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The Dakar World Social Forum concludes. A significant step forward for African social movements

The Dakar World Social Forum concludes. A significant step forward for African social movements

By Sergio Ferrari

The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks were omnipresent in the WSF debates. And the message is clear: the people always have the last word ”, emphasizes Moussa Dembélé.


A massive popular mobilization at the opening on Sunday, February 6; the diversity of hundreds of workshops and thematic assemblies; the mini-mobilizations in favor of specific causes within the Diop university campus; and the festive and at the same time reflective atmosphere set the tone for the edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Dakar.

In which three great protagonists stood out: women with their organizations and networks; the peasants in their fight against the increasingly suffocating scourge of land grabbing; and, very particularly, migrants.

In short, the encounters of several worlds in the same space. All signs of a World Social Forum that, despite the start-up organizational problems, ended up on Friday the 11th and exceeded, in terms of results, the most optimistic perspectives of the African coordinators.

"It is a great surprise for ourselves, in particular for the mobilization it has generated and for the overwhelming participation, which doubles our initial estimates of between 40 and 50 thousand participants", underlines Taoufik Ben Abdallah, a Tunisian militant and intellectual who is a member of the African Organizing Committee.

Without hiding in its balance the self-criticism for the "serious organizational problems of the first day" (ndr that partially paralyzed the activities as there were no free classrooms to carry them out) and "for the technical failures that in some cases we could not completely overcome".

"What worked best from the very beginning were the internal villages (tents) of women, peasants, migrants and unions." In short, the part promoted by the social movements, who on the afternoon of Thursday 10 approved the Dakar Declaration, an X-ray-extract of an important part of the debates of this Forum, of its priorities for future mobilizations and of the common agenda of action for 2011.

When it comes to evaluating the impact of the Dakar session on the internal life of the process started in Porto Alegre in 2001 - which celebrates its first decade of existence - the vital pulsations are of continuity rather than of sudden conceptual changes.

“The WSF is an open space. We do not propose to bring together all the participating actors to impose a single political will on them. A final declaration instead of opening the space would risk dividing it, weakening it… This does not prevent the movements, networks and campaigns that work together from producing their own common declarations, as has happened in previous editions ”, emphasizes Taoufik Ben Abdallah.


The WSF of Dakar and Africa

The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks were omnipresent in the WSF debates. They are African countries, they are Arab nations… and what is experienced there has a direct impact on the entire continent and on the Arab world ”, explains Senegalese intellectual Demba Moussa Dembélé, director of the African Forum for Alternatives and also a member of the African Committee the organisation.

“Many other presidents of African states today are trembling to see what happens there. Who does not doubt that what just happened in Dakar, "will mean a direct contribution to the consolidation of African social movements."

Most of whom - he continues to reflect - are represented within the African Social Forum (FSA), and came to Dakar with their own programs and demands for specific struggles in their countries and regions.

“Once the Dakar event is over, it will be one of the tasks of the FSA, which federates most of these movements, to see how it systematizes ideas, proposals and campaigns, to think about how they are reinforced where they already exist. And above all, how to extend the concept of the Forum in those countries or regions of the continent where its insertion is still weak ”.

According to Moussa Dembélé, the objectives in the framework of this long process of accumulation of forces are twofold: to reinforce the strength of the movements to articulate their own demands in favor of the African population and to increase their capacity for dialogue with the public power throughout the continent. ”.

For the Senegalese intellectual, “the great debate that took place at this WSF touched on the essential themes of the core challenges facing Africa and the world. We were able to put on the table the fundamental questions that cross the continent: the agrarian issue, food sovereignty, natural resources, the new democracy, the sovereignty of the peoples, the deep crisis of capitalism ”.

In this sense, the Dakar edition "provided a serious and profound reflection beyond the component of the usual protest by social movements against war, against climate change, against financial crises and land grabbing".

In Dakar, “Africa affirmed its conscience. We had dreamed of it and we ratify it as an achievement: that this edition marks a major stage in the development of the African social movement and, in the same way, of the global anti-global movement ”.

For Moussa Dembélé, “Dakar marks a break and a new stage. Rupture with respect to the accent placed on the protest and the separation that sometimes exists between social movements and the political world ”.

Changes in Latin America are possible “because of the close approximation between these movements and political power. The reflection of the Dakar debate leads us to think that any change in society involves both social movements and the political world. And it demands a new common political will ”, he concludes.

"We won the informational battle"

Hundreds of journalists and communicators, particularly from Africa, covered the Dakar WSF. Many of them belong to alternative media.

The local Senegalese press ensured proximity coverage. The newspaper “Le Quotidien” published the “Flamme d’Afrique” in a daily reprint, a publication of the Forum and its African organizations.

Also striking was the systematic coverage of the event by the BBC and Radio France International, who provided it with relatively large spaces in their daily programming.

“It was one of the main achievements of this edition of Dakar in relation to information,” emphasizes Bernard Bokodjin, a Togolese communication sociologist, a member of the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt (CADTM) in his country, who for three weeks he arrived in Dakar to reinforce, while benevolent, the small press team of the Forum, and especially the direct relationship between the organizers and the journalists.

“I think that despite our limitations, the WSF won the media battle, particularly in Africa,” emphasizes Bokodjin. “It is now a challenge for the International Council and the African organizers to continue this work. They must really appropriate those contacts to continue to inform and thus ensure that the Forum process continues to have the media impact it deserves ”.

Sergio Ferrari, from Dakar


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