WSF Bamako 2006, by Ana Agostino

Ana Agostino

Bamako, 21 January 2006

Bamako is the capital city of Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa associated with an ancient and high civilization, a historical centre for Muslim scholars, but also known as one of the poorest countries in Africa. Riding through the city for the first time the poverty strikes, but so do the buildings charged with history, the width of the river Niger and the activity taking place on its shores, the magnificent clothes of women and men with such a variety of colours and designs that are a pleasure to the eyes, the open minibuses driving at impossible speeds in such congested traffic, the politeness of the drivers in spite of that, the children selling fruits and cell phone cards, or guiding blind adults begging at street corners. In this contradictory, chaotic, colourful and extended city is taking place the Polycentric World Social Forum. During the first day of the Forum, on January 19, Registration took place at the Gardens of one of the venues from the Forum's territory: the "Palais de la Culture". Like in many other editions of the WSF, confusion prevailed: where exactly to register; where to obtain programmes that at the registration site had already run out; who to ask about the venues where workshops will take place because no rooms in any of the venues had yet been marked. But that was only one side of the coin.

The other one was the lively singing and dancing of the Malian women, the hospitality of our partner organisation in Mali, Jeunesse et Developpement, willing to go back and forth as many times as necessary, driving us around and making efforts to communicate to most of us in English though their mother tongue is Bambara and their working language is French. So in a couple of hours we had managed to register, to enjoy the Malain music played by the women with their instruments made with natural materials and seeds and even to have lunch, and talk about Mali and its culture and its recent political transformations. In the afternoon we went to the opening ceremony that took place at the Bamako stadium where the march that opened the WSF converged. Several thousands of people were there, mainly from Mali and other West African countries, but also from other parts of the continent and Europe. Latin Americans were not easy to find, but there were also there, and so were some North Americans, and some Asians, though in very low numbers. There is no doubt, the feeling is of an African Forum, and particularly of a West African one. At the opening ceremony there were few speeches and many cultural performances. The
programme was taking place on the grounds, but the display of a rich and proud culture was everywhere!!

The 20th of January was the beginning of all workshops and panels. GEO/ICAE had been working for a long time in preparation of two activities we proposed in coordination with UNESCO, ANCEFA and Jeunesse et Developpement. To our concern, both activities were programmed for the morning of the 20th, in two different venues of the Forum's territory. At 8.30, when the first workshop was supposed to start, none of us had the slightest clue where Room J6 at Palais de la Culture, the one assigned for our workshop, was. What we managed to find out pretty soon was that, actually, there was no such room J6.
But by 9 o'clock, there it was, standing with metal poles under a white cloth roof, surrounded by trees and very near from the shores of the river Niger. Posters announcing the workshop and the traditional ones from GEO/ICAE: Education for Inclusion, were hanging from trees. One of the trees announced proudly with a small piece of paper and written by hand: J6! Maybe it was the colourful decoration of the improvised tent, or the intense movement of so many people undertaking several tasks at the same time to get the venue ready and going. The truth is that by 9.30 our workshop was running and we had over 100 participants! And not only that, unexpectedly we had simultaneous translation provided by the organisers of the Forum which made the workshop run more smoothly and allowing for participation of English and French speaking people on an equal foot.

The details of the workshop were:

"Gender Perspectives and MDGs: practices on Literacy, HIV Preventive Education and Women's Empowerment"

Organisers: GEO/ICAE, UNESCO, Jeunesse et Développement

Chair: Ana Agostino, GEO/ICAE
Gender perspectives on MDGs and poverty reduction, incl. GCAP's action Moussa Fiyiei, Action Aid International and member of GCAP Practices on Literacy, HIV Preventive Education and Women's Empowerment Margaret Wambete, Kenya Network of Positive Teachers Stigma and discrimination of teachers living with HIV in Kenya Irene Yameogo from Burkina Faso; Literacy classes for women living with HIV and AIDS Josephine Kamisya, Program Officer, Raising Voices, Uganda and Tina Musuya, CEDOPIV,
Uganda Gender-based violence and HIV prevention Jeunesse et Développement, Mali HIV/AIDS prevention education with and for
young people

