THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM IN DAKAR
By Christine Wicht
[This article on the 10th World Social Forum in Dakar/Senegal, February 6-11, 2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=8629
The 10th World Social Forum (WSF) took place in Dakar/Senegal from February 6-11, 2011. Although the WSF is a place of linking and inspiration for people from all continents who discuss alternative solutions to prevailing international policies, most discussions did not appear in the conventional media. With her article, Christine Wicht helps remedy this omission.
The World Economic Forum in Davos was one of the impulses triggering the WSF. The first WSF occurred in 2001 in Porto Alegre/Brazil as a counter-meeting to this self-styled World Economic Forum. In 1996 Susan George from the Transnational Institute and Attac France coined the motto “Another World is Possible.” This was also the motto of the first World Social Forum in which 20,000 persons participated. Now 80,000 activists came to Dakar. The world has changed, not only through the financial crisis that showed the market often causes more problems than it solves. Water shortage, climate justice, land-grabbing, food crises and the policy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were themes discussed at the meeting. For many people, the WSF has become a symbol of hope for a just world. It is an important meeting on the civil plane with an international exchange on new forms of politics, as for example the development of a planetary social citizenship. Many human rights go beyond civil rights like the right to food and water. The WSF is a movement from below that can have a great effect when its themes are spread over the globe. In view of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the WSF can kick off important changes in the world.
RIGHT TO WATER – STILL NOT A HUMAN RIGHT
In 2011 water was an urgent theme of the WSF. For March 2012 an alternative world water forum is planned in Marseille, parallel to the world water forum organized by the World Water Council (WWC). The participants of the alternative forum in Marseille will demand a democratic, ecological and socially-oriented water policy against the global water corporations. The World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership work closely with the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank and the IMF. Defining water as an economic good that can be freely marketed unites them.
A network of lobbyists and economic associations stands behind this alignment of worldwide water policy. This policy benefits corporations and investors but not citizens. In addition development policy is used as a lever to carry out the privatization and liberalization of water policy internationally. As important creditors, the IMF and the World Bank demand free goods- and services-traffic, competition-orientation and above all the deregulation and privatization of public functions like the privatization of water, electricity, education, health care, flexibility of labor markets and fundamental pension reforms (privatization of old age provisions). All these demands lead to greater impoverishment in the world. The free market with its much praised self-healing powers should supposedly result in improvement. With the increasingly manifest market failures, the dose is simply increased – with fatal consequences for the population: poverty and ultimately impoverishment. Laissez faire only serves the interest of the upper class. The trickle-down effect often extolled by promoters of the neoliberal philosophy, according to which the lower classes also profit from the prosperity of the rich is arrogant and high-handed and has also proven to be a cynical illusion. As a pretext for restructuring in “IMF-supported” countries, debt reduction with the help of structural adjustment programs (SAP), where credits are only awarded under the condition that the states submit to a thorough examination by the IMF and accept the implementation of a SAP. In this way, contracts for businesses and investments for the rich industrial countries are made possible as international businesses take over the market.
The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia played a special role at the WSF this year. A demonstration of activists before the Egyptian embassy in Dakar demanded Mubarak’s retirement and declared their solidarity with Egyptian freedom actions. Just before the final rally, the participants in the WSF learned the news of Mubarak’s retirement. A large Tunisian delegation was also among the participants. In the search for new political perspectives and the high youth unemployment that at 60% in this country was a central cause for the revolution, the responsibility of western governments was discussed. These governments supported the Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali for years. The catastrophic effects of SAP that the IMF forced on Tunisia in 1986 were themes. The Tunisian participants clearly denou9nced the neoliberal prescriptions since they are responsible for poverty, plundering, unemployment and impoverishment of a whole region despite the praised economic benefits. The ruinous policy of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO has inflicted massive damage in vast parts of the world, not only in Tunisia.
To counteract this development, the WSF participants demanded that the right to water for all people be effectively enforced. A water declaration was already passed at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2002: “Water is a human right of all living beings on earth and may not be treated as a commodity.” The interest of corporations in the blue gold grows since the supply of water is a basic need of all people and is a scarce resource.
At the WSF, the development of the IMF was vehemently criticized. Under the influence of Keynesianism, the IMF was founded in 1944 as a reflex to the worldwide economic crisis to achieve the following goals:
• Improve the financial cooperation between states
• Strengthen international trade
• Stabilize monetary relations and currencies
• Further international cooperation on monetary policy
• Develop an international payment system
• Provide financial help for states facing payment problems
• Prevent imbalances in the balance of payments of members
• Strive for balanced economic growth
At the beginning of the 1980s with the rise of monetarism as the dominant economic school and influenced by the so-called Chicago Boys around Milton Friedman, the IMF changed its economic orientation and embarked on a market radical neoliberal economic course. With this change of direction, the IMF bid farewell to its original goals.
With the support of the World Bank and the IMF, a handful of international corporations try to seize control of the public water supply and drastically force up the price of water. The policy of privatization, liberalization and deregulation benefiting international water corporations is promoted on different political planes. This policy can be attributed to the Washington Consensus (1990) that included a series of economic measures for the worldwide promotion of economic stability and growth, liberalized economic processes and largely privatized economic activities. According to the neoliberal assumptions, the foundation would be created for better allocation of resources and more efficient use of resources. The concept of the Washington Consensus is advanced by the IMF and the World Bank. Liberalization of trade policy and privatization of public institutions are part of this consensus. The IMF acts as a creditor for central banks. The World Bank assumes this function for private banks. In addition an international network of regional development banks is allied with the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, like the European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Islamic Development Bank.
