, he said.

“They know that resources have an extraordinary potential for profit,” he continued.

For his part, economist Marcos Arruda understands that short, medium and long-term solutions need to be devised. In this sense he hopes to expand networks such as Brazil’s solidarity economy network, which currently involves 24,000 ventures and at least 1.5 million people, according to an initial assessment.

“Solidarity economy brings about change here and now, in the lives of families and communities, and also at the government level, creating new legislation that facilitates and promotes cooperatives and associations”, Arruda told Tierramérica.

“The right to property is derived from work, not from capital,” said Arruda, who coordinates the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone, is a member of the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating Committee for Rio+20 and one of the founders of the Solidarity Social-Economy Global Network.

But this expert fears that great environmental disasters are advancing at a faster rate than the population’s organizational capacity. His experience tells him that the necessary changes will not come from governments at Rio+20.

“Our impression is that they (the governments) are coming to this meeting once again without any political will to commit to carbon emission, greenhouse gas, and deforestation targets, as these would entail undertaking the obligation to achieve concrete results,” he said.

Arruda used data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to show how, in general, global capitalism tends to concentrate wealth.

He illustrated this with an example from Rio 1992 (the Earth Summit held in that city in 1992), where global wealth distribution was depicted as a “champagne coupe,” with the broad, shallow bowl representing the richest 20 percent of the world’s population who have 82.7 percent of the world’s income, and the long thin stem representing the poorest 20 percent who receive only 1.4 percent.

Twenty years of neoliberalism have increased the share of the wealthiest 20 percent to 91.5 percent of the world’s income. Meanwhile, the share of the poorest 20 percent plunged down to 0.07 percent of all income, he said.

The concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of an increasingly smaller minority is one of two major consequences of globalised capitalism. The second is the relentless destruction of the environment to achieve infinite economic growth, acting as if nature and land were also infinite and that all the resources they offer can be exploited, Arruda said.

“That is where a solidarity economy comes in and says ‘No! We can’t allow that! It’s suicidal. We need to curb growth, plan according to our needs, and create decent living conditions and guarantee happiness for all, taking into account future generations and the importance of continuing to act according to our needs,” he concluded.

*The writer is an IPS correspondent. This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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THEMATIC SOCIAL FORUM: Working Towards a Never-Ending Democracy Fri, 27 Jan 2012 18:42:00 +0000 IPS Correspondents By IPS Correspondents
PORTO ALEGRE, Jan 27 2012 (IPS)

For five centuries, Europe has taken it upon itself to enlighten the world, teaching it ways to address and overcome crises, from ideas and wars to missionary work and genocides.

But it forgot it only held a part of the world’s knowledge and now it is on the verge of the abyss, and it is time for a different approach.

That is the assessment made by Portuguese sociologist Boaventura Sousa Santos who spoke to an audience of 300 at the Thematic Social Forum (TSF), which is being held from Jan. 24 to 29 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and surrounding municipalities.

The TSF is an offshoot of the World Social Forum that originated in this same city in 2001.

This year’s edition of the TSF focuses on “Capitalist Crises, Environmental and Social Justice” and has drawn some 10,000 participants.

The thematic meeting also promotes a future of widespread radical democracy, social relations based on the respect for human rights, and an end to international power structures that divide the world into a “centre” and a “periphery”.

In June, another Brazilian city, Rio de Janeiro, will host the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20, which is why the environmental crisis is also a key issue of discussion in Porto Alegre. Sousa Santos said he disagreed with the traditional approach to this issue.

“The first problem I have with this is the disagreement over the nature of the crisis. Seeing it simply as a matter of climate change is a highly reductionist approach. It’s an economic and financial crisis, an energy crisis, a crisis of the environment and of civilisation,” he said.

With this the sociologist arrived at the central point of his analysis: “As (Karl) Marx put it, the micro-irrationalities of capitalism lead to a macro-irrationality of life.”

In the 50-minute address he delivered on Wednesday, this professor of Universidade de Coimbra (Portugal) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (United States) identified the threats through which this capitalist macro-irrationality is expressed. Four such threats are connected directly with the crisis of democracy.

These include an increasingly disorganised state, with traditionally public services replaced by widespread credit for the masses, which resulted in the current financial crisis; and the dissolution of democracy, as capitalism no longer needs it and promotes instead solutions like the current technocratic “democratorships” of Italy and Greece.

Another threat is the criminalisation of dissent, which is seen in South America in processes such as the forceful displacement of poor populations (Brazil) or in indigenous resistance movements (Chile).

And lastly, the prejudices inherited from colonialism: “Contrary to what could be expected, racism is on the rise again and gaining increasing strength. Moreover, there is no indication that sexism has become a thing of the past or that there is respect for sexual diversity. These expressions are vestiges of past colonial domination, which have resurfaced as prejudices.”

"We are moving towards an era of presence, collective presence in the streets, occupying spaces that capital claims for itself, spaces not necessarily connected to an established movement"
Boaventura Sousa Santos, portuguese sociologist For Sousa Santos, the shrinkage of the state and the assault on democracy are connected with three movements of capital that aim to seize collectively produced wealth: the rapid destruction of nature, the devaluation of work, and the commodification of knowledge.

The expert identifies democratising, decolonising and decommodifying as the new challenges that the movements participating in the World Social Forum must take on in this new phase.

