Thursday January 18 2007
Africa inspires the 'other world'
Scroll down to read "Challenges facing civil society " to be addressed at the WSF in Nairobi By Candido Grzybowski
For the global civil society, the African resistance is a source of strength.
From January 20-25, the World Social Forum (WSF) will take place in Africa, whose many peoples and complex history and cultures will inspire and enrich the event. For the global civil society, the resistance of the Africans, who have been subjected to atrocious violence and human rights violations and the devastation of a world system that serves the major corporations and the imperialist powers, is a source of inspiration and strength to carry forward its mission of building “other worlds”.
In the face of the severe inequality in the process of globalisation and the logic of terror and the war that feeds it, we continue to expand and create hope like a network of citizens that extends around the planet whose core is human beings in their multiplicity of peoples, relations, identities, and cultures.
In Africa, we can encourage and tap into the various groups of civil society activists dedicated to build other worlds, bringing a new dynamic to the process of the forum. Given that Africa is being neglected by the economic system and the reigning powers, holding the Forum there is a form of radical commitment to the insurgent global civil society that shows its character and the scope of its struggle.
In its brief history beyond the dreams that it arouses, and the mobilisation that it is capable of generating in different regions of the planet in a wide range of social sectors the WSF has shown itself to be an essential site for the emergence of a new political culture. Much of its power is being derived from its character as an open space, founded in the respect for our diversity and plurality.
The recognition of the principles and the ethical values of freedom of choice and opinion, equality, solidarity, interdependence, participation and shared responsibility, non-violence, the preservation of common goods and nature all of this fuels the WSF as a factory of ideas and alternative proposals to the devastating and exclusive capitalist dominion.
In this noisy town square of the global civil society, people are challenged to revise their ways of thinking and act with the sense that they are participating in a fantastic collective venture, to see themselves as having common rights and responsibilities in building inclusive, democratic, and sustainable societies.
The results of the fora may not please the dominant political status quo and are unlikely to be adopted by the global markets. The dreams, hopes, and ideas that strengthen the civil society, the organisations, movements, the global networks and campaigns, are the benefits reaped by those who participate directly in the effort. Immersed in the Forum process, we grow stronger as the builders of other worlds that are more human and more able to preserve and share among all people the common wealth of life and nature.
Holding the WSF in Africa means filling ourselves with the visions, images, analyses, critiques, demands, and proposals of the social movements and the entities of African civil society.
The Nairobi 2007 WSF will create the conditions to begin a process of charting the civil society in action. This process will be marked by the experience of the African people. In this sense, it will allow the nascent planetary culture to build a segment of the vision of the world with the eyes of Africa, its land, and its people. It is a matter of comparing our knowledge and proposals and exploring those aspects that unite the diverse peoples of the earth in the same human venture. It will be a collective lesson in forging our image of Africa and of a planet that will not be able to become another kind of world without the peoples of Africa.
(The writer is director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis)
Wednesday January 24, 2007
Challenges facing civil society
By Kumi Naidoo (IPS)
Fact of globalisation: many decisions affecting all are increasingly taken by a few.
As thousands gather in Nairobi this week for the World Social Forum (WSF), it is worth reflecting on the current challenges facing civil society and hindering people's efforts to get their voices heard by world leaders.
One fact of globalisation is that many decisions that affect virtually all human beings everywhere, for many generations, are increasingly taken by a few. The importance of efforts to counter this ever-increasing democratic deficit at both domestic and international levels cannot be overemphasised, and the WSF represents a key part of these efforts.
The WSF will bring together representatives of civil society organisations and individual citizens from across the world to voice their concerns regarding the forces of globalisation, and to exchange ideas on how best to promote meaningful citizen participation and social justice.
This year's forum will provide space for participants to exchange ideas around such important topics as HIV/AIDS, gender, privatisation, landlessness, peace and conflict, migration and Diaspora, youth issues, debt relief, free trade agreements, labour and housing, among others.
War on terror
One of the current challenges is the increase in threats to civil society's very existence. These are closely associated with the so-called 'war on terror' discourse and practice and take the form of legislation passed by an ever-growing number of countries to restrict the rights and activities of civil society. CIVICUS hopes that during this year's WSF there will be calls to make greater efforts to support and help defend the civil society organisations and activists that are being increasingly threatened in many parts of the world.
As civil society has grown more powerful, at both the national and global level, there is also increased questioning by governments and critics of the legitimacy, transparency, and accountability of civil society. Many efforts are underway to address this challenge, such as that of a diverse group of NGOs that have agreed an International NGO Accountability Charter in 2006.
Civil society is also facing the challenge of finding greater common ground for dialogue and action. The space offered by the WSF is an indication that civil society continues to make progress in this regard, but much more needs to be done. There are other encouraging signs as well, such as the recent unification of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour, and a few other independent trade unions.
The ongoing efforts of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) also give reason to hope for more united civil society action across countries, sectors, and regions. In October 2006, around the International Day for Poverty Eradication, GCAP led a mobilisation effort called Stand Up Against Poverty. According to the Editor-in-Chief of the Guinness Book of Records, the 23.5 m people who participated constituted the largest-ever single mobilisation of people in a 24-hour period in the book's history.
These actions -- which seek to keep pressure on governments to deliver on their fairly modest commitments and to open up pathways to participation by new constituencies of citizens -- show how important it is that we focus on the considerable number of areas where there is agreement and to agree to respectfully disagree on the smaller number of areas of difference.
Most broadly, the challenge we must accept is to reflect deeply on how civil society can enhance and improve our effectiveness. We as civil society across the world are called upon to recognise that one of our strengths stems from our diversity. The danger is that diversity can sometimes be used as an excuse for parochialism and sometimes individualistic approaches to social change. We will be able to take advantage of this space for meaningful dialogue, learning, and strategising.
( The writer is Secretary General of CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation )