World Social Forum and Africa

“Who was there to demand a change in vocabulary?’ – bell hooks

A while back, Trevor Ngwane (from the Anti-Privatisation Forum), wrote a piece entitled “10 Reasons – Why The WSF 2007 Should Not Come To South Africa”. In that article Ngwane argues that the WSF should rather be held in Kenya in 2007 instead of South Africa.

This article aims to assess the reasons given by Ngwane. However, I go further to argue that it does not matter where the WSF is held in Africa – as long as it is in Africa.

Ngwane writes that “The main reason the WSF is coming to Africa in 2007 is because we must give solidarity where there is the greatest need. Africa, taken as a whole, is …one continent where the greatest suffering of humanity is to be found….” After having stated all of this Ngwane quickly makes an about-turn and writes that the WSF must not be held in South Africa (SA) because “that is not where the greatest need is in Africa”.

The South African society is one of the unequally societies in the world as Ngwane also points out. The majority of black people are unemployed or under-employed (because of casualisation), and live in poverty-ridden townships. Actually, the socio-economic conditions that black people in this country have to navigate daily as a matter of survival is not that different to that faced by black people in Kenya. So why advocate that the WSF be held in Kenya based on this reason?

The second reason that Ngwane gives is that “During the recent WTO ministerial negotiations the SA government has mostly come out on the side of the imperialist countries against the position of its fellow African and southern countries. The SA government has at times exerted pressure on SADC states trying to coerce them into adopting neo-liberal policies.”

If Ngwane’s reasoning is valid, then it should not be a problem if we want to generalize his assessment to other similar situations. The Brazilian government sent its soldiers to oversee the “transitional government of Haiti” and “maintain order”. In reality the Brazilian soldiers were sent to Haiti to serve the interests of the US and France; and by so doing siding with the imperialist countries against the position of its neighbours. So, if we use Ngwane’s reasoning, the WSF should not be held in Brazil again.

The third reason that Ngwane gives is that “Too many conferences and international events are coming to SA, namely WSSD, WCAR, international HIV/AIDS, rugby world cup, soccer world cup 2010, etc. This is unfair on other African countries; they too must be given an opportunity to host important international events and showcase their countries….”

Firstly, the WSF is not a mainstream event like the WSSD and WCAR, nor is the UN involved in the organization of the WSF like it was involved in the organization of WSSD and WCAR. So, to compare the WSF with these events is red-herring. Furthermore, even if we were to decide to give other African countries a chance to showcase their own countries, it still does not explain why Kenya?

The fourth reason given by Ngwane is that: “SA has failed to repay the debt it owes to African states and peoples who sacrificed to help us attain our freedom…. Indeed, Mbeki’s opposition to apartheid-financing reparations and default on odious apartheid debt remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks to international financial reforms. Instead, SA has chosen to play the role of a sub-imperialist power, encouraging its big capitalists and bankers to re-colonise Africa….”

Here, Ngwane is talking about the South African government which does not represent the interests of the South Africans majority to start with. And if the WSF were to come to South Africa, it wouldn’t be coming to establish relations with the government; but to reflect on how the ordinary people in South African can help stop what their government is doing in other African states.

A fifth reason given by Ngwane is that “South Africa does not convincingly reflect the cultural, political and economic conditions in Africa if that is what the WSF seeks to find out….”

I guess the key word in that sentence is “convincingly”. Does Ngwane mean, perhaps, for him the conditions in South Africa do not convincingly reflect socio-economic conditions that the WSF seeks to find out? Then why present this view as an established fact? Sure, South Africa might be more developed than other African countries, but whom does this development serve? The poor majority or the privileged few?

The sixth reason that Ngwane gives is that “The South African political and economic elite, in particular, President Mbeki and the (black and white) bourgeoisie and its political corps, will take full advantage of the WSF and use it to promote their hegemonic ambitions in Africa.”

What makes Ngwane thinks this won’t happen in Kenya or in any other African country that the WSF goes to? I agree that perhaps other countries won’t use it to pursue hegemonic projects; but they will try to use it for their own political ends. So, no matter where the WSF goes, the risk of it being hijacked by those in governments will persist.

Ngwane’s seventh reason is not different than the one above. Actually it reads more like a continuation of his sixth reason. He says: “If the WSF in 2007 finds [Mandela] alive and politically active this will be a source of great confusion to many activists and NGOers coming to SA. He will be the neo-liberals’ trump card.”

Although Lula’s project is becoming clear to everyone, this case could be made about him too. And besides, what makes Ngwane think that the Kenyan government won’t invite Mandela to come to Kenya to use him for their own political ends, if the WSF were to go to Kenya.

His eighth reason is that “The WSF’s coming to SA will not challenge South African social movements, trade unions, progressive NGOs and research institutes to broaden their social base by working harder and closer to the ground.”

Is this statement made based on the Brazilian and Indian experiences? We do not know, Ngwane does not say. On what assumptions is this assessment based on? We do not know, Ngwane does not say. If the WSF goes to Kenya, will it have the opposite effect? That is what Ngwane suggests. But based on what? Ngwane does not say.

His ninth reason is that “The WSF will prove to be divisive and damaging to the re-invigorated struggle in SA and Africa. A complicated repeat of the tensions and division that visited us during the World Summit on Sustainable Development is bound to happen.”

Will this not happen in Kenya? What are these “complicated repeat of the tensions and division” that Ngwane is talking about? What were the reasons behind these tensions and division? And why can’t we learn from that experience?

These are basically the political reasons Ngwane gives to support the call to hold the WSF in Kenya. As I have attempted to show, these reasons do not convincingly show why we should go to Kenya, nor do they sufficiently explain why the WSF should not come to South Africa.

Be that as it may, Ngwane expects the South African left to support him in this project. It is going to take a lot of explaining than this if he wants my support.

5 thoughts on “World Social Forum and Africa”

  1. EXcellent points, but who is
    EXcellent points, but who is going to decide. Has the WSF opened up about its decision making structure as Michael Albert suggested a few years back. As I recall some obscure group from Quebec were among the main people calling the shots.

  2. It does not look like the
    It does not look like the decision making structures have changed at all. Found this article on the internet:
    which basically says WSF 2007 is indeed going to Kenya. Pity because the article is very superficial – it does not go into detail about who decided and how the decision was made.

  3. Nairobi to Host World Social
    Nairobi to Host World Social Forum
    The Nation (Nairobi)
    July 19, 2005
    Posted to the web July 18, 2005
    Kenya is to host the next World Social Forum.
    Nairobi won the bid to stage what is considered the world’s largest conference – which annually brings together over 300,000 delegates from social and civil society movements operating in all parts of the world.
    The WSF, as the conference is called is traditionally held in the Brazilian city of Porto Allegre, save for 2004 when it moved to Mumbai, India.
    In a world which is increasingly seen by some as the playground of global big capital to the detriment of the rest of humanity, the WSF platform has emerged as a strong counterweight to the World Economic Forum (WEC), which is annually held in the Swiss city of Davos.

  4. That certainly is a pity. It
    That certainly is a pity. It relates back to the stuff we discussed in the “Why are we not winning post”.

  5. am from kenya and im glad
    am from kenya and im glad the social foum will be in nairobi as this will give our nation the necessary exposure in the global map whilst understanding more divergent views from around the world and enlightening our people on other systems and how they work in the world at large.
    i would like to know when the conference actually begins its activities as 19th and 18th are arrival dates…or will sunday also have activities?

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