“Democratising demands radicalism,” he said. And he went to define “socialism as synonymous with a never-ending democracy that governs every space. Not just institutions, but also the workplace, the home, and the bedroom. Parties must understand that they don’t hold the monopoly of political representation. And neither do movements.”

“We are moving towards an era of presence, collective presence in the streets, occupying spaces that capital claims for itself, spaces not necessarily connected to an established movement,” he said.

“Cities play a major role in the task of decommodifying life. We need to move dimensions such as culture, urban mobility, experiences and sociability outside the sphere of the market. The results would be immediate,” he said.

“For example, culture, which is being trivialised, re-emerges immediately as a space of resistance as soon as it is treated as a right and as a product of human inspiration,” he added.

With respect to decolonisation, Sousa Santos had some criticism for the government, despite his support for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Tarso Genro.

“Brazil has created so many positive models and it cannot be on side of neoliberalism or pat itself on the back for the ‘new’ Forestry Code or for simplifying environmental licensing processes to accelerate certain large infrastructure works,” he said.

Near the end, the sociologist confessed he was “a tragic optimist. I believe we can change the world, but I know that change requires enormous efforts, mobilisations and even pain.”

He also made some predictions for the near future. “This decade is going to demand more enlightened and creative leaders, and more combative social movements. The battle against social fascism is waged within institutions, but also on the streets through the defence of a never-ending democracy.”

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SPAIN: Protest Movement Spreads to Neighbourhoods, Small Towns Thu, 09 Jun 2011 06:50:00 +0000 Ines Benitez By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Jun 9 2011 (IPS)

The May 15 Movement (15-M) which sprang up as huge rallies in public squares in Spain’s largest cities to protest against the political, economic and social system, is multiplying as assemblies in local neighbourhoods in provincial capitals and other municipalities.

“The idea is for the movement to decentralise and carry on working in the neighbourhoods and small towns,” Laura Rueda, a 29-year-old unemployed journalist and one of the spokespersons for the movement, told IPS in the southern city of Málaga, where they are still debating whether to continue camping in the central Constitution square.

On May 15, in the final stretch of the campaign for the May 22 local and regional elections, a demonstration by the Real Democracy Now! Platform was suppressed by the police, provoking a mass protest in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid.

The protest spread rapidly to the main squares of other cities, crossed the country’s borders and became the 15-M movement.

With slogans like “Take Back the Neighbourhoods!”, the spontaneous movement, which sprang up independently of trade unions and political parties, is now seeking continuity in the form of citizens’ assemblies, so that its demands are not forgotten now that its impact has declined after the elections.

The May 22 elections were disastrous for the governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), as the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) won in 12 of the 13 autonomous regions where elections were held, out of the country’s total of 17 regions.

The government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was forced by the European Union to make a political about-face in May 2010, in order to manage the debt crisis and avoid a financial bailout by its euro partners.

Drastic adjustment measures were a fiscal success, but at the cost of cutting social spending and increasing unemployment, Spain’s most pressing social problem. At the end of May, there were more than four million unemployed people, equivalent to 19 percent of the economically active population, with young people being the worst affected.

“We want to maintain a presence in the squares as reference points, physical places where information is available, but the aim is for the movement to continue its work in the neighbourhoods,” Rueda said.

On May 28, the assemblies that used to be held in the encampment in Puerta del Sol in Madrid moved for the first time to 41 neighbourhoods in the capital and another 80 municipalities in the region. Since then, weekly meetings have been held, the conclusions of which are published in a special blog.

In Málaga, one of the biggest cities in the Andalucía region, 15-M activists are advocating legislative changes in favour of citizens’ interests.

On May 31 they presented their first proposal to the regional parliament, focused on increasing citizen participation in political decision-making in the region.

15-M, also known as the “Movement of the Indignant”, is made up mainly of young people who communicate by means of the Internet and social networks. It is committed to electoral reform, fighting corruption, establishing separate and independent branches of government and greater citizen oversight of politicians.

In the view of some members of 15-M, in order to avoid isolation the movement should reach agreements with political parties willing to uphold its demands and incorporate them into the campaign for the next general elections, slated for March 2012.

In general, political parties have failed to understand the essence of 15-M and are “out of the loop” in terms of this expression of deep social malaise, analysts say.

Rafael Blanco of Puente Humano (Human Bridge), an organisation in the Canary Islands – off the northwest coast of Africa – that uses information and communication technology to bring people together, told IPS that what is happening in Spain’s public squares, the communication achieved and the potential for organising action, “mirrors the World Social Forum.”

The World Social Forum organises meetings connecting civil society organisations and movements in every country, and has held many regional social forums and mobilisations of different scope, in addition to its main annual meetings held chiefly in southern Brazil but also in different regions of the developing South.

“There are many forums all over the place, and the people who attend them really want to network and share,” said Blanco, who predicts that “integrating people and work” could open the door to “action on a planetary level.”

In Blanco’s view, the 15-M movement also has features in common with the uprisings occurring since January in North Africa and other Arab countries, such as the prominence of young people among the protesters and the peaceful civil disobedience that characterises the movements.

The activist said he believed there were more opportunities in the Canary Islands, particularly for exchange and communication with likeminded people in Morocco.

