Bamako, Mali is one of 3 cities to host the 6th World Social Forum – an alternative to the neo-liberal economic policies that have been imposed on ordinary people and believed by many of us to be at the root of the injustice and violence we see in the world today (click here for more on the WSF charter) It is a space for civil societies to come together to share, discuss, debate and strategize alternatives to growing poverty, environmental destruction, war, militarism, among other realities millions face in today's world. It was decided that this year's forum would be polycentric, held in three different places during approximately the same period – Bamako, Caracas and Karachi.
I and my partner, Laurie, decided it was time for us to join this powerful gathering of people working to create a better world. It was also an opportunity to reach out to our sisters and allies in Africa, Europe and beyond about our “Women Say No To War” campaign. After 24-hours travel from the U.S., we landed in Bamako, made our way inside the airport, where we were warmly greeted by WSF volunteers, mostly recruits from the university. We found other participants waiting to go into town. Of particular note were the nearly dozen Burundians who had also brought as many large traditional drums (each weighing in excess of 60 pounds). They came not only as participants, but also as part of what was promised to be a fantastic cultural extravaganza during the forum. That night we encountered old friends and met new ones. The excitement and energy about the days to follow could be felt everywhere. Participants filled every hotel, guest house and dormitory. As is typical of the Forum, families offered to host attendees in their homes, to assure even wider participation.
But it is expensive to travel to Bamako which limited participation to between 15,000 and 17,000, half of the attendance (30-50,000) hoped for. However, Mali and neighboring countries took full advantage and traveled long distances by road to participate. The result was a preponderance of French and Bambana speakers and the difficult logistics needed for translation was a real drawback for the non-French speaking participants. I need to mention that they did have adequate translation for many of the sessions thanks to the wonderful folks from Babel and numerous multi-lingual spontaneous volunteers (Click here to find out more about Babel). Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world which made it a real challenge to provide adequate support for logistics, translation and infrastructure.
The next day after a somewhat chaotic registration we all gathered at the Place de l'Independence to march through Bamako with banners calling for everything from the liberation of Western Sahara from Moroccan colonial rule to food sovereignty to ending the war in Iraq to stopping violence against women. Two Tuareg men atop camels carried a banner calling for fair trade. A flatbed truck served as a stage for dancers from one of Bamako's many women's groups. It was an amazing sight to see such a collection of ordinary people from all classes, races and ethnic origin marching together in solidarity, representing all the various struggles, strategies and hopes for a better world. The city was strewn with banners announcing the Forum and few Malians, no matter how poor, were unaware of the planned event.
We ended the march after about an hour and half at one of Bamako's sports stadiums where the official opening was to take place. This was a cultural event rich with some of Africa's most prized contributions weaving traditional and modern. One of the organizers and founder of the Mali Social Forum, Madame Aminata Traore, had served as Minister of Culture and did an amazing job ensuring that Mali's ethnic beauty and diversity was a main thread of the conference starting with the opening ceremony. The spectacle brought together young, old, women, men, griots, dancers, singers, masks, traditional instruments and more in a celebration of human ingenuity, grace, beauty and tradition.
It was a time to encounter old friends and make contact with new ones. The energy was high and the positive hopes for the Forum were palpable. The sharing had already begun.
Fifteen to seventeen thousand people attended the Bamako WSF, representing some 40 countries in Africa, as well as Europe, Asia, and North, Central and South America. There was wide national coverage of the forum in Mali. When the conference ended, we traveled far into the countryside and found that most Malians we met who have access to radio or television had heard and appreciated the detailed reports about the proceedings. Not a likely scenario in the U.S. Their hope, similar to our own, is that the leadership hears our message that alternatives are not only possible, but critical. We want humane policies that benefit the ordinary person rather than always catering to the elite and wealthy minority.
More description to follow soon…