Finding alternatives to neo-liberalism, strengthening resistances against imperialism, free-market policies and oppression and building popular and democratic alternatives were the agenda of the 11th World Social Forum held in Dakar from 06 to 11 February, 2011.
During these six days, democratic aspirations and peacebuiling issues were vivid in the midst of Middle East uprisings and recent successful democratic transition in Guinea. Large delegations from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Guinea, mainly composed by women and youth groups, trade union representatives, intellectuals, students and other civil society organisations, were present at the forum and created much admiration and excitement among participants.
Addressing media, Demba Moussa Dembelé, a member of the forum's organising team, said that “the recent events observed in North Africa were an excellent coincidence”. And when it was announced that President Mubarak steped aside, participants gathered in the Convergence Assembly broke into rounds of applause welcoming the news.
“Could the same scenarios happen in Sub-Saharan Africa?” That was the point that was repeatedly discussed among students of Cheik Anta Diop University where the forum took place and participants from African countries denouncing dictatorships, corruption and the lack of democratic reforms of some regimes.
In an attempt to offer a space of expression to all participants of the forum including students, “Passe passe le mégaphone”, an initiative of French activists present at the Forum asked the following question: “What is your utopia?” where participants had to write on charts what they really think or want.
Answers such as “Dictators out of Africa”, “Armed conflicts to end now in Africa”, “You can be bad but don’t make sad our beloved Africa”, “We want to see the fall of long-serving Heads of state just preoccupied by power and resources control”, “To limit mandate of presidents”, “To see the impunity issue resolved for ever” revealed the tiredness and dissatisfaction widely shared in Africa.
More than twenty years after the introduction of democracy on the continent, few countries experience open societies characterized by the rule of law, respect for human rights, minorities and, a diversity of opinion, democratically elected governments and a civil society that helps keep government power in check.
The actions across the Middle East remind us that all people desire dignity, peace, and a safer world for the next generation - and that change can happen on a scale and at a speed that was not possible even just a few years ago. The question in all minds at the Forum was then how to get there and build vibrant and tolerant democracies in Africa in a more peaceful way and with less damage and bloodshed.
That is where contribution of peacebuilders was expected. In the current context where different solutions to solve conflicts are being experienced, peacebuilders at Forum have come to manifest their existence, to share experiences and stories, to be inspired and to demonstrate that there are other alternatives and approaches sometimes ignored that are having a significant positive impact to restore peace and harmony in societies.
From big organisations like Peace Women Across the Globe and the Agency for Cooperation and Research Development (ACORD) to smaller groups such as local peacebuilders from Casamance region in Senegal, they have organized various workshops and discussions on peacebuiling, conflict resolution, and elections that attracted large numbers of participants who came to contribute, share, learn and be inspired.
That is the beauty of the forum, providing such a unique space of exchange for all those courageous people seeking ideas and alternatives to build another and better world.