Seresade Jábega, a 20-year-old student and a spokeswoman for 15-M in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, told IPS that activists are still camping in the main square of the capital city, Santa Cruz, but assemblies have already spread to neighbourhoods on the north side of the island.

In the northeastern Spanish city of Barcelona, “the spirit of the encampments is spreading in the neighbourhoods and, more importantly, in every town and village in the region of Catalonia,” Esther Vivas, a 15-M activist in the Catalonian capital, told IPS.

The regional police attempted to evict demonstrators camping out in Catalonia square in the centre of the city, triggering clashes in which 121 protesters were injured and intensifying the anger of 15-M participants all over the country.

Vivas said a Jun. 4 meeting in Barcelona brought together participants in the movement from various parts of the region to exchange experiences and discuss whether the demonstrators should continue camping out in Catalonia square.

On the same day in Madrid spokespersons from the camps in more than 30 Spanish cities met to unify their proposals and improve coordination among themselves.

The Spanish authorities say indefinite occupation of public places is against the law, while businesses in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol complain that the encampment is causing them serious problems, including a fall in sales of between 50 and 80 percent.

The Real Democracy Now! Platform has managed to unite over 500 groups and social movements in Spain, and has called for simultaneous demonstrations in several cities for Jun. 19.

“The struggle continues, and the 15-M movement will not stop after the success of the protests on May 15 and the later encampments and rallies in squares all over Spain,” says the Platform’s web site.

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Q&A: Tunis and Cairo Reveal a New Popular Militancy Mon, 14 Feb 2011 06:57:00 +0000 Andrea Lunt

Andrea Lunt interviews activist and intellectual BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS

By Andrea Lunt
NEW YORK, Feb 14 2011 (IPS)

More than 200 years ago, one of the United States’ founding presidents, Thomas Jefferson, famously remarked: “Every generation needs a new revolution.” Today, his words are more relevant than ever, as young people across the world mark 2011 as a year of change.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos Credit: Courtesy of Boaventura de Sousa Santos

Boaventura de Sousa Santos Credit: Courtesy of Boaventura de Sousa Santos

Judging by the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and the strong turnout at last week’s World Social Forum (WSF) in Dakar, Senegal, activism is alive and well.

For a wrap-up on this year’s WSF and some insight into the recent uprisings, IPS spoke with Boaventura de Sousa Santos, author and professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

Q: What were the highlights of this year’s WSF? A: In spite of organisational difficulties, this was a successful WSF for various reasons. First, Africa’s problems and Africa’s contribution to the world were at the centre of the WSF, precisely at the same time as the people in Cairo celebrated liberation and showed new ways of struggling for it. This focus on Africa became a source of inspiration for the U.N. International Year for People of African Descent, just beginning.

Second, an unprecedented amount of time was allocated to convergence meetings among social movements aiming at jointly planned collective actions.

Third, the renewal of the WSF is definitely on the agenda. The objective is to allow for political demands to be advanced globally in the name of important sectors of the WSF – without compromising the inclusive nature of the world meetings every two years – and to strengthen the self- education and training across national borders.

Q: From Marxism to La Via Campesina, social movements have changed and evolved over the years. What do you think is the most successful approach to making real change in the world? A: Tunis’s and Cairo’s uprisings are showing that a paradigmatic change in oppositional militancy is under way. If until now the central question for progressive politics was how to articulate progressive parties with progressive social movements and NGOs, the new central question is how to articulate progressive parties and social movements, on one side, with unorganised citizens, on the other.

The latter, mostly young people, whom the organised civil society viewed as apolitical, brainwashed by mass consumption and mass media – in sum, lost for social causes – are showing that real change in the world occurs when a threshold is reached beyond which politics becomes equated with human life and human dignity.

Social movements have not reflected on the conditions, times and spaces of such threshold for the simple reason that they didn’t believe that such a threshold existed. For them, being organised meant – and still means – to be on the right side, and being unorganised, on the wrong side.

The real change in the world will occur when multiple Cairos will occur synchronically around the world, all different and all similar. The newest social movements will focus on their relations with the unorganised society and on the intercultural translation that will make possible insurgent transnational aggregation without global homogeneity.

Q: What can we learn from the recent global financial crisis? A: That capitalism is becoming more destructive than ever by squeezing more labour from workers that have a job and more subservience from those that don’t, by resorting to wage theft, by destroying all remnants of the social contract, by silencing, through the financial crisis, all the other crises – energetic, environmental, intergenerational, civilisational crises facing humankind.

We also learn that as long as the crisis is being “resolved” by those that caused it, the destruction will continue. At least, until when many Cairos emerge around the world, based on different grievances but united in the same struggle for social justice and democratic accountability.

Q: Do you think there is the possibility that the U.N. could be strengthened as a world parliament? A: We should struggle, not for spatially inflated forms of representative democracy, but rather for sub-national, national and regional articulations between representative and participatory democracy. In some cases, these two forms of democracy should be joined by communitarian democracy, as stated in the Constitution of Bolivia of 2009. In other words, we need demo-diversity as much as we need biodiversity.

Q: Neoliberal policies prioritise money, profit and the free market as drivers of development. What does “development” mean to you? And what, as a worldwide community, do you think we should prioritise? A: The concept of development emerged to legitimate its opposite: underdevelopment. All of a sudden the vast majority of countries of the world were labelled underdeveloped and the label reached much beyond their economies. Underdeveloped were also their institutions, their laws, their cultures.

