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Posted on on January 30th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (


Q&A: World Social Forum is Not a Static Platform.
Terna Gyuse interviews ONYANGO OLOO, activist

CAPE TOWN, Jan 29 (IPS) – Onyango Oloo was the national coordinator of the Kenyan Social Forum in 2007 when the last global World Social Forum (WSF)took place in Nairobi. As another gathering of activists from around the world unfolds in Belem, Brazil, IPS asked Oloo for his views on the Forum’s past and future.

IPS: Two years on from Nairobi, how would you evaluate the last WSF? What were the successes? What were the shortcomings?

Oloo: WSF Nairobi 2007 was a groundbreaking event. The fact that it took place at all given its myriad challenges, was definitely an indicator of success. We were able to bring thousands of activists from around Africa and across the world together on Kenyan soil.

Issues to do with climate change, food sovereignty, awareness about GMOs, South-South solidarity, campaigns against the EPAs to cite a few were foregrounded and later on became a basis of pan-African initiatives across the continent. Locally, the emergence of the Kenyan gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community was a dramatic manifestation how the WSF can strengthen the struggles of marginalized social groups.

One of the key shortcomings had to with locking poor communities out of the event. Another drawback was how elements within the organising committee fostered the privatisation and commercialisation of the WSF space. Unfortunately, corruption – which is endemic in Kenyan society – reared its ugly head at the 2007 event.

IPS: There were many who expressed disappointment after Nairobi, who suggested the WSF may have outlived its purpose as an alternative to the very different ideas and networking at the World Economic Forum, and has been domesticated into a trade fair for NGOs and the better-funded sections of civil society – what’s your view?

OO: While I sympathized with the essence of the sentiments described above, I do not fully share that pessimistic assessment.

As a social justice activist, I firmly believe that cynicism is a luxury we can ill afford. The World Social Forum is an arena of struggle, not just between the big imperialist forces and those working for fundamental transformation, but also of contestation within and among progressive forces. It is not a static platform.

From time to time, negative tendencies will appear in the WSF process. It is our responsibility to combat and transcend these reactionary tendencies within our movements and communities.

IPS: How has the WSF been good for African civil society?

OO: I strongly feel that activists should challenge the very definition of “African civil society”. Is it limited just to the NGO community and those organisations associated with the African petit-bourgeois elite? Or does it extend to embrace social movements, radical and revolutionary forces (some of them in the anti-establishment political arena) and other spheres?

I am conscious that I am pushing the envelope here since the WSF process is quite wary about including organised political actors [ie. political parties] within its milieu.

IPS: “Another world is possible” – it feels like a limited set of those possibilities have been absorbed into mainstream.

Africa is maybe just past the crest of a wave of elections, of the steady consolidation of bodies like the AU and regional bodies. The continent is in the relative aftermath of the IMF’s economic prescriptions to liberalise and privatise, cut back on government spending and instead recover costs from citizens-as-clients – the casualties of structural adjustment have been buried and now we see solid macro-economic numbers in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa…

And it seems some of the passion and effectiveness of the Jubilee campaigns, of various pro-democracy movements, the urgent and organised demands for things like free anti-retrovirals has subsided.

Is this it? Are we already living in the other possible world? Who and how is pushing beyond this?

OO: As a slogan, “Another World Is Possible” is woefully inadequate with its core assumption that all possible worlds can only be better than the existing one.

Yet the experience of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Bush in the USA, Idi Amin in Uganda, Pinochet in Chile, Papa Doc in Haiti, Suharto in Indonesia and a slew of blood stained dictators and despots across the globe attests that for every utopia, there is a nightmarish dystopia waiting in the wings.

We need to define the contents and parameters of these other possible worlds.

It is a weakness of the WSF process that over the years it has valorised ideologically ambiguous terminology that seems, in my view, calculated to mollify the waffling liberals and right-leaning social democrats. What happened to old-fashioned terms like imperialism, socialism, revolutionary transformation and so on?

