Countdown to WSF 2011: The spirit of North Africa blows south to Senegal

The participants to the the WSF 2011 converge today in the centre of Dakar, the capital of Senegal for the opening march that will start a week of activities, seminars, conferences, formal and informal meetings, encounters, reflections and dances to the rhythms of hope and trepidation and to the familiar WSF slogan: “Another world is Possible”.

I have been in town for just two days and I have been following the last arrangements and preparations made by the local WSF organisers and the first activities organised around the WSF. As always the contrast is dramatic between the tired faces of volunteers and facilitators of the logistics of the Forum and the hugs that embrace the shoulders of friends and colleagues that meet after weeks or months and find each other in the streets of Dakar, in the avenues of the Cheick Anta Diop University, in the alleys of Goree Island, in the lobbies of hotels and in bars and restaurants. The whole city vibrates with talks and cheers that for a second sweep away the daily concerns of activists committed to a world of justice and equality.

While the WSF is ready to open, the Science and Democracy forum, the Trade Unions’ Forum, the meeting for the World Charter of Migrants, the Forum of local authorities and dozens of organisations board meetings and genera meetings are already animating meetings halls around town and in the Goree Island, Unesco world heritage and infamous hub for the slave trade until the 19th century.

The final programme of activities will be circulated daily to keep up with the break neck pace at which activities are allocated to the halls of the university campus, but it is already possible to appreciate that while the traditional themes are discussed, the global crisis, climate change, privatization of knowledge, migrations and diasporas, access to justice and services, a unique spirit clearly animates the 2011 WSF, a spirit infused by the revolutions that are shaking and liberating Tunisia and Egypt blown south by the dusty Harmattan.

Under a canopy in the park surrounding the Polytechnic, for instance, where the Forum on Science ad Demoracy took place for the past two days, I met activists from India and Morocco who have been working closely with the local organising committee and are members of the WSF International Council who told me of the dozen of activities and events organised by the Maghreb and Mashreq Social Forum and by its member organisations, partner and allies to discuss the exciting events of North Africa and the Middle East. Around them a constant stream of colleagues and friends ask news to make sense of what is happenning in the region.

Whereas Tunisia and Egypt need to be analysed separately because of their differences, a common theme can be observed I am told by Hamouda Sobhi of the Alternative Forum Morocco and the E-Joussour network and one of the facilitators of the Maghreb-Mashreq Social Forum: young citizens whose lives hang in the indetermination of unemployment and very limited expectations for the future have challenged authoritarian regimes and claimed their right to live a free and fulfilling existence. Their disappointment with betrayed promises and the frutration of their dreams of freedom and democracy have brought them in the streets and has risen higher than many would have expected or hoped for.

Vinod Raina, of the India People Science Movement and close collaborator of the North African and Middle Eastern networks converging in the Maghreb-Mashreq forum tells me about the importance of being here, in Senegal, in these crucial and historic days of change. Whereas a causal link cannot be imagined between the north African revolutions and the World Social Forum he sees the opportunity to enhance relationships and catalyse support to the wave of changes started in Tunisia.

The forum is the ideal place to exchange information and to create networks of support and activism that could contribute to further spread the contagion of hope and freedom in he region and beyond. His words resonate Hamouda Sobhi’s that explain how the trade unions, the women organisations, the youth movement and the human rights networks that make the Maghreb-Mashreq forum are the same that are organising in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt. His friends and colleagues are in these very days in Tahrir square in the centre of Cairo and have marched, fought and died in the streets of Tunis.

Whereas activists from Egypt are not allowed to leave the country and won’t be joining us in Dakar, dozens of activits from the region are already in town and telling their stories. The African Council, the continental coordinating body of the WSF, has responded to the calls of North Africa: the next African Social Forum to take place later this year will take place in Tunisia. Activists from the whole continent wish to celebrate the recent events and to enlist their support to the citizens of Tunisia and be inspired by their courage and determination. And this is just the beginning of this year’s WSF global event.

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