Is another world possible?

IssueFebruary 2007
News by Andreas Speck

No doubt, this World Social Forum is different. Africa - Kenya & - makes its presence felt. Kenyan and African culture and music are present everywhere at the forum, to the extent that the drums and music do not always have a positive impact on discussions.

But Africa also makes its presence felt in terms of participation and content: on the one hand negatively , as participation from European and Latin American social movements is poor , compared to previous World Social Forums. Poorer , especially, when it comes to grassroots-based movements, which simply cannot afford the expense of travelling to Africa--or are less inspired by a WSF in Africa, as they have fewer links with African social movements. On the other hand positively, as nonviolence and dealing with conflict are higher on the agenda in Africa, than, for example they were in Porto Alegre or Mumbai.

NGOs or social movements?

The stalls belonging to groups present at this WSF are also very different: many African groups are church or religious based, and this is very visible when wandering around the stalls. And many are linked to Western church-connected humanitarian and development NGOs such as Caritas or Oxfam. Most of the work carried out by these groups is more focused on community development, education, and so on, than on street protest or direct action. Though that is not to say that those groups do not have a political perspective which is critical of economic globalisation, privatisation of public services, militarisation, and other forms of domination.


While nonviolence and dealing with conflict are important issues at this World Social Forum, this is not extended to embracing antimilitarism. We got our first shock when we arrived at the WSF venue and found it guarded by Kenyan military and militarised private security . At best, this can be attributed to a lack of awareness among the organisers, combined with legal requirements. But among the participants there was also little visible critique of, not to mention protest against, a military presence at a World Social Forum.

Parallel worlds or new links?

Another open question is, how much this World Social Forum can really help to develop new links between European, US, Latin American and African groups,or how discussions happen in parallel worlds. The different ways of organising,and the importance of church and religion in African organising, make it difficult to create these links, as there is little under standing for each other's approaches. The lack of presence of non-African movements doesn't help to overcome these problems either.

But clearly there are common issues and common perspectives. Economic globalisation makes its presence felt in Africa: Africa's resources are of great interest to globalised corporations,fuelling many of the conflicts on the continent, from Congo to Angola, from Sudan to Somalia.

Building on mutual respect

In contrast to globalisation from above, globalisation from below should value difference, and global cooperation should be rooted in local and regional cultures and struggles.

If the global social movement - if there can be such a movement - does not want to be a mirror image of economic globalisation and cultural imperialism, then we need to take this issue seriously and make an effort to build on the many contacts made at this forum; to build and strengthen links with African movements, based on mutual respect.