Mona Bricke. Message in a Bottle: The World Social Forum and the G8
Many different things have been written about this year's World Social Forum: Only 50.000 people, instead of the expected 100.000 came to Nairobi. Does this signify the movement's decline, due to lack of professionalism or lack of interest? Is the World Social Forum no longer needed as German newspapers from „Frankfurter Runschau“ to „Der Spiegel“ have been auguring? Should „professional“ protagonists of movements and NGOs look towards Davos and the World Economic Forum instead, which has begun to invite select members of World Civil Society to its meetings?
Most activists who were in Nairobi see both positive and negative aspects to the first African World Social forum – but there is one common denominator: What made this World Social Forum worthwhile and different from the preceding ones was that it took place in Africa. This not only led to the hitherto unknown diversity of movements and NGOs from all over Africa, it also made a different focus on well-known discussions possible.
An example: during the World Social Fora in Brazil, the USA (or more specifically: the US-Government) were firmly ensconced as arch-villain and arch-enemy of the world-wide anti-globalisation movement. The European Union was viewed as either a lesser evil or a possible partner against US-influence. In Africa, things tend to look quite different: A massive protest movement is forming against the plans for Regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) between the European Union and African countries. African activists and movements fear that the dumping of EU commodities on African markets may ruin local markets and fragile economies.
Doing the Groundwork
How does this relate to the World Social Forum's reaction to the G8 in general and the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany? First of all, for many African participants, the G8 are not easy to place because they do not have a directly felt impact on their lives. G8-decisions are implemented „at home“, through EU legislation and international agreements. One lady from the island of Zanzibar, participating in a G8 mobilisation workshop put it in a nutshell: „People here in Africa don't know anything about the G8, and what impact their decisions have on our lives. Before we organise workshops on the G8, we all need to do the groundwork.“ This became clear not only in the three WSF-events directly relating to the G8, where there were many more Europeans than Africans, but also in many other events: You either had an audience of mostly African people, or it was mostly Europeans. It seems that both the issues discussed and the audiences discussing them have yet to merge.
Of course, this is not to say that Africans did not have anything to say about the G8: During a workshop on the „Legitimacy of the G8“ the discussion soon shifted from the question whether the G8 should be abolished or NGOs and Social Movements should try to influence their agenda to another question, that seemed much more important to participants from all over the world: How do we manage the world-wide exchange of opinions and information, of ideas and agendas amongst activists, movements, NGOs, faith groups and all the diverse parts of Civil Society? How do we make sure that we don't stand in each other's way or even work against each other? How do we ensure that NGOs aren't „taken over“ by governments and institutions, while movements are left to fend for themselves, now that their issues are being taken up by the G8 and the World Economic Forum and „VIP“ NGO-representatives are invited to these meetings?
At the conference „What do the Poorest expect from the G8?“, convened by German Development and Aid organisations the mostly African panelists had clear messages for the G8. Odour Ong'wen, one of the main forces behind the WSF in Kenya, saw „Greed Reduction“ as a major issue: „We need to get control over our resources instead of asking the G8 for mercy. The G8 will not change on its own: they have been making promises for over 30 years without keeping them.“ Candido Grzybowsky, another leading force within the World Social Forum, sees the G8 as creating an ecological and economic crisis, pushing toward deregulation, investment and open markets with their agenda. Instead of more development aid, he insisted „the only solution lies in changing the whole system“. Nyanseko-ni-Nku, Cameroonian president of the All African Council of Churches argued along a similar vein: „Africa should be allowed to set their own agenda, instead of being patronised. Instead of more aid, what we need is economic justice.“ World Social Forum veteran and well known eco-activist Vandana Shiva targets this year's G8 agenda as „a free market fundamentalist agenda, creating division in poor countries“. She insisted on the importance of a Civil Society partnership between North and South: „It is just as important to defend the potato „Linda“ against being patented in Germany, as it is to defend biodiversity in India“. Father George Ehusani, of the Catholic Bishop's Conference in Nigeria sees limitless growth as impossible in a limited world: The only solution is to „live simply, so others may simply live“.
G8 – We have a Question for you!
Finally, not only NGO specialists offered a very clear view on what the G8 mean to them: In a song they presented at the G8 mobilisation workshop two boys from the slum of Kibera on the outskirts of Nairobi chanted : „G8- we have a question for you: Why do you make us suffer?“ - to the roaring applause of the other workshop participants.
Backed by the Social Movements Assembly at the WSF, who issued a worldwide mobilisation call to Rostock and Heiligendamm, German delegates at the World Social Forum are taking all these impressions, discussions, questions, hopefully even some suggestions for solutions back home with them in order to make them part of their preparations for the G8 Summit in June 2007.
February 14, 2007
German NGO Forum on Environment and Development
Photos of the World Social Forum, videos of the G8-events and other G8-related video material will be placed on the website shortly.
A photo impression of the workshop: „Legitimacy of G8: Should the G8 be abolished or should we try to influence their agenda?“: