Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

World Social Forum in Dakar

A Global Open Space geared towards action

[für die deutsche Fassung bitte hier klicken.]

Just like last year’s World Social Forum held in Belem (Brazil), the Forum in Dakar took place under the impression of the deep crisis of neoliberal globalization. Whereas the economy has recovered for some time already in some regions of the world, it started to do so recently in others. But all that cannot hide the existence of deep social, economic and ecological problems. The WSF provided a meeting point for a broad range of individuals originating in movements and civil society who hope to overcome neoliberal globalization: Either by establishing social and ecological regulations, for instance by implementing a “Green New Deal”, or by breaking with capitalism in general. This range of political alternatives characterized this WSF, just as the alterglobalist movement in general. In the run up to Dakar, Gustave Massiah (2011a & 2011b)* wrote a widely acknowledged book and published 12 theses on the alterglobalist movement.

Whereas the debate in Belem had been dominated by discussions over the crisis of civilization and fundamental alternatives to globalized capitalism, such as the concept of “buen vivir” (“good living”) this was different in Dakar. This year, the agenda was dominated by the peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the particular African context with its own topics. Already the impressive opening march made clear that this would not be a forum of big overarching claims and slogans. The organization committee succeeded in mobilizing a big variety of social- and grassroots-movements from all over West Africa. Caravans had been travelling across all neighbour countries, converging to Dakar from different directions. On the one hand they provided cheap transportation, on the other hand they called attention to the WSF. And they did not come with red, green or any other banners, but with their own concerns: land grabbing in order to fulfill the needs of the global consuming class in times of increasing scarcity of arable land. Protection of local seeds and local production from control of multinational companies and agricultural subsidies. Sea grabbing by industrial fishing on the cost of family-run fisheries.

Especially the strong African women’s movements were eye-catching, regarding land use rights, fisheries as well as participation of women in conflict resolution on the African continent. Finally, fortress Europe with its inhuman “frontier protection” regime, was a big issue. Senegalese students and others confronted European participants over and over again: How is it possible that you are able to come here without a visa, whereas we do not even have a chance of having one? Global freedom of movement, as being part of global civil rights, was claimed consistently. A Migration Forum adopted a “Charta of Migrants” in the run up to the Forum ( ).

In short: new and old forms of colonialism were the decisive topics of the WSF. Fortunately, there was no arrogant western critique or bashing of African grassroots movements this time, in contrast to the 2007 WSF in Nairobi. This was partly favoured by the less obvious appearance of religious groups – either Christian or Muslim -, so that religious intolerance, popular in some left currents, was less provoked. However, the engagement of Catholic and Protestant development organizations can be seen as positive in enabling numerous of their partner organizations from the global South to participate in the WSF. The “German Protestant Development Service” presented its study on EU-West African fisheries cooperation, which massively affects the right on food of local fishermen and their families along the coast. Left parties and labour unions were not as visible as at Forums in Latin America and 2003 in Mumbai/India. The only German union participating in the WSF was the GEW. Big NGOs were present numerously, but did still not dominate the Forum. The participation of the global alterglobalist movement mirrored its regional spread on different continents as well. Whereas Europeans and Latin Americans were very visible, alongside the in numbers dominating Africans, there was very few Asian participation apart from India. North American NGOs were under-represented in terms of numbers as well.

Unlike in Latin America, no African government relates politically to the alterglobalist movement. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt therefore became the point of reference concerning political power of the Forum. A dozen of Social Forums held in the Maghreb region had helped to prepare change. Nevertheless, it would be an exaggeration to see the fall of the two antidemocratic regimes as a success of the alterglobalist movement. But a lot of organizations associated with the process of World Social Forum want to travel to Tunisia around the 20th of March. The European network of Attac is preparing a delegation in cooperation with Attac Tunisia.

The new methodology applied at WSF proved to be of value: One day of events dealing with African topics was followed by two days of events self-organized by participating organisations. Opening and final events were the only big and centrally organized events. Just like in the years before, there were numerous events dealing with the same topics because the organizers did not know each other in advance.

During the last one and a half days, 38 action assemblies were taking place. Each of them dealing with one relevant topic. They turned out to be a big success throughout. Resolved common actions were frequently based on preparatory work of global networks, that were initiated at WSF some years ago. Those networks – often running a little secretary, mailing lists and regular phone conferences – are one of the biggest success of past World Social Forums. And one of the most overlooked ones at the same time. The World Social Forum can therefore be seen as a Global Open Space gearing towards action.

