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WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Africa Continues to Draw Inspiration

Stanley Kwenda interviews DAKARAYI MATANGA, Southern Africa Social Forum

HARARE, Jan 28 2010 (IPS) - The same kind of worldwide solidarity that helped bring down apartheid is necessary to free the global South from economic domination.

Dakarayi Matanga: 'The WSF is of crucial importance to an African population suffering the impacts of the global financial crisis.' Credit:  Stanley Kwenda/IPS

Dakarayi Matanga: 'The WSF is of crucial importance to an African population suffering the impacts of the global financial crisis.' Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

“Global solidarity has proved to be the only sustainable mode of confronting global apartheid, as exemplified by the liberation struggles that were fought in the 20th century,” says Dakarayi Matanga.

Global apartheid refers to the divergence in the economic and social development of a white North in the industrialised world and a brown South in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Compared to Latin America, Matanga says, Africa has not seen large-scale mobilisation against neoliberal policy. These are policies that stress the private over the public sector, for example reducing trade barriers, minimising regulation and cutting social services by the state; the idea being that this will create economic growth and more efficient government.

A series of World Social Forum activities throughout 2010 and the global meeting taking place in Dakar, Senegal in 2011 will help Africa’s social movements to better connect to the global demand for alternatives.

Q: Leaders from the South – from trade unions, social movement and other civil society – are meeting in Brazil this week to reflect on ten years of the World Social Forum. Several prominent Latin American heads of state will be present, but not a single leader from Africa is attending. A: Apart from political posturing, the African government leaders are more neo-liberal than their Latin American counterparts.  The forum is therefore “none of their business”.

Q: What opportunity is presented by the return of the World Social Forum to Africa, in the form of a series of thematic meetings in 2010 and culminating in a global forum to be held in Dakar in January 2011? A: The World Social Forum has developed into arguably the major trans-movement world gathering. It brings together thousands of social movements, NGOs, trade unions, self-help and advocacy groups from a majority of the world’s countries.

The WSF in Dakar will be the second major one in Africa, and thus an important step towards integrating African movements and NGOs into the transnational network against neo-liberalism, imperialism, fundamentalism, war and other anti-human elements of the present global financial crisis. 

It will be of importance in Africa since the population of this continent suffers intensely the impacts of the crisis.

The WSF will present opportunity for Africa to reflect and rededicate time to fighting the immense poverty that’s gripping the continent.

Q: What needs to be done to prepare the ground and take full advantage between now and then? A: The Forum has been seen by a lot of people as an annual reunion, a time to swap stories and reconnect with old friends. There are five widely-held critiques of the WSF and the forum process.

First, that it is too large, incoherent, and more of a carnival, than a space for serious engagement in ideas, strategizing and mobilising; there are too many fora, and too little time in between for action.

The forum’s governance and accountability structures are weak and largely undemocratic, and the emergence of local fora is undervalued by the leaders of these structures.

The forum is too inclusive of forces that themselves are products of the neo-liberal project – for example, large establishment-oriented NGOs, big foundations, and inter-governmental bodies.

Finally, little is done to include dynamic social movement actors that do not yet have traditional organisation.

These issues need to be addressed in preparation for Dakar 2011. Publicity work in Africa needs to be stepped up through local actions and community mobilisation. National and Regional coordination needs to be galvanised as well.

Q: How do these meetings concretely help grassroots social movements, for example the Zimbabwe Social Forum? A: I have been involved in the WSF process for six years now. I have been in most of the world forums. With this accumulated experience, I can testify about the importance of the Social Forums process to the social movements and the grassroots in Zimbabwe.

The main achievement of the process was to build a very large and open space for political exchange between social movements and NGOs.

Many social movements have drawn inspiration from the “spiritual” mood characteristic of the WSF events.

Arguably, the presence of the forum in Dakar will afford a better opportunity for Africans to attend, as opposed to one located in Latin America.

Q: What are the most important questions facing social movements in Southern Africa at the moment? A: Entrenched neo-liberalism, dictatorship, undercover imperial interests, conflict (ethnic, but foreign motivated) and the hegemony of right wing resurgence.

Q: Most Southern African countries are faced by a huge foreign debt burden which retards development. What alternative has the Southern African Social Forum been proposing/exploring? Is there a way out of this social catastrophe? A: Cancel the debt. Audit the debt to isolate the odious (odious debt is where loans have been diverted by corrupt leadership, leaving the population to repay money from which they have seen no benefit), intensify the fight against local dictatorships, broaden the anti-neoliberal movement and develop lending and development systems that belong to the South (the Bank of the South proposed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund is an example).

Q: Where are ordinary people located in this whole framework? A: The participation in the Dakar WSF by local populations and African people in general will be impacted in 2011 mainly because of the withdrawal of funding partners who have been affected by the global financial crisis. Various obstacles, financial – high registration fees – or logistical – translation – or simply the cost of airfare will make the attendance of participants problematic.

Q:  How can challenges in linking the interdependence between global and local actions be overcome?   A: The Social Forum process is a viable attempt to link the global and the local. Vigorous local mobilisation and exchange of human and material resources. Widening the use of e-communication. This can only be achieved if the local is organised.

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