WSF 2007 in Africa must build a mass movement against capitalism

21 February 2005 by Trevor Ngwane

The World Social Forum (WSF) is coming to Africa in 2007. This is great news. But how exactly will the coming of the WSF to Africa in 2007 advance
the struggle against neo-liberalism and capitalist domination? This is an
important question for people who want to stop the centuries-long pain and
suffering of the masses in Africa and other parts of the world.

Having attended all the world social forums, I think that they continue to
be an important rallying point for all struggles against neo-liberalism in
the world. But there are certain tendencies developing in the WSF which
have me very worried. My wish is that when the WSF comes to Africa we
should be able to build on its strengths and eradicate its weaknesses.

President Lula chose to address the WSF 2005 during the launch of the Global Campaign Against Poverty (G-CAP) rather than as many expected in the bigger rally after the opening march. To me, the G-CAP is a campaign conceptualised and designed in the boardrooms of NGOs and funding organisations rather than in the streets and trenches of practical grassroots struggles by social movements, trade unions and other mass organisations of the working class. While the WSF vision is “another world is possible” the G-CAP campaign seeks to build this new world using the scaffolding of the old, namely, the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals, G8 G8 Group composed of the most powerful countries of the planet: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, with Russia a full member since June 2002. Their heads of state meet annually, usually in June or July. commitments, IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
/World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

prevarications and southern governments’ capitalist policies.

There was a beautiful moment when Coumba Toure of Senegal, during the G-CAP launch, sang a freedom song and then told a story about how we should destroy the cage imprisoning all the birds rather than pay 50 cents to buy a single bird’s freedom as people seeking luck do in the streets of Dakar. This must be our vision for the WSF in Africa: to destroy the capitalist cage which imprisons Africans and all of humanity’s social, economic,
political and cultural development. Any lesser vision will be a
capitulation to the bird-seller who sells us the birds’ freedom but is the
one who imprisoned - and continues to imprison - the birds in the first

The African Social Forum’s founding principles recognise the primacy of
social movements over NGOs in the struggle against neo-liberalism. NGOs,
research institutes, individuals and academics are important but they must
play a supportive role. It is the masses themselves who possess the power
to liberate themselves - hence the importance of social movements and other mass organisations such as trade unions, grassroots women and youth groups, informal traders’ associations, homeless people’s federations, etc. But it seems that the African delegations to the WSF still largely consist of NGO types. This was clearly the case in the meetings of the African Social Forum (ASF) council held in Porto Alegre during the WSF 2005.

The WSF governing structures - its international council and secretariat - are unwittingly allowing the marginalisation and eclipse of social movements by their hands-off, laissez-faire approach to the organisation of events and activities in the WSF space. Thus the G-CAP campaign was able to steal the show during the WSF 2005 because Oxfam, Action Aid, the United Nations and other agencies had the resources to secure Lula’s time and overwhelm the proceedings with their giant-sized zeppelins and hundreds of thousands of brochures and pamphlets.

If we compare Latin America’s social movements with those in Africa we must admit that ours are fledgling infants. In many countries we still do not have national social forums despite the resolutions taken by the ASF in Addis Ababa. Where they exist they are still mostly dominated by NGOs rather than by grassroots organisations and social movements. If the funding agencies could so easily dominate the WSF 2005 in its birthplace in Brazil, can you imagine what will happen in Africa? The more cynical among the pro-status quo agencies are probably banking on the Africans tearing each other to pieces fighting over which country must host the WSF in 2007.
The vultures are already circling waiting for the right moment to pounce on
the dead corpse of the African movement and then to triumphantly hoist their neo-liberal flag.

Comrades, I humbly submit that as the ASF we should be aware of these
dangers and take vigorous steps to circumvent them. In all that we do let
us put the interests of the African masses first. This means the interests
of the working class and its constituent elements, namely, employed and
unemployed workers, the landless peasants, women, youth, informal traders,
cross border traders, the aged, people living with HIV/AIDS and all the
social groups smashed by capitalism. None of these sectors can truly
advance their cause so long as capitalism is the dominant economic system in the world.

We should use the build-up to the WSF 2007 to build and strengthen the
social movements in Africa. We need a programme of action for this
momentous task. We should broaden and strengthen the ASF as the tool to
co-ordinate this work. Maximum internal democracy, accountability,
collective leadership and mass participation are crucial in building the
ASF. NGOs and research institutes are important and welcome in the ASF but
only those who agree to the primacy of mass organisations in the struggle;
only those who privilege methods of struggle which actively involve the rank
and file rather than rely on few specialists to fight it out. The WSF 2007
in Africa should be structured logistically, organisationally and
politically to favour the social movements and their daily struggles.

The WSF 2007 in Africa cannot afford to be a talk-shop. We should consider
a specific concrete campaign and outcome which will benefit the African
masses practically. Some have suggested linking the WSF 2007 with the call
for the actual cancellation of the debt and the struggle for reparations. I
personally support this approach as it unites us with Africans in the
diaspora who are also fighting for reparations. But whatever specific
campaign we decide upon, be it HIV/AIDS linked to gender equality or trade,
we must not forget the analogy of the birds in the cage. The WSF in Africa
must help us gather the social forces and build the power to destroy the
cage rather than buy us the freedom of one bird.

In our preparations for the WSF in Africa we will need to draw the class
line between exploiter and exploited, capitalist and victim/opponent of
capitalism.Let us unite and build towards a WSF 2007 that will take forward
the struggle to destroy capitalism rather than merely reform it. Amandla
awethu! (The power is in our hands!)

Source: Center for Civil Society (, February, 2005.



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