After each speaker there were very interesting questions and comments, and the debate at the end of all presentations was very lively. HIV/AIDS was clearly one of the focus of attention, which was to be expected given the prevalence it has in most African countries and its direct impact on issues of education, gender equality, poverty, etc. The interesting thing, though, is that from the panellists as well as from the side of the participants strong links were established between HIV prevention and education, between violence against women and education; clear associations were also established between the need to ensure that the MDGs are achieved holistically and the prioritisation of women's empowerment (through literacy but also
through life long learning). All organisations involved in the workshop (organisers and panellist) felt that the experience had been a very positive one and that the richness of the presentations and the debates deserves to be disseminated.

As soon as we finished taking down the posters from the trees and exchanging contacts with so many enthusiastic participants we rushed to our second workshop that had the following details:

"Education for All and the Global Monitoring Report: Civil Society perspectives"

Organisers: GEO/ICAE, UNESCO, ANCEFA, Jeunesse et
Développement (Mali)

Chair: Paul Belanger (ICAE)
Panellists: Sabine Detzel, UNESCO
Education for All, the GMR and the role of civil society in the EFA process Christophe Zoungara, ANCEFA EFA in Africa and the work of ANCEFA Monique Fouilhoux, Education International UNESCO's Collective consultation of NGOs on EFA Salma Maoulidi, GEO/ICAE, Sahiba Sisters Foundation Tanzania Basic education for women's empowerment and building women's leadership capacities Farell Hunter, Adult Learners Network, South Africa Education for All: Adult Learning in South Africa

This workshop took place at the "Cite Universitaire Badalabougou". Beyond the fact that it took us quite some time to get into our assigned room (another organisation was in, running a workshop that had started quite late and refusing to leave) what hit us more were the conditions of the building. Later on, one of the participants who was a student of the university, commenting on the difficulty of several African countries to achieve the six EFA goals, just asked the audience to look around the room, a room with broken windows, benches that had lost either their seats or backs, several of them piled in a
corner as abandoned trash, with no computers or any other IT gadgets, hardly illuminated. He then said, this is the Science and Technology University of Mali, and asked us all to sign a petition for improved conditions. The workshop had focused on EFA and how civil society organisations perceived its progress/lack of progress and possible ways in which the goals could be reached. Interesting proposals came from the panellist as well as from the public, which in this case were almost 40 people. Again, the organisations taking part believe that much came out that it would be worth disseminating for further debate and search for new and innovative ways to promote the achievement of the EFA goals and civil society involvement.

On the side of GEO and ICAE we emphasised the belief in intersectionality, in the cross cutting nature of the issues addressed in our workshops (education for all, HIV/AIDS, violence against women, struggle against poverty, youth involvement and participation, women's empowerment, international agreements and mechanisms, etc.). And that is why that in the days ahead of us in Bamako we will be interacting with organisations involved in these and other sectors such as environment, peace building, human rights, etc. Language can be a limitation for full interaction, not just because of the need for permanent translation between English and French, but because a great part of the Malian population speaks African languages and with the exception of some few workshops of a mainly local character there is no translation into those languages. It also makes it very difficult to interact with the local population. That is a big challenge that the WSF will face in Nairobi; and it is, of course, a challenge that so many Africans face daily in their own countries.

There is no doubt that many surprises expect us in the days ahead. One happened this midday; when after attending a workshop on EFA organised by Education International I took one of those old taxis circulating in Bamako with no windows and very very old sits to come to the Palais de la Culture. I though that I was hoping against all hopes that I was going to be able to find some internet connection at the Forum, and be able to write and send Voices Rising these first impressions. But yes, here I am, writing at the Internet centre; with free facilities for all participants; with extremely fast connections and empty!

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