[Fwd: No. 14064: World Social Forum winds-up in Nairobi -- Africa General]
- As some members of this groups know, my personal "learning from each
other" interest has to do with ICT and education. I am interested in
this in theory and in practice, and the practical work is in Africa, so
I try to read things like IRIN and Africa Files. Given recent mentions
of WSF in this group the report below may be of interest..
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: No. 14064: World Social Forum winds-up in Nairobi -- Africa
Date: Sat, 27 Jan 2007 00:02:18 -0500
From: Africa InfoServ <infoserv@...>
*Title: * World Social Forum winds-up in Nairobi
*Author: * Pan-African Postcard, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
*Category: * Africa General
*Date: * 1/25/2007
*Source: * Pambazuka News
*Source Website: * www.pambazuka.org
*Summary & Comment: * It should worry Africans that the African
participation in the Nairobi World Social Forum was more a gathering of
NGOs than of the real, social and political movements and peoples'
organisations who can make lasting change possible. Who do the NGOs at
the WSF represent? Who are they accountable to? To whom do they owe
their loyalty? And why should foreigners be helping Africans be
independent of their own governments when NGOs are so dependent on their
own governments? NGOs are not genuine Civil Society Organizations, the
author insists. DN
*World Social Forum winds-up in Nairobi*
The /World Social Forum/ (WSF) that took place in Nairobi was one of
those 'once in a life time' events for many people; and 'once a year'
events for the veterans who continue to attend every one. It is an
all-comers forum. For instance, the gay and lesbian lobby in Africa are
there along side the Maoists, Anachists, peasant movements, trade
unionists, radical scholars, grassroots movements, all kinds of gender
activists and more. The reactionaries will say: all lunatics are in town.
It should be no surprise if there were many Africans since this is
taking place in Africa, but so marginalized are we in our own affairs
that one is always happy to see Africans at these meetings even when
they are happening here. Many of the usual suspects are around, from the
veteran radicals to the budding ones; and not only from Africa but from
across the world. If you want to gauge the state of global revolutionary
consciousness, the frustrations, the challenges and opportunities of the
global forces for change and transformation, the WSF is the place to be.
*But these gatherings always frustrate me for many reasons*.
*One*; they show up Africa's weaknesses whether they are held outside or
inside Africa. One of the critical areas is our level of participation
and preparedness. A majority of the African participants - even many
from Kenya itself - were brought by foreign paymasters or organisations
funded by outsiders. Often they become prisoners of their sponsors. They
must attend events organized or supported by their sponsors who need to
put their 'partners' on display, and the 'partners' in turn need to show
their loyalty to their masters.
*Two*; even when these meetings happen in Africa, the participation of
local groups and citizens are constrained by the three factors of fees
for participation, language of discourse, and location. Local activists
and sympathizers in the WSF had to organize a protest and even a
temporary occupation before the fees for Kenyan participants were waived.
*Three*; we go to these events without adequate preparation about our
own agenda and line up behind other peoples' not-so-hidden agendas,
although at this WSF there were a number of attempts to forge a Pan-
African agenda before the summit consultations. One of them was the
Pan-African Youth Forum working closely with the Youth Commission of the
WSF. But the truth remains that many of the youth who came did so on the
platform of one donor or the other and were mostly not African.
This dependence on foreigners, both financially and ideologically, is so
pervasive that it cannot be ignored anymore. There are signs that an
increasing number of Africans are not only outraged by it but becoming
ashamed by it, and are looking for ways and means of freeing our
activism from the clutches of donor funding and donor-driven agendas.
These issues were frankly and honestly discussed at many forums before
and during the summit. This dependence on foreigners raises /a lot of
disturbing issues/ about the state of Africa's NGOs and CSOs, and their
capacity to contribute to lasting changes in the social, economic and
political conditions of Africans in favour of social justice.
/The first/ is a question of legitimacy. Who do these NGOs represent?
Who are they accountable to? To whom do they owe their loyalty: to their
donors or to the African people they claim to speak for? /The second/ is
the related question of the generally anti-government posture of these
NGOs. They take money from foreign governments/agencies like DFID,
USAID, DANIDA, SIDA, allegedly as independent CSOs.
But why should foreigners be helping us to be independent of our own
governments? How are their own citizens independent of them? The same
African NGOs that queue up to suck up to all kinds of foreign
governments and funders will raise their eye-brows and shout 'autonomy'
and 'sell out' if any of their members has close financial or political
links with their own governments.
In effect, the autonomy they are asserting is one of being sovereign
against their own government and subservience to any foreigner. Where
governments are illegitimate or have bad governance records this may
hold for sometime, but in the long run it delegitimises the NGOs concerned.
/The third issue/ is the constant conflation of NGOs to mean CSOs which
should not be the case. /Genuine CSOs will include trade unions, guild
and professional associations, self-help groups, village or town
associations, faith-based charities or interest groups, etc. Their most
distinctive character is that they are voluntary, membership-based and
generate their funds from their members. /How many of our busy-body,
noise-making NGOs qualify in this sense? It is similar to our
governments being dependent on the aid of outsiders, and we demanding
that they should be accountable to us. We do not pay taxes but demand
representation and wonder why the leaders are more responsive to any
noise that comes from outsiders?
The worst excesses of the dependence on foreign sponsors are the various
scams that have developed in many of these NGOs about /'creative
accounting'/, which does not mean accountability:
Per diem wrangles,
bogus ticket refunds,
budgeting and reporting for similar proposals from the same organisation
many other unsavoury practices that make these organisations not
the governments we climb on holy mountains to attack for being corrupt,
inefficient and unaccountable.
And this issue of dependence on foreign donors is not just because there
are no resources. /How come the nationalists freed this continent from
the yoke of colonialism without writing proposals to any funder? Why are
our peoples not willing or able to support our activism?/
Could it be that the people do not associate themselves with the
self-given mandate of these largely middle-class led, elite focused, and
urban-based counter elite? Or worse still, people may be seeing that
these self-declared crusaders, whether foreign or local, are only there
for their own interest.
The proliferation in the last decade of MONGOs (My Own NGO), GONGOs
(Governmental NGO) , BONGOs (Business NGO), PONGO (Private NGO), all
over Africa, may be an indication of democratic openings, or state
collapse, or of the irresponsive state, but are not good indicators of
building democratic, people-led, people-based organisations connected to
and organically linked to the wider social movements without whom social
progress, democracy and development is not possible.
If they truly belong to the masses, the masses will defend them. And, if
they are truly based on the interests of our peoples, their first
allegiance will be to those they serve. In that sense it should worry us
that the African participation in the first ever WSF in Africa in
Nairobi is more of a gathering of NGOs than that of the real social and
political movements and peoples' organisations who can make lasting
Many of our successful NGOs and INGOs, like their forebears, have become
gate- keepers - or to use a better term - commissioned agents between
the masses and their oppressors, occupying spaces for the poor and the
marginalized when most of them do not or no longer belong to that class
or share their vision of change.
*/Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the Deputy Director for the UN Millennium
Campaign in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes this article in
capacity as a concerned Pan-Africanist./
**Please send comments to*:
editor@... <mailto:editor@...> or
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