The way out for all of them was to follow the path of the very few developed countries, that is, to obey the rules set by the latter for international relations at all levels. Concomitantly, the possibility of multiple modernities was precluded and modernity became, by definition, Western modernity. Indeed, the other “other” of development was not underdevelopment but rather socialist revolution.

Development is at heart a Cold War concept. Having this in mind, it is almost impossible if not self-defeating, to try to conceive of alternative conceptions of development. We need rather alternatives to development.

One of them could be the quechua concept of Sumak kawsay which, according to the Constitution of Ecuador of 2008, should preside over the socio-economic regulation of society. It means roughly buen vivir in Spanish or living well, in English. Living well means an aspiration of individual and collective flourishing that rather than setting us apart from nature – as inherent to the concept of development- conceives of nature as part of human society in such a way that human rights and the rights of nature are the two sides of the same struggle for social emancipation.

As the year of the Rio plus 20 (The UN Conference on Sustainable Development of 2012) approaches, giving credibility to the concept of Sumak kawsay may be a good way of indicating our priorities.

Q: The world is growing at an unprecedented rate. How can we handle this growth while being responsible to both people and the environment? A: Food sovereignty and what it entails is the solution.

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Q&A: Political Support Needs Financial Backing Fri, 11 Feb 2011 11:37:00 +0000 Rousbeh Legatis

Rousbeh Legatis interviews NORAH MATOVU-WINYI, Executive Director, African Women?s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

By Rousbeh Legatis

“The agenda for women’s rights and empowerment in each country must be supported by the political leadership,” says Norah Matovu-Winyi, Executive Director, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).



FEMNET is a membership based Network, mandated to facilitate the sharing of information, experiences, ideas and strategies among African women’s NGOs in order to strengthen women’s capacity to participate effectively in the development process.

In future World Social Forums “there is need to support more women to participate in the dialogues,” Matovu-Winyi said. Women learn a lot from each other and in many instances discover that their struggles are the same despite coming from different continents.

Bringing women from different countries together to share ideas, experience and challenges “is the greatest solidarity mechanism for women,” Norah Matovu-Winyi told IPS.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: What are the most pressing issues for women in Africa? A: Increasing poverty and its feminised characteristics continue to be a major challenge in Africa. Women and girls, especially in poor urban and rural communities, continue to live on less than one dollar and a half per day, with household capacity for income generation decreasing. This has worsened with the multiple crises including the global financial and economic meltdown, food insecurity and climate change and the fuel crisis which have all combined to impact the households in developing countries in ways that have left many women more vulnerable to poverty. The majority of African women have limited opportunities for realising their full potential in their lifetime.

Insecurity resulting from the wars and conflicts (intra-state, inter-state and within communities) in which women’s bodies have increasing become battlegrounds are causing havoc in the region.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the biggest threats to human security and a daily nightmare for many women, girls, boys and men on the African continent.

Patriarchy is Africa’s dominant, organizing social system, in which women’s rights as citizens remain subordinated to the inferior social prescriptions for the female gender, which does not accord the same recognition to women and girls as to men and boys; and which does not equally tap into this resource for Africa’s development.

Q: Does the Social World Forum respond to the need of African women? A: The World Social Forum (WSF) is an open and significant space for African women activists and feminists to meet and link with other social movements and civil society organisations that propagate another alternative world that is free of neo-liberalism and any form of imperialism. The thousands of people from all corners of the world brainstorm, share experiences and ideas; and identify key agenda items that they agree on how to harmonise for a better world.

During the 2011 WSF, FEMNET partnered with PANOS to organise the Gender and Media workshop, and attached two female journalists to the Flame of Africa Newspaper which was produced throughout the WSF. This was part of capacity building for the young journalists because they had the opportunity to challenge each other to demand for gender responsive media reporting, support each other to take up decision-making positions in the media and to utilise new information technologies in order to put the women’s agenda at the forefront in the global development processes. The main role of FEMNET in this partnership was to provide a gender perspective to coverage of issues during the WSF and also mobilise African women journalists to cover the WSF with a gender lens.

The WSF provided space for FEMNET as a regional organisation to work with other regional women’s organisations like WIDE (a Network of European women’s rights NGOs) and also AWID (a women’s rights NGO which covers Europe, Latin America and Africa).

As women’s NGOs from Africa, Latin America and Europe we used the WSF to engage with women from different parts of the world. We used the WSF to hold a consultation with women on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, as part of preparing African women to engage in debate and discussions around aid and development effectiveness before the Fourth High Level Forum (HLF4) which will be held in Busan, Korea in Nov. 2011.

The WSF does in a way respond to the needs of African women because it provides space for women to articulate their issues and also find common ground on some issues. It also provides space for women to share experiences, challenges and best practices.

Q: Do you see enough political will bring change for African women? A: Political will and/or political commitment is essential because leadership at the top enables things to move at all levels. For example in Rwanda, it is the political will that started moving the agenda for improved maternal health and care and this trickled down to the community level, where women were sensitised on the need to work together with government to change their health care seeking behaviours including addressing basic things like hygiene, sanitation and clean environment.

In Uganda, the President led the country in moving the agenda for HIV/AIDS from a personal/individual affair to a community/country business, that required each and everyone to play her/his role in its prevention, treatment and care. This resulted in increased awareness creating a culture of public acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing stigma and improving access to medications.

