MAC: Mines and Communities

What happened at the 2011 World Social Forum?

Published by MAC on 2011-02-21
Source: Statements, ZSpace (2011-02-19)

Searching for an "alternative world"

You might not have noticed it, but between 60,000 and 100,000 delegates attended the World Social Forum (WSF) in Dakar, capital of Senegal, earlier this month.

At the same time, of course, many thousands of people were demonstrating in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt, seeking to bring about an "alternative possible world".

Inevitably, these events overshadowed the WSF itself, although searching for that "alternative world" has been the Forum's underlying theme its inauguration in Brazil almost a decade ago.

The 2004 Mumbai WSF was the last of these annual gatherings to actively headline the impacts of mining. Nonetheless, mining-related sessions were conducted at the Forums held in Brazil, Venezuela, Kenya and Mali, between 2005 and 2010.

And mineral extraction was on the WSF agenda again this year - as reflected in statements made by organisations from  Sierra Leone and Mali (see below).

The veteran US Marxist professor, Immanual Wallerstein, is one of the few (as yet) to publish a personal assessment of the Senegal WSF.

A triumph of the right?

"No matter what was the theme of the session (in Dakar), its connections with the other concerns came to the fore", says Wallerstein.

"This, it seems to me, has been the great achievement of the WSF - to embrace more and more concerns and get everyone to see their intimate interconnections."

Nonetheless, he adds: "There was...one underlying complaint among those in attendance. People said correctly we all know what we're against, but we should be laying out more clearly what it is we are for. This is what we can contribute to the Egyptian revolution and to the others that are going to come everywhere.

"The problem is that there remains one unresolved difference among those who want another world. There are those who believe [in] more development, more modernization, and thereby the possibility of more equal distribution of resources. And there are those who believe that development and modernization are the civilizational curse of capitalism and that we need to rethink the basic cultural premises of a future world.

"...Those who call for civilizational change do it under various umbrellas. There are the indigenous movements of the Americas (and elsewhere) who say they want a world based on what the Latin Americans call "buen vivir" - essentially...based on good values, one that requires the slowing down of unlimited economic growth which, they say, the planet is too small to sustain.

"If the indigenous movements center their demands around autonomy in order to control land rights in their communities, there are urban movements in other parts of the world who emphasize the ways in which unlimited growth is leading to climate disaster and new pandemics. And there are feminist movements who are underlining the link between the demands for unlimited growth and the maintenance of patriarchy".

While ending on a note of "semi-optimism", Wallerstein warns that:

"If the left cannot resolve its differences on this key issue, then the collapse of the capitalist world-economy could well lead to a triumph of the world right and the construction of a new world-system worse even than the existing one".

[Commentary by Nostromo Research 21 February 2011]

World Social Forum ends in Dakar

By Theophilus S. Gbenda

The Torchlight

17 February 2011

The World Social Forum which is part of the global solidarity campaigning for the creation of "Another World" where there is respect for human rights and dignity, has ended in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, with theme ‘Another World is Possible'.

During the week long event, major challenges facing the world became the subject of intense debates with a view to enabling participants to witness the reality of the African continent and other least developed countries around the world.

Hosted at the University of Cheik Anta Diop, speaker after speaker including the Bolivian President, re-echoed the urgent need for the struggling forces of the world to close their ranks and face the common enemy of exploitation, neo-colonialism, capitalism, racism and natural resource plunder of developing countries such as Sierra Leone.

They called on all progressive forces of the world to emulate the works of great African freedom fighters such as Thomas Sankara, Ken Sarowiwa, Patrice Lumumba, Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah.

The forum was held in the global context marked by the deep crisis of the capitalist system, symbolized above all by the collapse of the market fundamentalism as illustrated by the much talked about global financial slowdown experienced a little over a year ago.

The global financial crisis it would be noted, was preceded by a serious food crisis which added millions to the already long list of those who are suffering from chronic hunger, estimated at more than one billion people, according to estimates of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Climate change, according to expert reports, has come to exacerbate all these crises and threatened the safety of the planet.

The neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank in response to the crisis of the continent's illegitimate debt have destroyed most African economies and led to the deterioration of the human development indicators. In line with this, the forum was designed to be a platform for intensifying the resistance and struggles to further delegitimize the said IMF and World Bank neoliberal policies.

Sierra Leone's Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) along with one of its active platforms, the Association of Journalists on Mining and Extractives (AJME), hosted two well attended symposiums during the forum: the first was held on Wednesday 9th February 2011 on the topic: ‘Reforms in Mining Regime - Challenges in Sierra Leone', while the second took place on Thursday 10 February 2011 on the topic: Resistance of local communities against the excesses of corporate mining companies - a case study of local communities in Sierra Leone.

The presentations were focused on the moves taken thus far by the government to usher in much needed reforms at the national level, with particular reference to the mining and extractive sector which often, or used to be referred to as the breadbasket of the country.

This goes in line with the fact that the country since the early 1980s till date, has produced billions and billions dollars worth of precious minerals, but yet remains at the very bottom of the human development index and classified as a least developed nation.

