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Africa: NGOs Preparing for the World Social Forum

by Brahima OuedraogoInter Press Service
January 9th, 2002

BAMAKO -- Pressure groups in Africa are preparing for the World Social Forum to be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the end of the month.

Some 200 representatives of non-governmental organisation (NGOs), trade unions, farmers and youth groups, meeting in Bamako, Mali, are trying to develop alternatives to globalisation which, they say, marginalises and impoverishes the African continent.

''It seems that the World Bank's attempt to remedy our social needs hurts our societies even more, because social needs do not exist divorced from our economic needs,'' says Taoufic Ben Abdallah of the Third-World Enda, a non-governmental organisation (NGO). ''We would have wished that the participation of civil society in various negotiations, as well as the management of projects, would be a desire expressed by our society, not a condition of the international institutions like the World Bank,'' says Rebecca Muna of the Tanzanian Coalition on Debt and Development.

In the past few years, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) set up poverty-reduction programmes involving citizen groups.

''Some say it's an opportunity to get financing or to participate in administering funds,'' explains Demba Moussa Dembele of the Senegal-based Council of Organisations Supporting Development.

''In fact, we realised that we've been fighting for 20 years for these programmes, and they have led to the impoverishment of Africa''. Dembele cited Senegal, which reverted back to the category of the least developed countries in 2001 after 20 years of structural adjustment policies.

According to studies, up to 300 million Africans live on less than a dollar a day. Since 1987, the number of poor people in Africa has increased by 80 million, in spite of the decade-long economic reforms and structural adjustment policies.

During the past 20 years of the structural adjustment programmes, Africa exported 148 billion dollars, or 37.5 million dollars a day, to the developed world, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The UN trade body said the last 20 years saw more than 1.6 dollars exported from the continent for each dollar brought in by financial institutions.

Economist Yash Tandom, of the Negotiations and Initiatives Commission of Southern and Western Africa, has called for an urgent need within African civil society for trained international experts.

The experts are needed to counter the arguments of the financial institutions and to prevent NGOs from falling into their clutches because of the esoteric language used by the officials from these institutions.

''Because we're beginning to understand better the tiniest details of certain issues we were able to refuse certain dictates during meetings of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), for example,'' Tandom says, happily.





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