I am saying that the WSF will eventually lose relevance as long as it is unable to frontally confront global monopoly capitalism and suggest clear socialist alternatives and organize progressive humanity to defeat this imperialist monster.



Makers and Shakers of the Post-Crisis World.
Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Jan 29 (IPS) – Of all the questions raised by the global economic crisis, one that is by no means insignificant may be answered this week: How will the pressure groups that influenced the policies that led to the present chaos adapt to the new world situation?

Clues to their behaviour will begin to be revealed from Wednesday, as the annual session of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a think-tank for the elite that looks to the interests of transnational companies and is regularly attended by executives, experts and government officials from rich countries, kicks off at the winter resort of Davos in Switzerland.

At first sight it would appear that nothing has changed, as the WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab has already forthrightly announced that the first goal of this Davos Forum will be “to assist the G20 process”. Schwab was referring to the group of more than 20 large and emerging economies which began examining ways of reforming the world’s financial architecture and policies to revitalise the global economy in Washington in November 2008. Leaders of the G20 are due to meet again on Apr. 2 in London.

Even more unambiguously, Schwab said “what we want is to allow business leaders and ‘stakeholders’ such as trade unionists and non-governmental organisations to contribute to the G20’s goals.” This is sheer arrogance, Swiss academic Jean Ziegler told IPS.

It demonstrates that the Davos Forum will once again “be simply an exercise in cynicism, arrogance and blindness,” Ziegler said in an interview with IPS between sessions of the consultative committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council, meeting this week in Geneva.

Some 2,500 people are expected to attend the Davos Forum, over half of them representatives of the business community, but also members of governments, politicians, trade unionists, religious leaders and members of non-governmental organisations.

As happens every year, press accreditation is largely confined to journalists representing media that are in sympathy with the liberal (free market) ideology of the WEF.

The organisers of the Davos Forum have underscored the secrecy surrounding some sessions by prohibiting writers of press releases, who attend the closed meetings, from having any personal contact with journalists.

Schwab has recently been at pains to deny the idea that the WEF has an ideology, saying that the Davos Forum does not express opinions, it just provides a platform.

Neither did he accept that the Davos Forum has embraced certain economic dogmas, such as complete rejection of state intervention and regulations. It was individual participants at the meetings who promoted these ideas, he said.

Some programmes developed by the WEF have always called for a coordinated system of global regulation, he said.

At a press conference, Schwab expressed the view that “a reform of capitalism” is necessary. He said there was a need to return to certain values that had been lost in the past 10 years because of too much greed and too little regulation.

The WEF chairman acknowledged that after 39 annual meetings of the Davos Forum, this year’s session will be one of the most challenging and significant. Titled “Shaping the Post-Crisis World,” the central topic for debate is what kind of world the forum wants to see emerging when the crisis is over, and how to design it.

Ziegler criticised the conspicuous spending by WEF participants. For example, the delegates of UBS (United Bank of Switzerland) are staying in luxury hotels in Davos.

UBS was one of the financial institutions hardest hit by the crisis, so much so that the Swiss government had to bail it out to the tune of 64 billion Swiss francs (56.3 million dollars) to save it from bankruptcy.

“The Swiss taxpayer is paying for these luxuries. It’s disgusting,” Ziegler told IPS.

“Half the bankers and industrialists at Davos should have been sent to prison a long time ago,” he said. “All these years, the Davos Forum has provided the ideological basis for plundering the world.”

Twenty years ago, the Davos Forum was celebrating deregulation, headlong liberalisation of the markets, privatisations and the heyday of profit, Ziegler said.

Former president of the World Bank James Wolfensohn coined the phrase: “The end of history is a world government without a state,” which was roundly applauded by participants at the WEF, Ziegler said.

Their unrestrained neoliberal ideology has landed the world in its worst economic crisis since 1929, and those responsible are the very same people who are here at Davos squandering money, he concluded.


