The Mali session of the polycentric World Social Forum (WSF) is an opportunity to set the tone for discussions that are to follow in Venezuela and Pakistan, says chief executive Ramesh Singh of Action Aid International, by Paula Fray, IPS.

ActionAid is an international development agency that targets poverty in 42 countries worldwide.

Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, is hosting the first WSF session ahead of those in Caracas, Venezuela next week and the Karachi, Pakistan, session in March.

“Hosting this session in Bamako recognises that the WSF has spread and has taken root in many continents and not just in Porto Alegre. It is a much more broadbased and diversified space for discussions.

“Secondly, the Mali session is important because Africa will host the WSF in 2007 and it will help prepare for that,” says Singh. Nairobi, Kenya, is the host city for the 2007 WSF. Singh believes the Bamako event is also an opportunity to regroup and strategise.

“In 2005, a lot of attention which was externally created was focused on Africa; it’s a good time to come together now and reflect on what happened during the year. We need to reflect on how to keep the unity in Africa but, at the same time, make the connect that was made outside Africa.”

Singh says the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), launched at the January 2005 WSF in Porto Alegre, kick-started a process that brought “attention to poverty and justice – not only at special forums but also in the drawing rooms and onto the streets in many countries”.

Organisations mobilised support within the context of a number of major disasters – such as the tsunami, food crisis in western Africa and the earthquake – last year: “There has been a groundswell of citizen support across the world and the mobilisation of NGOs and civil society.”

The major events of the year, such as the G8 meeting in Scotland, the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Hong also focused people’s attention on global poverty.

“Quite clearly, this has brought issues of poverty and injustice global attention in the minds of the South and the North – and that is a big gain to have made. We need to capitalise on that and keep it going,” says Singh.

He acknowledges that some expectations were not met: “One could say that we did not get the promises made – particularly at the UN Summit – but it has created a momentum of unity and it has focused the agenda. That has been one of our major outcomes.”

Similarly, the outcome of the WTO negotiations in Hong Kong was disappointing but there was a measure of success in “galvanising developing countries”.

What roles then does the WSF play? Singh says the WSF charter is important for its principles of diversity, peace interventions, solidarity and search for alternatives.

“Personally, I believe that it is important that the WSF is a space. The WSF has created and enhanced a large space – that does not mean action does not take place within the WSF,” says Singh.

“WSF started as protest; it is now a search for alternatives. The next logical step is action – without losing that space. Whether the WSF itself takes action is a different issue.”

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