Posts Tagged ‘World Social Forum’

The talk at the Forum

February 14, 2011

France! No country in the world does vague, pompous, obfuscating rhetoric better.

And since the language on much of the just-ended 11th World Social Forum in Dakar was French we were regaled to vociferous choruses of Y en a marre!!! Contestation!!  Restistances!!!

As a matter of fact, the long-winded speeches of France’s much-maligned (and he richly deserves that) president Nicholas Sarkozy and the massive wheezing chainsaw buzz of slogans here at the Forum have a lot in common apart from their Frenchness: they’re pretty meaningless.

Slogans also happen to be replete with extraordinarily lazy thinking. The exploitation of the poor countries by the rich, white, neo imperialists, neo liberalists, did I mention rich? Rich! Damn the lot of them. All this as China and India are rising and Brasil is getting its act together thanks to a decade of seriously smart social democratic government.

How did they pull this off, warts and all? That would be an intelligent question to ask. After all, they are the future. Africa should be part of that future. Europe is the past. So is the US of A.

Are Social Forums like these really necessary in the age of the internet and shouldn’t there be more effective ways? Ousmane Diba, a Senegalese Forum participant had a few interesting things to say about that. He managed to get his letter into at least three Senegalese newspapers and remarked that the Dakar version of the Forum had become more of a bazaar, a consumer fest. True that. There are more intelligent ways to organise alternatives, rather than meeting up with your fellow feel-good right-on folks so you can tell them that you’re ‘hanging out with the voiceless in Mali’, the same way someone in another Forum could say he’d be knocking down G&Ts in Malibu…

Unfortunately, Diba loses the plot towards the end when he writes that we need Leaders (Great ones? Big ones? Dear ones?) to forge the alternative, otherwise “the big international firms (World Bank-IMF-World Trade Organisation) will continue to march triumphantly through the pauperisation of the masses in our underdeveloped countries”. Ah! French rhetoric! Vague, pompous, uninformative chainsaw buzzing!

Anyway, just for the heck of it. The above trio are not firms, they are institutions. They are probably past their sell-by date and both the IMF and the World Bank are suffering from serious mission creep (go back to the original Bretton Woods conference that established the Bank and the Fund and you will ask yourself what the bleedin heck the IMF is doing in any “developing” country).

Equally true, Bank and Fund have been peddling unfettered free market economics in the 1980s to disastrous effect…which is why I believe that the aid establishment, of which these two are an integral part, should be subjected to international tort legislation.

‘It would focus minds wonderfully,’ as I remember one Indian expert say at a conference in the Netherlands, some 15 (!) years ago. And only 9 years back, another development expert made a similar plea in this book. Developing countries are not laboratories for someone else’s social experiments, however allegedly well-intentioned.

But! There is one thing these unwieldy, hubris-challenged and red-tape riddled organisations don’t do. They don’t “march triumphantly” on a pile of poor paupers. Great, Big, Dear Leaders do that. It’s this kind of sloppy, lazy, unhelpful cliché-mongering that a Social Forum could well do without.


At the Forum

February 13, 2011

‘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.