To some extent we felt not enough political will among the leadership of Senegal to host the WSF.

For example most of the meetings were cancelled because there was no venue, despite an organisation paying for the venue prior to coming to the WSF. For example all women’s meetings were held in tents because authorities were not willing to give rooms within the University of Cheikh Anta Diop University, the venue of the WSF. The alternative venue (tents) also proved expensive for some women’s organisations who could not afford to pay for on-the-spot interpretation and interpretation equipment.

Political commitment/will must go along with the allocation of the required financial resources.

The agenda for women’s rights and empowerment in each country must be supported by the political leadership, but also the financial resources must be available to facilitate the much-needed change.

FEMNET believes that the African Women’s Decade (2010 – 2020) is a great opportunity for all African women to mobilise and organise themselves to create a critical mass at national, regional and sub-regional levels that will push for a common agenda – that of transformative change for women and girls of Africa.

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Q&A: The People Need to Take Leadership Thu, 10 Feb 2011 11:13:00 +0000 Sylvia Borren

Cléo Fatoorehchi interviews SYLVIA BORREN, co-chair of GCAP

By Sylvia Borren
NEW YORK, Feb 10 2011 (IPS)

While the international community is now talking of a triple global crisis – food, climate and economic – a weeklong session of the World Social Forum (WSF) is coming to a close in Dakar, Senegal.

Sylvia Borren Credit: Courtesy of GCAP

Sylvia Borren Credit: Courtesy of GCAP

Countless organisations are participating, hoping to bring another world to life, one that is more focused on people’s lives than on economic profits.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) is a leading civil society group in the WSF. Its co-chair Sylvia Borren discussed GCAP’s role at the forum and its evolution over the last decade, since the first gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January 2001.

Q: What do you expect from the current WSF in Dakar? A: I expect that the food/water/climate crisis affecting large parts of Africa – caused by rich countries – will be high on the agenda. Our leaders are not solving this in the G8, G20 or in the U.N. ‘We the People’ will have to take leadership, and I expect new civil energy as well as new strategies to be the result of this WSF – certainly after the dramatic democratic movements using social media presently witnessed in the Arab world.

Q: What is the “other world” promoted by the WSF? A: It is clear that the vast majority of the citizens in the world are looking for a just world where distribution of education, health, jobs and wealth is much more equitable and where ‘global common goods’ are agreed and managed, such as sustainable and just climate agreements.

However, the power is at this point still in the hands of rich minorities, an elite world class which interconnects banks, corporations, governments, corporate media and sometimes criminal networks.

Planetary or global citizenship is about organising as citizens to achieve new forms of value-driven, inclusive global democratic processes – in which not the banks and corporates get bailed out in a global financial crisis, but the people who pay the real price for something they did not cause: in and with their lives.

Q: Should the WSF constitute itself as a genuine body to have more power and influence on national policies? A: WSF was set up to be a space in which social movements can meet, strategise and begin to organise their influence at the country and global level. This works very well. WSF itself would fall apart and lose its very significant role if it tried to become an institute or a movement with specific goals itself. It is the ‘global safe house’ for emerging civil action of many different sorts.

Q: Could you give me an example of an idea first promoted at the WSF, and then implemented successfully? A: GCAP itself was launched at the WSF in 2005, and strengthened its network at subsequent WSFs, which lead to many concrete results such as a growing mobilisation around international poverty day – 173 million people joined in October 2009.

Concrete results at the national level include more government spending on education, health, social security, child benefits, support for people with disabilities etc. At the WSF in 2009, GCAP and others prepared the strategy towards the U.N. Climate Conference in December that year: GCAP organised Climate and Poverty Hearings/Tribunals in 18 countries – which have fed into concrete climate work at national and global levels.

Q: What is GCAP going to promote this year? A: GCAP Senegal together with Civicus, UNMC, UNDP and others is holding panel discussions on how civil society can monitor governments in their promises to accelerate efforts to achieve and exceed the MDGs by 2015. Water and sanitation is a key subject for Africa as well as the soaring food prices.

And in the ‘World We Want statement’ GCAP has coordinated a combined global civil society vision for our fight against poverty and for justice in the world – which includes stopping violence against girls and women, mother and child mortality etc.

Q: What current challenges is GCAP facing? A: GCAP had strong presence at the MDG summit at the U.N. in September 2010, and organised its Global Assembly there ending in an ambitious strategic plan. The challenge now is to implement the many aspects of this ‘The World We Want’ plan, to organise what is being done in which country and by which constituency group, and to find sufficient alliances as well as funding for that implementation – in a time that there are dramatic financial cutbacks in funding, right-wing backlash in some countries, and diminishing public spending in many countries because money was used for the bailout of the banks and corporates.

Q: Are you hopeful the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), supported by GCAP, could resolve poverty in the world? Could the WSF have a positive impact on its adoption? A: The proposed FTT can be an excellent tool to generate more money for poverty alleviation, education, health and job creation. By itself it will not resolve poverty. For that, many other things have to stop – unfair trade, dumping of subsidised agricultural products, violence against women, trafficking, CO2 emissions etc.

And many other things have to be distributed more justly – land, water, education, health, energy, jobs etc.; and deeper transformation is badly needed: in democratic processes in many countries – rich and poor – and in relationships between mankind and the environment and between women and men.