What came out clearly during the exchanges with participants from other countries was the fact that Sierra Leone's case is not peculiar when compared to what is obtaining in Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana and other resource-rich but economically deprived and donor dependent countries.

While structures such as the Presidential Task Force, the Strategic Policy Unit, the Anti Corruption Commission, the Income Tax Act of 2000, the Law Reform Commission etcetera have been put in place to enhance reforms that would ensure that the country benefits most from its already hugely depleted mineral wealth, it came out that the said structures are yet to display much seriousness in fulfilling their all-important mandates. Concerns were raised that political will seem to be there but that undue priority is been given to attracting investors of all sorts, rather than striving to change the resource-curse syndrome, thereby meeting the expectations of the electorate and the suffering masses.

The 2009 Mines and Minerals Act came under the spotlight during the discussions, with panelists making it clear that while the said act has the potential of changing the history of mining in the country, the continued violation of some of its crucial provisions to so-called attract investors who often turn out to be economic criminals, is undermining the very act and at the same time treating the laws of the land with disregard.

The illegal tax concessions granted to corporate entities such as African Minerals Limited and London Mining Plc coupled with the inhumane treatment meted by mining companies on persons affected by their operations, also attracted an intense debate. A particular case in point was the November 25 2010 incident in theBumbuna general area, where close to 100 indigenes were subjected to excessive police and military force and detained without bail and without charge for close to two months, after the company operating there, African Minerals, abruptly bulldozed their plantations and took over the only potion of land left for their routine farming activities.

The social forum opened with a grand match pass attended by tens of thousands of people from various nationalities but sharing common interests, and ended with a world assembly, where participants shared their country by country experiences and chatted ways forward as to how to better things up in line with the creating a new world goal.

NMJD's contingent to the forum included the Executive Director and his deputy, Abu Brima and Josephine J. Koroma, Programme Director of Mining and Extractives, Aminata Kelly-Lamin, Programme Manager of Mining and Extractives, Mohamed Shiek Turay, Director of Knowledge Management and Communication, Sallieu Kamara and Chairman of the Association of Journalists on Mining and Extractives and also Station Manager of Culture Radio FM 104.5, Theophilus S. Gbenda.

Also present at the forum from Sierra Leone were, Sheku Mansaray of the Sierra Leone Adult Education Association (SLADEA), Fallah Ensa Ndayma of the Civic Commission for Africa, Ansumana Soko of the Youth Partnership for Peace and Development (YPPD), Lansana Hassan Sowa of the Right to Food Network (SiLNoRF) based in Makeni, Reverend Father Joe Turay of the Catholic Mission, alongside two concerned German friends of Sierra Leone, Elke Shaefter attached at Green Scenery and Eris Lieghmann attached at the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL).


Uranium: A mine with all the dangers

Statement by ARCAF (Mali)

19 February 2011

In the framework of the World Social Forum, held in Dakar, Senegal, the Association of citizens and friends of the Falea community in Mali (ARCAF), on Thursday 10 February 2011 - through its communications officer, Nouhoum Keita - condemned the close complicity between the political-administrative authorities of Mali and the multinationals which are destroying - that is to say, killing bit by bit - the local people. This was announced at a press conference held in the Hall of the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN) in Dakar.

Falea, a rural community in western Mali, on the frontiers of Guinea and Mali, is at the centre of intense mineral exploitation. It is endowed with exceptional biodiversity and cultural richness. According to recent data, it hosts potentially the most important uranium deposit, at an estimated 5,000 tonnes covering 150 square kilometres of Mali, Senegal and northern Guinea.

From work carried out by CAMEC an estimated more than 420 million tonnes of bauxite is to be found at Sitadina, in the Falea community area. The company envisages building a plant to deliver 3 million tonnes of alumina (derived from bauxite) each year from 2015.

Thus, Mali would become the premier alumina producer in West Africa, putting the country ahead of Guinea, which produces around 750,000 tonnes a year. In order to guarantee the supply of electricity the company will construct an 80 MW power plant, fed by coal which will be provided on the return journey of a mineral train that ArcelorMittal will put in place in order to extract iron ore from eastern Senegal.

The total cost of investment required amounts to more than 3.5 million US dollars. In 2007, the Canadian company, Delta Exploration Inc (merged in 2009 with fellow Candian company, Rock Gate Capital Corp) has obtained an exploration and resource extraction permit from the Falea Rural administration (Commune).

ARCAF has numerous concerns over the future exploitation of uranium.

The transparency, fundamental to [examining] how companies operate, is lacking. Access to documents has proved very difficult. On the other hand, the acquisition of geological, regional and mineral concession maps, obtaining plans and programmes for the opening up of roads and supply of equipment, has been facilitated, becoming routine, banal for the investors, while proving to be an exceptional, costly and complicated matter for civil society.

The environmental impact assessment has still not been undertaken, and ARCAF has received no information as to its completion. Mali's mineral code states that mining companies must produce an environmental impact assessment in order to obtain an exploitation permit - one comprising the identification, description and evaluation of the impacts of projects on people, fauna, flora, the soil, water air, climate, the countryside and cultural patrimony.

