At the Forum

‘Yeah man, you know, I’m hanging out with the voiceless in Mali…’

He talks according to type and is almost dressed the part as well. Bermuda trousers, tousled hair, know-all look in his eyes. Just add flip-flops and he’d be picture perfect. Of course, the minute he walks off this terrain he’d be identified as one of those underdressed tourists unfit to walk the streets of this unforgivingly elegant city. Women will raise one pencilled eyebrow before dismissing him as unworthy of their attention. But right now, he’s in the thick of it, colonizing my pen as he takes forever writing contact details on a scrap of paper and passing the pen around. While I wait, I look at a lovely crowd of young Africans gyrating to the beat of last year’s FIFA World Cup anthem, Waka Waka.

Wait. A. Minute.

Waka Waka… Yes, that ditty. It was the lame cover version of a great Cameroonian classic that was brazenly stolen by one of the biggest entertainment multinational corporations in the world until the Cameroonian press found out about it and raised a stink. (Listen to my radio story on that thievery here.) Surely that must be entirely out of place at an event that pillories everything that reeks of capitalism.

I am pondering this contradiction as the FIFA tune makes way for some equally ultra-commercial Ivorian couper-decaler and I finally get my pen back without so much as a nod from the French (of course) altermondialiste. I hope he treats the voiceless in Mali with a little more courtesy, if only for their generosity of spirit in allowing this bratty metropolitan into their midst.

Meanwhile, Senegal has taken full possession of the 11th World Social Forum. Mbalax, the trademark dance music here, thunders from the speakers. And the entire space between the various buildings where conferences are happening and statements discussed – has been taken up by vendors. Airport art, mostly, and some of the visitors think it jars a little.

Well, it doesn’t. Vendors say business is very good indeed, they say and I’d be surprised if not at least half of all the attendees will come home with a painting, a sculpted animal, a small talking drum, some jewellery. As far as they’re concerned, the Forum is over much too soon.

Students are less fortunate: the Forum uses their classrooms. I get talking to Ibrahim. We stand on the first floor of one of the faculty buildings strewn with papers, overlooking the busy market below.

‘I’m learning English,’ he says. Sounds like a good move, I tell him. That, or Mandarin Chinese. But he does not want to go to China. At least, not yet.

‘Can you recommend a university where I can further my English?’ he wants to know. Mind spins around sub-region and hits Ghana. By far his best bet I would say.

‘What about the UK?’ Ah, forget it, closed, increasingly xenophobic and losing relevance on the world stage rather fast. Bit like the rest of Europe really.

America – now that would be an opportunity. ‘That’s where I really want to go when I’m finished here.’

The USA!? Ibrahim – would you mind keeping your voice down…don’t you know what this crowd thinks of the USA? Phew – good thing no-one was listening in. I wish him the best of luck and hit the stalls below.

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One Response to “At the Forum”

  1. The talk at the Forum « Bram Posthumus – Yoff Tales Says:

    […] Bram Posthumus – Yoff Tales from my street in Yoff, Dakar, Senegal and far beyond…. « At the Forum […]

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