The WSF plays a facilitating role (in the adoption of the FTT). My expectation is that some sort of FTT will actually be adopted before the next WSF.

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Q&A: Another World Is Possible – It’s Called Ecosocialism Wed, 09 Feb 2011 19:20:00 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida

Kanya D'Almeida interviews U.S. scholar and organiser JOEL KOVEL

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Feb 9 2011 (IPS)

As the powerful collective energy continues to surge through Dakar, veterans of the World Social Forum (WSF) are taking a moment to examine the history, trajectory and future of the alternative global movement.

Joel Kovel Credit: Courtesy of Joel Kovel

Joel Kovel Credit: Courtesy of Joel Kovel

Widely considered the father of the fast-growing Ecosocialist movement, Joel Kovel has played a leading role in the WSF since 2003, following the movement from Mumbai to Nairobi to Belem.

Co-author of the Ecosocialist manifesto, which details an alternative route to humanity’s current path of environmental destruction, Kovel told IPS that we have to name this “other world” and position it firmly against the threat of global capital. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What has been your role in past WSFs? A: Ecosocialism is inherently a global – not international – concept, so the WSF is an ideal place in which to discuss its main ideas. We presented the Ecosocialist manifesto in Nairobi in 2007 and revised it with a group of several hundred people. While Ecosocialism is growing magnificently in the third word, it is the fourth world – the world of the indigenous, stateless people – that is really at the forefront of this global issue.

Fourth world peoples live in communal relationships and are directly victimised by predatory oil and mining corporations that bore into the heart of the earth and destroy communities that are part of the soil. So we have depended on the unique locations of the WSF to disseminate the ideas of Ecosocialism.

Q: Does the World Social Forum sufficiently address the current ecological crisis? A: The WSF tends to focus on specific areas within the broader issue of ecocide or eco-destruction, such as genetically modified seeds or the acidification of the oceans or deforestation. While addressing these issues is certainly necessary, it is not sufficient to deal with the magnitude of the crisis, which requires a much broader diagnosis of the underlying cause of the problem.

There is very little theoretical rigor or sharpness about ecological crisis as a whole at the WSF for many reasons – people are so terrified of the crisis before us, there are so many worthwhile causes to be fought for, problems are diffuse, with different issues rooted in dispersed localities, no one can decide what the boundaries are between one crisis and another. And there are so many questions, such as when does the crisis about the oceans become a crisis about the atmosphere? Understandably, people retreat into single issues like the proliferation of plastic bottles.

Q: What can the WSF do differently to move forward in solving the crisis? A: Well there currently exists a definitional problem at the WSF. Different issues crop up which are eco-systemic disruptions – when a forest is destroyed over monoculture for example. Each eco-systemic crisis has its own site- specific and concrete reality, such as the Bhopal disaster in India. It is the collection of all these different crises, which are worsening with great rapidity, spreading outward globally and increasing exponentially, that is the real ecological crises.

If we want to find the cause for all the different systemic crises, we have to look at them together and find what is common to them all. While each problem has its own cause, virtually every single one of them is linked to capitalist expansion and can be traced to the door of a bank or an imperial power. If the WSF is to deal with this problem, is has to identify and articulate the problem of global capital, which can be thought of metaphorically – as a cancer that is metastasising. And no matter how you chose to treat the disease, you must first acknowledge that it is a reality.

Q: How has the WSF progressed since you first participated in 2003? A: Unfortunately, the WSF has a tendency to spin its own wheels, so to speak, because of the inherent limits of its slogan and motto – “Another World is Possible”, repeated over and over, becomes discouraging because the shape of that other world is never really spelled out.

However, the fact remains that the WSF is the only place in which to articulate a new reality, not just the possibility of one. Logically, we should be able to say that this “other world” is the world of Ecosocialism. But due to the nature of NGOs and their specialisation in certain crises, the WSF has not yet sufficiently named the cause of the crisis as capitalism – the forum must name the enemy and respond to it.

Q: Do you think Dakar offers the opportunity to do this? A: Absolutely. Africa is one of the most vulnerable places on earth, which is bitterly ironic given that it is the least industrialised part of the planet. The continent itself is more ravaged by the ruthless extraction of resources than anywhere else – firstly because it has resources and secondly because it lacks the protection to stop the corporations from coming in. So there is more incentive in Africa to start thinking systemically.

Dakar is also a centre of worldwide research in ecology, much more so than Nairobi, Belam and even Mumbai. The general caliber of the left intellectual presence is wonderfully high in Senegal. Despite being such a huge place, there are wonderful lines of communication between the far-flung corners of the African continent – it is very different from Asia and Europe in this respect.

Q: How can the WSF meet the challenges of the World Economic Forum occurring almost simultaneously? A: It just has to be firmly grounded in an anti-capitalist logic and practice. It is hard but it’s certainly possible. I think above all else the Social Forum provides a place where many, many tendencies can come and meet together under the realisation that their separate troubles are not random but systematic, and have to do with the penetration of empire and global capital into every corner of the earth.

To use a medical analogy, if you have a patient with a tumor in her pancreas, it can only be dealt with once the doctors can agree that it is a cancer. They can then put their heads together and come up with ways to cure it – and there are many, many ways to cure it.