As there was no systematic documentation of the results of the 38 action assemblies, I will only mention some of the numerous results. They are politically only binding the participants, not the World Social Forum as a whole. During a big event with 300 participants dealing with land grabbing, a whole clutch of activities was agreed upon and a declaration was adopted ( ).

In doing so, it became obvious that the fight of traditional land use rights, and with it the right to food, have to be won on a local level. Whereas consumerism of the global rich, interests of multinational companies, and powerful states are the cause of land grabbing in the global South, local authorities and nation states from the global South play a decisive role as well. They should defend peasant’s rights instead of serving export agriculture in an often corrupt manner.

This was also demonstrated during the conference “land and sea grabbing” which was organised by our Green group in the European Parliament and took place at the edge of WSF. We have to take advantage of the relevance of the very topic at WSF in order to impose pressure upon illegitimate practices of western companies and EU trade policy, which negatively affects small producers in the Global South. At the same time, we have to strengthen fair trade and social movements putting pressure on their governments.

The mobilization agenda for the upcoming months became obvious throughout different meetings. G8 and G20 summits are going to take place in France this year. Sarkozy wants to present himself as an alterglobalist, failing with his agenda because of “other evil states”. At the same time he is slowing down EU regulation processes regarding the financial markets and the introduction of a European financial transaction tax. It seems to be clear that French movements will not let pass this obvious cheap strategy. The action assembly dealing with G8/G20 adopted a corresponding resolution ( ). An organization committee with networks all over Europe has been created in France. A strong mobilization towards Deauville in March (21st-22nd) and Cannes in autumn (31st October until 5th of November) can be expected. And there will be another preparatory meeting, taking place on the 26th and 27th of March in Paris. Withstanding strong existing tensions between NGOs and social movements relating to the topic of climate protection, seems to be possible.

Furthermore, a lot of movements are heading to South Africa where the next World Climate Conference (COP-17) is going to take place from 28th of November until 9th of December in Durban. Even more attention is given to the Rio-+20-Earth Summit which is going to be held from 14th until 16th of May 2012. Realisation of a “People’s summit” as parallel event for civil society is planned in Rio. It is a politically interesting coincidence that both conferences dealing with climate protection and biodiversity are going to be held in booming countries. Both governments emerged from social movements. At the same time they did not cover themselves in glory regarding ecological policy. How to fight against ecological and social crisis with a common economic strategy is going to be the essential subject. All in all there will be a chain of big mobilizations for the alterglobalist movement: Deauville, Cannes, Durban, Rio.

Unfortunately, the Forum suffered a lot from organizational problems. The presidency of the university had changed recently and the new president did not see himself bound to former agreements. As a consequence, the WSF had to be held in addition to the regular university schedule, which led to double usages of rooms. It lasted quite a long time until tents were built up. But even then, changes of rooms were not announced sufficiently. As a result, many events, that had been carefully planned in advance had to be cancelled. Small organizations were affected in the first place.

Nevertheless, all those problems could still not destroy value and success of the Forum. The International Council of the World Social Forum, who met in the aftermath of the Forum, accordingly rated it as a success. Globally successful networks and their activities demonstrate the necessity and benefit of the WSF. Anyhow, the Forum is neither running out of topics, nor repeating contents without progress, as often claimed. World Social Forums are developing regionally as well as thematically. Even if it is true that there is still no – and will not be an – overarching, common theory of social movements and independent civil society. The discourse of an alleged exhaustion is based on a wrong desire of unity and one big, unifying “-ism”. But the lack of such an ideology must not necessarily be seen as weakness – it rather proves the democratic strength of the alterglobalist movement.

In the Council, it was rightly criticised that a state representative – Bolivian President Evo Morales – was given the honour to open the global Forum of civil society. This had not been agreed on with the Council in advance. Furthermore, there are accusations that the Moroccan and Algerian government co-financed the WSF in return for political concession on the Western Sahara issue. These allegations have to clarified fully. Finally, there were critical inquiries by Indian and Brazilian participants regarding the process of European Social Forum. As a matter of fact, the process of European Social Forum is in trouble for years. In contrast to the World Social Forum, linking up big NGOs, labour unions and radical social movements, failed so far. Almost all big organisations have left the process, which is now led by a small and insufficiently legitimised preparatory committee. It is a good sign, that has now been noted and is criticized from the Global South.

* Gustave Massiah (2011a): Une stratégie alterglobaliste, Paris: La Découverte.

Gustave Massiah (2011b): Les douze hypothèses d’une stratégie alterglobaliste,

You can find my 150 pictures taken at World Social Forum here:

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