Nonetheless, the Mail government, in conformity with its environmental policy, follows international conventions that set the terms for multinational companies exploiting mineral resources.

The unhealthy and harmful impacts of Rock Gate's operations in one peasant's field; the successive, suspicious, deaths of four pregnant cows belonging to a farming family at the edges of core drills located in the prospecting zone; the risks that dangerous materials used by Rock Gate will leach into underground water; rapid surface contamination in the future concession; access by animals to the most exposed of the drill holes - which are neither protected nor sealed - all these, among other matters, serve to confirm the Association's fears and anxieties.


"The World Social Forum, Egypt, and Transformation"

By Immanuel Wallerstein

ZSpace

16 February 2011

The World Social Forum (WSF) is alive and well. It just met in Dakar, Senegal from Feb. 6-11. By unforeseen coincidence, this was the week of the Egyptian people's successful dethroning of Hosni Mubarak, which finally succeeded just as the WSF was in its closing session. The WSF spent the week cheering the Egyptians on - and discussing the meaning of the Tunisian/Egyptian revolutions for their program of transformation, for achieving another world that is possible - possible, not certain.

Somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 people attended the Forum, which is in itself a remarkable number. To hold such an event, the WSF requires strong local social movements (which exist in Senegal) and a government that at least tolerates the holding of the Forum. The Senegalese government of Abdoulaye Wade was ready to "tolerate" the holding of the WSF, although already a few months ago it reneged on its promised financial assistance by three-quarters.

But then came the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, and the government got cold feet. What if the presence of the WSF inspired a similar uprising in Senegal? The government couldn't cancel the affair, not with Lula of Brazil, Morales of Bolivia, and numerous African presidents coming. So it did the next best thing. It tried to sabotage the Forum. It did this by firing the Rector of the principal university where the Forum was being held, four days before the opening, and installing a new Rector, who promptly reversed the decision of the previous Rector to suspend classes during the WSF so that meeting rooms be available.

The result was organizational chaos for at least the first two days. In the end, the new Rector permitted the use of 40 of the more than 170 rooms needed. The organizers imaginatively set up tents across the campus, and the meeting proceeded despite the sabotage.

Was the Senegalese government right to be so frightened of the WSF? The WSF itself debated how relevant it was to popular uprisings in the Arab world and elsewhere, undertaken by people who had probably never heard of the WSF? The answer given by those in attendance reflected the long-standing division in its ranks. There were those who felt that ten years of WSF meetings had contributed significantly to the undermining of the legitimacy of neoliberal globalization, and that the message had seeped down everywhere. And there were those who felt that the uprisings showed that transformational politics lay elsewhere than in the WSF.

I myself found two striking things about the Dakar meeting. The first was that hardly anyone even mentioned the World Economic Forum at Davos. When the WSF was founded in 2001, it was founded as the anti-Davos. By 2011, Davos seemed so unimportant politically to those present that it was simply ignored.

The second was the degree to which everyone present noted the interconnection of all issues under discussion. In 2001, the WSF was primarily concerned with the negative economic consequences of neoliberalism. But at each meeting thereafter the WSF added other concerns - gender, environment (and particularly climate change), racism, health, the rights of indigenous peoples, labor struggles, human rights, access to water, food and energy availability. And suddenly at Dakar, no matter what was the theme of the session, its connections with the other concerns came to the fore. This it seems to me has been the great achievement of the WSF - to embrace more and more concerns and get everyone to see their intimate interconnections.

There was nonetheless one underlying complaint among those in attendance. People said correctly we all know what we're against, but we should be laying out more clearly what it is we are for. This is what we can contribute to the Egyptian revolution and to the others that are going to come everywhere.

The problem is that there remains one unresolved difference among those who want another world. There are those who believe that what the world needs is more development, more modernization, and thereby the possibility of more equal distribution of resources. And there are those who believe that development and modernization are the civilizational curse of capitalism and that we need to rethink the basic cultural premises of a future world, which they call civilizational change.

Those who call for civilizational change do it under various umbrellas. There are the indigenous movements of the Americas (and elsewhere) who say they want a world based on what the Latin Americans call "buen vivir" - essentially a world based on good values, one that requires the slowing down of unlimited economic growth which, they say, the planet is too small to sustain.

If the indigenous movements center their demands around autonomy in order to control land rights in their communities, there are urban movements in other parts of the world who emphasize the ways in which unlimited growth is leading to climate disaster and new pandemics. And there are feminist movements who are underlining the link between the demands for unlimited growth and the maintenance of patriarchy.

This debate about a "civilizational crisis" has great implications for the kind of political action one endorses and the kind of role left parties seeking state power would play in the world transformation under discussion. It will not be easily resolved. But it is the crucial debate of the coming decade. If the left cannot resolve its differences on this key issue, then the collapse of the capitalist world-economy could well lead to a triumph of the world right and the construction of a new world-system worse even than the existing one.

For the moment, all eyes are on the Arab world and the degree to which the heroic efforts of the Egyptian people will transform politics throughout the Arab world. But the tinder for such uprisings exists everywhere, even in the wealthier regions of the world. As of the moment, we are justified in being semi-optimistic.

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

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