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WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: “We Don’t Want Everybody to Think the Same” Wed, 09 Feb 2011 12:46:00 +0000 Isolda Agazzi

Isolda Agazzi

By Isolda Agazzi
DAKAR, Feb 9 2011 (IPS)

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.

Various organisations from across the world were represented at the WSF march in Dakar, Senegal. Credit: Isolda Agazzi/IPS

Various organisations from across the world were represented at the WSF march in Dakar, Senegal. Credit: Isolda Agazzi/IPS

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.

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Q&A: Revolutions Are Not Widgets Tue, 08 Feb 2011 12:23:00 +0000 Andrea Lunt

Andrea Lunt interviews Kenyan activist ONYANGO OLOO

By Andrea Lunt
NEW YORK, Feb 8 2011 (IPS)

Behind the headlines of mass social forums and violent protests, fighting oppression and changing the world requires sustained grassroots action, according to Kenyan social justice activist Onyango Oloo.

Onyango Oloo Credit: Courtesy of Onyango Oloo

Onyango Oloo Credit: Courtesy of Onyango Oloo

With this year’s Feb. 6-11 World Social Forum in full swing, IPS spoke to Oloo, a writer, former political prisoner and national coordinator of the 2007 WSF, about climate change, the ongoing protests in North Africa and social movements in his home country of Kenya. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What are the big issues being discussed at the 2011 WSF? A: This year’s event in Dakar is organised around what the WSF is referring to as “axes”. There are 12 of them, which range from issues of dignity, diversity, justice, gender oppression, recognition of sexual minorities, protection of the environment, climate justice and struggles against multinationals and global capitalism, peace and conflict transformation, to give a very truncated version.

I am particularly passionate about social movements and processes that lead to progressive national liberation triumphs all over the world, but especially in Africa.

Q: What is your take on the protests occurring across North Africa? Why are they happening now and do you believe they could spread to other regions of the continent? A: I am quite enthused and inspired by what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia. Revolutionary upsurges, contrary to mainstream media hype, are very different from a kettle of tea boiling over all over a sudden.

What is happening today in North Africa is the culmination of struggles, victories and reverses that have happened over many decades and are a product of many social contradictions – not the least of which is the disconnect between the machinations of neo-liberal imperialism and the popular aspirations for democracy, social justice, peace and a better society.

Revolutions by their very nature are not manufactured commodities from some factory conveyer belt that can be exported “willy nilly” to other countries. Nevertheless, the power of example should act as a catalyst for other national liberation struggles around Africa and the Middle East.

Q: How is climate change affecting populations in Kenya? How can social activism address issues being driven by climate change? A: Profoundly. Livelihoods are affected. Water towers are threatened. In Kenya, the fact that greedy speculators who have grabbed some of the rainforests and other natural reserves also happen to be powerful politicians means that the ripple effects of climate change will sooner, rather than later, spill over to the arena of class conflict and social unrest.

To me, climate change justice is part of the wider social justice and political transformation agenda. Human beings are part of the environment and therefore whatever they do, or is done to them, contributes one way or another to the degree to which global humankind finds lasting, sustainable solutions to the challenges foisted on mother earth by climate change.

We are lucky that one of the key organisations spearheading our Kenyan presence in Dakar is the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, the Nairobi-based secretariat of the continental climate change network.

Q: In your opinion, what are the most important social movements happening in Kenya at the moment? A: This is a question that is difficult, if not impossible to answer. In the first place, one cannot put social movements in any kind of hierarchy of “importance” in Kenya. In the second place, and to be quite candid, social movements in Kenya are still by and large, very weak with many of them in their nascent stages.

Some of them have been captured by Western-funded NGOs so their agendas are mere adjuncts of the funding priorities of North American and European donor agencies. Nevertheless, I would single out Bunge la Mwananchi as having made significant forays in disturbing the complacency of the neo- colonial status quo.

Q: What are some successful or alternative models of development in your country, or in Africa as a whole, that could be transferred to other areas of the globe? A: There is a lot of indigenous knowledge that is often “pooh poohed” by the mainstream Western media. I am talking about the reservoir of knowledge and praxis in the area of herbal and traditional medicine. Over the last few years even the medical mainstream is acknowledging that alternative/traditional health practices have offered palliatives and healthier approaches in dealing with ailments and conditions like diabetes, heart disease, prostrate cancer, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

Rwanda has shown the way in dealing with peace and conflict transformation through their gacaca courts set up in the aftermath of the terrible genocide of the mid-1990s.

African farmers, like their Asian counterparts, have superior methods of preserving the ecosystem and conserving seed knowledge in contrast to the Monsantos of the world.

In my opinion, fellow Kenyan compatriots from the Maa speaking peoples have demonstrated a resilience in holding onto to their culture without becoming historical relics consigned to museums.

African women, like the women of the Umoja Peace Village near Nanyuki in central Kenya, have come up with models of feminist empowerment rooted firmly within their reality as rural, pastoral ethnic minority communities – a shocker to those who believe that feminism in Africa is a preserve of urban based, university educated petit-bourgeois women.

Q: What’s the best way for social activists to have their voices heard and to ensure ideas discussed at forums such as the WSF are translated into real policy changes at the national and international levels? The best way to have their voices heard is not to wait for annual and periodical events like the World Social Forum. We talk best through conscious, united, concerted and sustained political action at the local, national and continental level.

