Another Africa Is Possible: The World Social Forum

By Duarte, Diana; Sallah, Evelyn | Foreign Policy in Focus, March 20, 2007 | Go to article overview

Another Africa Is Possible: The World Social Forum


Duarte, Diana, Sallah, Evelyn, Foreign Policy in Focus


Tens of thousands of activists and advocates from around the globe gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the seventh World Social Forum (WSF) in January. The rallying cry, "Another world is possible," served as a catalyst for debate and mobilization: what might this new world look like, and how are we to achieve it? The agenda was expansive. It included discussions on many campaigns and challenges across the spectrum of social, political and economic justice issues. Notably, the 2007 WSF marked the first time that the gathering was hosted in Africa, shedding new light on the role of African civil society in the work towards global justice.

As representatives of Africa Action, the oldest advocacy organization working to change U.S.-Africa relations to promote political, social and economic justice in Africa, we lent our voices to such discussions at the WSF and learned from the experiences and insights of our African counterparts.

This report, arising from our observations and dialogues, reframes the forum's primary question and asks: what would "another world" look like for Africa, and how are new alternatives emerging in Africa?

The WSF, which first convened in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is designed to be a truly open and democratic space, seeking to achieve a people-centered global economic and social order. At this year's assembly, worldwide participation was easily visible, participants numbered in excess of 60,000 by some estimates, and the level of attendance by African activists was unprecedented. Local participation increased over the course of the week, after criticism emerged over limited access.

As a space for debate, the atmosphere was occasionally tense, as different perspectives were aired and argued. But this dynamic also meant that the space was constantly active, in keeping with its original intent. The mission and process of the WSF continue to be under debate, and the role of African voices must be elevated in the discussion to reflect the true range of global perspectives.

Global Apartheid

Global apartheid is a pervasive system of inequality and international minority rule, where access to wealth, power and basic human rights are dictated by one's race, gender and place. The effects of global apartheid can be seen not only on an international level, but also within national and local communities. As a result, we see communities of color in the U.S. and globally denied equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and other essential services.

Through this system, disparities in wealth, living conditions and life expectancy become entrenched, as wealthy and powerful elites continue to control global decision-making bodies and to preserve centuries-old patterns of inequality. Global apartheid persists based on the assumption that it is "natural" for certain populations to have different expectations of life.

Global apartheid manifests itself in many ways. We see it in the Global South being dominated financially through overwhelming debt burdens, which decimate access to social services such as education, or through unfair trade policies that stunt economic growth. It is obvious in the low international funding levels for major health priorities such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, neglected as problems primarily afflicting the world's most poor and vulnerable. Again, it appears in the undemocratic systems of global governance and the international financial institutions, wherein the majority of the world's voices are unheard and undervalued, despite the fact that it is the impoverished majority that bears the impact of decisions made by these institutions.

The WSF exposes such fundamental global injustices and creates a space for participants to devise alternatives to the current system. Alternative visions emerging from Africa, as the continent most affected by the dynamics described above, must be integrated into the search for global solutions. …

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