UN DAILY NEWS from the
29 January,  2009


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the world’s business and
other leaders to use the current economic crisis to launch a new Global
Compact entailing
a “Green New Deal” that creates jobs and fights climate
change by investing in renewable energy and technological development.

“Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social
progress. Indeed, it is the one true existential threat to the planet,” he
told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in a speech that drew
parallels from the Global Compact of corporate responsibility launched 10
years ago by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the same hall.

“On the other hand, it also presents us with a gilt-edged opportunity. By
tackling climate change head-on we can solve many of our current troubles,
including the threat of global recession. We stand at a crossroads. It is
important that we realize we have a choice. We can choose short-sighted
unilateralism and business as usual. Or we can grasp global cooperation and
partnership on a scale never before seen.”

Just as Mr. Annan had launched a Compact that sought to give a human face
to the global market, challenging business to embrace universal principles
and partner with the UN on big issues, such as the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) that seek to slash poverty, hunger, lack of access to health
care and education and a host of other social ills by 2015, so now the time
has came for what Mr. Ban called “Global Compact 2.0.”

“We live in a new era. Its challenges can all be solved by cooperation –
and only by cooperation,” he said, stressing how the earlier compact, the
world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, involves over 6,000
business participants in more than 130 countries, pioneering new standards
of “best practice” in human rights and labour law, helping to protect the
environment, fight against corruption and promote health, education and

“Now, a new set of crises prompts a renewed sense of mission,” he declared.
“Our times demand a new definition of leadership – global leadership. They
demand a new constellation of international cooperation – governments,
civil society and the private sector, working together for a collective
global good.

“Some might say such a vision is naïve. That it is wishful thinking. Yet we
have inspiring examples proving the contrary,” he added, citing the
critical role of business in the 1960s Green Revolution that lifted
hundreds of millions out of poverty in Asia, the global vaccination
campaign that eradicated smallpox by 1979, and solid progress in the fight
against AIDS, tuberculosis, polio and malaria.

“But we must break the tyranny of short-term thinking in favour of
long-term solutions. This will demand a renewed commitment to core
principles. A new Global Compact,” he added, noting new United States
President Barack Obama has made a clear commitment to re-energizing the
American economy by boosting the “green economy.”

Mr. Ban cited initiatives already underway under the old Global Compact,
such as “Caring for Climate,” the world’s largest business-led project on
climate change in which chief executives disclose their carbon emissions
and commit to comprehensive climate policies, and the “CEO Water Mandate”
advancing water stewardship through drip irrigation and water harvesting.

“Today with the economic downturn and climate change, the stakes for
companies have never been higher. But for businesses with vision, the
rewards are equally high,” he said. “The green economy is low-carbon and
energy-efficient. It creates jobs. Investment in sustainable technologies
will turn today’s crisis into tomorrow’s sustainable growth.”

At another session in Davos, Mr. Ban pushed for a climate change
communication initiative that will explain, educate and ask for global
engagement, leading to success at the UN climate change conference slated
to be held in December in Copenhagen, where negotiations on a successor
pact to the Kyoto Protocol are slated to end.

Addressing another event called “Managing our Water Needs,” he called on
participants to make water security one of the top issues for climate
change adaptation discussions for this year.

“The problem is that we have no coordinated global [water] management
authority in the UN system or the world at large,” the Secretary-General
said. “There is no overall responsibility, accountability or vision for how
to address the related problems of climate change, agricultural stress and
water technology.”

While in Davos, the Secretary-General also met, last night and today, with
a number of leaders. He discussed climate change and the Middle East peace
process with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In addition, he discussed Haiti with former United States President Bill
Clinton. And in a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon,
he talked about climate change, food security, the MDGs and Haiti.

From Davos the Secretary-General will travel to Addis Ababa for the African
Union Summit, followed by an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Thereafter, he will travel to Islamabad on an official trip to Pakistan,
and then on to New Delhi, India, to attend the Delhi Sustainable
Development Summit 2009.

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