What I am saying in other words that activists should not pine for the fleeting sound bites on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera or even dare I say, IPS, but rather listen to their own sisters and brothers speaking to them at home, in the local community and in their own countries as they analyse and organise around their specific oppressions and challenges.

That way, when they do make it to places like Dakar and Porto Alegre, what their comrades and companeros from around the world will be hearing will be powerful echoes from their own struggles back at home.

Incidentally, I did not make it to Dakar this year because I did not have any money to get on the plane to Senegal. Many activists around Africa faced this challenge. It is a rueful reminder of the class dictated constraints to participating in such events like the World Social Forum – even when they take place on the same continent you call home.

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ZIMBABWE: Activists Seek WSF Solidarity Against Privatisation Mon, 07 Feb 2011 12:13:00 +0000 Stanley Kwenda

Stanley Kwenda

By Stanley Kwenda
HARARE, Feb 7 2011 (IPS)

Zimbabwean activists will raise the issue of privatisation at the World Social Forum, taking place Feb 6-11 in Dakar, Senegal, and seek solidarity from other activists to resist a renewed government attempt at selling Zimbabwe’s state- owned enterprises.

The headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in Harare. Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

The headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in Harare. Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

“Privatisation is one of the issues that we will talk about in various discussions. We have seen its devastation in many countries where it has been tried. All it does is to leave the poor at the mercy of the rich,” Darlington Madzonga, convener of the Zimbabwe Social Forum (ZSF), told IPS.

“We want mobilisation towards a new world order where governments consult citizens before mortgaging state property through privatisation. We seek international solidarity from social movements across the world in our fight against privatisation,” he added.

ZSF is a member of the Southern Africa Social Forum, a loose grouping of organisations working to promote social and economic rights in the region.

The Zimbabwean government has embarked on an ambitious privatisation programme, pitched as reviving loss-making enterprises that burden the national purse.

The country wants to turn around 10 struggling state enterprises by restructuring, commercialising or privatising them during 2011.

The targeted firms include the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), fixed telephone operator Tel*One and mobile phone operator Net*One, AgriBank, the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), Air Zimbabwe and beef producer Cold Storage Company.

The Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO) has already been sold to an Indian company.

The unity government formed by political rivals ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change in 2009 is battling to fix an ailing economy.

State enterprises minister Gordon Moyo told IPS that the government is determined to change the fortunes of state-owned firms, many of them on their knees due to years of mismanagement.

“We are consulting with a view to implementing privatisation but we will use the best possible model to benefit the people of Zimbabwe,” Moyo told IPS. According to ministry of finance statistics, if properly managed, state-owned enterprises could contribute 40 percent of the poor southern Afrocan’s country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

For instance, when ZISCO operated at full capacity in the 1990s it contributed 10 percent of GDP.

But opponents of the programme say privatisation prejudices citizens who are already suffering due to high costs and inadequate public services.

“To expect to make billions out of services that are supposed to serve the populace is unfair as they are the ones who have to pay for such service provision,” Hopewell Gumbo, a Harare-based activist who works with the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), told IPS.

“Selling to the private sector means a loss of state control. Resources could be used for whatever purpose,” he argued. ZIMCODD is an organisation that works to promote social and economic rights.

Giving an example, Gumbo said a company like the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) might after privatisation decide to sell electricity to a richer neighbouring country for a profit, leaving Zimbabweans literally in the dark. South Africa has struggled with power outages in recent years.

Masimba Kuchera, who works with the Students’ Solidarity Trust (SST), a tertiary education pressure group, told IPS that privatisation is not entirely detrimental but should not be implemented in areas that are vital to people’s daily survival.

“By its nature privatisation is about re-orienting companies to make a profit, so it must be confined to those areas that do not have to do with people’s survival,” Kuchera said. “Services such as water, electricity, health and education should not be privatised.”

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions’ (ZCTU) secretary general Wellington Chibhebhe told IPS that, “privatisation is concerned with maximising profits ahead of human needs, rights and interests”.

ZCTU believes privatisation will result in massive exploitation, considering that most of state-owned companies hold monopolies in their markets. Chibhebhe cited the problem of high tariffs charged for electricity, water and telephone services.

Economist Eric Bloch believes many of the concerns about privatisation are unfounded. “The competition and tariffs commission will address excessive pricing and contain it,” Bloch told IPS. However, the commission’s role remains very much that of a paper tiger.

Proponents maintain that failure of privatisation has largely to do with lack of political commitment, poor design, insufficient resources, weak management and corruption.

In the past privatisation in Zimbabwe has had mixed results. After the world prices of platinum, copper and tantalite fell in the late 1990s, three privatised mines closed and left behind ghost towns and thousands of workers without jobs.

However, a study done by the trade union-linked African Labour Research Network (ALRN), titled “Privatisation: African Experiences”, discovered successes following the privatisation of Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited (DZL).

DLZ managed to widen its product base and to launch other local and foreign investments in Malawi.

It achieved real growth in sales volumes and employment and earned foreign currency for the country. It also contributes to the development of small- scale dairy farms through a special scheme it finances.

But in neighbouring Zambia, privatisation resulted in job losses when state assets were sold. The ALRN study concluded that women workers are often the hardest hit by retrenchments that accompany privatisation.

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