Another theme of the WSF was the food crisis that is gravely intensified by so-called land-grabbing (large-scale conquest and settlement by investors). Extensive arable land is bought up in Africa, Asia and Latin America by states, corporations, banks and funds. Because of the wide cultivation of bio-fuel, farmers are displaced and their land rights violated. A race around arable land arose through the demand for bio-fuels (admixtures to gasoline in the US and the EU). German firms like Flora Eco Power and the German bank group are involved in promoting bio-fuels. In the last years more than 22 billion hectares of arable land were bought up by foreign investors. The activists of the WSF demand a stop to the land-grabbing and the return of stolen land.
Three main goals stand behind these extensive land purchases and leases:
• Food security in the invested countries that want to ensure their own supply on account of the import-dependence on foods and reduction of fluctuating world market prices;
• Wide bio-fuel cultivation for energy with mainly investors from industrial countries exploiting the land and low production costs in developing countries;
• Securing water rights to ensure food production
BIO-FUEL AND THE IMPOVERISHMENT OF FARMERS
Bio-fuel should contribute to a greater independence from fossil fuels. In a conventional way, bio-fuels are cultivated, sprayed and fertilized. More chemicals enter into the groundwater and contaminate the drinking water. Appealing to a supposed environmentally-friendly energy production, a stronger use of controversial genetic engineering in agriculture is urged. Beside the ecological damage through extensive cultivation (monocultures) of bio-fuel, another aspect of this form of energy production is also criticized. While people starve to death, arable land is used for energy production and lost for the production of food. Thus the prefix “bio” is more a packaging fraud than an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil energy. Through the wide cultivation of bio-fuel, the soil and environment are damaged which cannot be justified ecologically because the principle of sustainability is violated. Small farmers have to yield to industrial cultivation of bio-fuels. The effects of cultivating bio-fuels are very serious in Brazil. For ethanol production, sugar cane is cultivated on a large scale in Brazil. The ecological balance in Brazil is permanently disturbed since large parts of the primeval forest are cut down for sugar cane production. The rainforest as an important factor of climate protection is cynically destroyed in the name of a supposed energy policy. In Indonesia, primeval forests are cut down for growing palm oil plants. The fruit of palm oil is very effective. No other economic plant produces like palm oil… In Indonesia, 2 million hectares of primeval forest land, equivalent to half the surface of the Netherlands, disappears annually. In Borneo, rainforests hardly still exist; a large part was changed into plantations. To feed cattle, pigs and chicken in China and Europe, for gaining bio-fuels and as an element for paint, dyes and detergents, soybeans are grown on a large scale in South America. According to a WWF study, soybean cultivation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay more than doubled in the last ten years. The creation of soybean fields has led to large-scale land expropriations and robbed countless small farmers of their foundations of life.
Regarding these facts, climate justice had an important place at the forum. The theme climate justice was discussed on the eve of the climate conference that will take place from 11/28 to 12/9/2011 in Durban, South Africa. A summit of people will take place outside and not only in air-conditioned rooms. The participants demanded that the industrial countries pay their debts to the global South that is affected very intensely by climate change. In addition the activists urged fundamental changes in the global North. The industrial states should finally pay back their atmospheric debts, reduce their emissions and radically change course in global economic regulation and in the trade system. In an interview with the news magazine Kontext TV, one of the guests of the WSF, Jai Sen from the Institute for Critical Action, Centre in Movement CACIM in India, said on the climate crisis:
“If business as usual continues, the world will be a devastated world in 50 years because we failed at stopping non-linear processes. All social institutions will then break down. This will be a world where corporations can do as they please with their private armies and warlords throw their weight around, a world where the state is narrowed to a very tight ethnological fundamentalist nationalist radius and movements will have to form again. We must think ahead in the future, not only 10 years but 50 years because of the climate crisis. Only movements can give us the knowledge to stop this process. Governments and corporations will not give us this knowledge. The corporations obviously plan; they have their think-tanks with which they plan to rape the earth until it is dead and even after it is dead. Armies plan. What do the movements do? Only the knowledge that comes from the social movements and impassioned social actors can change the world and stop the plundering.”
The United Nations included the claim to clean water in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but enforcing this claim seems hardly possible because of the infiltration of corporations in the United Nations. The United Nations set the goal of cutting the number of starving persons in half by 2015. This goal seems moved far out of sight on account of emerging developments on the food market. Hunger in the world can only be overcome with long-term and sustainable strategies and plans, not with the short-term horizon of Wall Street and the investment- and profit interests of global corporations and investors.
The world is divided unequally. A minority governs; the great multitude remains outside. Even in democracies, citizens have only limited possibilities for influencing politics. Unlike the economy, they do not have any lobby. The WSF is enormously important for the participants to strengthen networks and make new contacts. The WSF was founded as a counter-meeting to the World Economic Forum in Davos where a few persons with power and money but no democratic mandates decide over worldwide economic policy. Because they act as if there were no alternative to the global market, people began to resist this way of thinking. They analyzed the policy of the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union and the WTO and crafted alternative proposals. Real democracy exists when citizens meddle in politics and control democracy. According to the ideas of the forum participants, a new policy could grow in the future that binds citizens in decisions so a social, just and ecologically sustainable world can arise that nourishes all people and excludes no one.
The time is right for a globalization from below. Capitalism is caught in crisis and has hit its limits. The financial- and economic crisis has demonstrated this.
Many people do not know the WSF. The Internet can be a helpful medium to increase the degree of familiarity. Everyone should know the WSF. Susan George said at the WSF that the press prefers to go to Davos because they meet rich instead of poor persons. It is up to us citizens all over the world to contribute something so the media become interested in the World Social Forum since more and more people attend the forum and collaborate in intelligent alternative models that can no longer be ignored.