"The World Social Forum is not a conference but a space where issues at the centre of concern find graphic presentation," says Oduor Ong'wen, a member of the WSF 2007 organising committee that showcased hundreds of activities, including open debating sessions, seminars, workshops, processions, cultural presentations and screening of documentaries.
The forum is also intended to counter the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where leaders from business, politics, academia, the media and civil society discuss how to improve the world economy. Since the poor majority have virtually no voice at Davos, according to the WSF, their concerns are not taken into consideration when global economic and social policies are formulated. "We expect that people interrogate the current world as it is and make alternatives for creating a better world," says Oduor Ong'wen, speaking about the open gathering where ordinary people, groups and movements opposed to the forces of capitalism can reflect and exchange ideas to further social equity.
Peoples' Struggles: Peoples' Alternatives- Another World is Possible was the theme of this year's World Social Forum. Oduor Ong’wen sheds light on the just concluded forum with Josephat Juma of The African Executive.
Q. What motivated you to adopt this theme?
A. This theme was collectively decided upon by African Social Forum Council. It was in recognition that African people - ordinary women and men – have struggled against domination and exploitation both from without and within, for centuries. They have waged struggles against slavery, colonialism, dictatorship, economic domination and exploitation. At each stage they have registered victory only for their efforts to be hijacked.
They will continue waging struggles in the political sphere, in the economic front, for the protection of their environment, to preserve their indigenous knowledge and maintain their dignity. The people of Africa are already offering alternatives to corporate-led globalisation. They are showing the world how to preserve biodiversity. They are offering alternatives to the cultural imperialism exported to us via television and other media. As these alternatives take root and are internalised, we embark on creating a better world - devoid of exploitation of small countries by big ones; a world based on peace and not military hegemony; a world free of domination of women by men - indeed, a world based on social justice and popular democracy.
Q. What (in your opinion) are Peoples' struggles in Africa?
A. The struggle against externally-imposed policies. The struggles against bad governance. The struggles against domination of women by men. The struggles against corruption. Struggles against petty nationalism (tribalism)
Q. What solutions have they been having for the struggles?
A. Slavery was abolished. Flag independence was won. Debt cancellation is being discussed. Reviews have been done on bad policies like SAPs
Q. What better alternatives did they derive from the WSF?
A. They proposed debt repudiation. They proposed just trade instead of "free trade." They vowed to promote and protect indigenous knowledge. Lots more alternatives.
Q. Were the 2007 WSF meeting objectives met?
Q. What message does Africa playing host to the WSF send to the world?
A. Africa is not just a continent of unending wars, HIV and AIDS, corruption and dying children as is often depicted in Western press. While these may be present, Africa has people who struggle daily to create a better existence to its people. We have the capacity not only to change Africa but also change the world.