Demba Moussa Dembele, interviewed by Rosa Moussauoi and Chantal Delmas.
We are in a period in which the world crisis is still unresolved. It has had very concrete social repercussions, particularly in Africa. What is the context in which the World Social Forum will take place in Dakar?
The Dakar World Social Forum will take place in the context of a worsening of the crisis, not only in Senegal but also in the bulk of African countries. For over thirty years we have been experiencing various aspects of this crisis, which was imposed on us both by the international context and by the negligence and abdication of some African leaders.
The hunger riots recently in Mozambique remind us that the problem of food supply remains acute in Africa. In Europe you are often faced with the problem of immigration, allegedly clandestine and illegal. This is due to the developmental crisis Africa is experiencing: mass unemployment of young people the crisis of education. These problems are linked to the programmes imposed on us, which have caused budgetary austerity, the dismantling of state and para-state enterprises and have prevented economic growth and employment. As a result, poverty has increased. More than half of African countries or rather more than half of the African population live on less than one dollar a day. This is less felt by us because there are “safety nets” built in to the way African societies are organised. However, the fact remains that the world is now recognising that the programmes that have been imposed on Africa have aggravated not only the unemployment problem but, especially, the problem of poverty – not only in rural areas but also in urban centres. In Dakar itself, let alone its outskirts, there are families who can only afford one meal a day.
Therefore this Forum will take place in an extremely difficult economic and social environment. What about the political implications?
Since people no longer accept being pushed around, forms of resistance are developing at both local and national levels. Civic awareness has increased over the last few years and people no longer will allow themselves to be played for suckers. They no longer want solutions imposed on them that worsen the problems they are facing. In Senegal today and every day spontaneous demonstrations are taking place throughout the country against decisions taken by government representatives in Dakar or at the local level, decisions by a government that cannot handle the situation because of budgetary restrictions on education, health, drainage or public lighting. For example, power cuts take place every day in every part of Senegal. I left home in the dark because the government is incapable of meeting the demand for electricity; public services are declining in the hospitals; there are recurring strikes in the education system because the government has not been able to meet the teachers’ demands for better working or environmental conditions. This is the context in which the World Social Forum will be taking place. We think that this is an appropriate time for sharpening the resistance against these disastrous policies imposed on us by the IMF and the World Bank – and also to increase pressure on the government that is acting as their accomplices instead of meeting its responsibilities.
Therefore we hope that the Forum will provide an occasion for increasing the awareness of our citizens and strengthening the convergence between the social movements and the political parties, as we do have progressive political parties that are struggling for different policies and putting forward alternative solutions. This will be a good opportunity for seeing to what extent the convergence between the political parties and the social movement could ensure the transformation for which we are hoping.
You spoke of this resistance to budgetary austerity but also of resistance to imperialism. What does “resistance to imperialism” mean in a country like Senegal fifty years after independence?
So far the discourse of Western countries on Africa has been an arrogant, condescending and sermonising one. Take, for example, the organisation of elections. The western countries set the criteria, they send their observers to say “We can certify that all went well” or “In our view the elections did not take place in accordance with international standards” – according to their standards. Thus they continue to tell us how to behave, how to run our elections, what democracy and human rights mean and what policies to carry out. They claim this is to fit us into the world economic system. All these, in my view, are signs of imperialism – quite apart from their military interventions. For example the French intervention to save Idris Deby, or their military bases in Africa, which are there to remind us that, while basically we are independent, France still remains, in a way, the boss in many African countries. Moreover, there is also American imperialism at work.
Obama’s arrival has not really changed the image of American imperialism, and yet his election had raised hope of this.
Many Africans thought that with Obama America would change the way it sees the African continent, its relations with the continent and that there would even be a massive influx of capital towards Africa. In fact, nothing has changed! On the contrary, Barack Obama is pursuing George Bush’s Africom (Africa Command) project of installing military bases in Africa, ostensibly to fight terrorism and strengthen the capacity of African armies. He is trying to do this now because George Bush failed to find any country in which to set up such a base. Most countries said no to George Bush. However, Barack Obama has maintained the project and is using his African “roots” all the better to sell it. However, so far the countries are continuing to resist. They say they do not want Africom. Moreover, even in the United States the Afro-Americans and Afro-American organisations are opposed to the project and say they do not understand why Barack Obama insists on selling it. Thus, as far as we are concerned, nothing has changed. They continue to intervene everywhere. They want to carve up Sudan. The other day I heard Hilary Clinton on the radio declare: “We are preparing the Sudanese for a referendum on self-determination”. She added: “and we know (that’s Hilary Clinton speaking!) that the inevitable result will be separation”. She has already voted – and has made the Sudanese vote for the separation of the South from the rest!
There is thus increasing American activity on the continent, particularly with the shrinking of France’s private hunting ground there … There is also a lot of talk about the massive arrival of subsidiaries of Chinese firms. Is this a new form of imperialism or is their way of doing things different?
As far as we are concerned this discourse of the Westerners about a new Chinese imperialism is just them saying: “Our interests are threatened by the arrival of China, India and Brazil, etc. So let’s stress the new Chinese threat”.
The Yellow Peril …
The yellow peril, even if they don’t dare say so, is just this – a way of making Africans suspicious. However, it is a discourse that, in reality, only strengthens the cooperation between China and Africa, because people say: Who are they to preach to us and warn us? … All of a sudden they wish us well! Since when? We’ve cooperated with them since the 15th century … slavery … and what have they done for us so far? Just policies of contempt, condescension and arrogance! And now they are warning us about others? If we’re realistic, where do the military bases in Africa come from? From western countries: France and Britain – and now the Americans want to set up bases here. Who is it that controls the key sectors of our economy? They do! Especially through their adjustment programmes and the resulting privatisation – the bulk of the firms that used to belong to the state or para-public sectors have been bought up by foreign capital, and Europeans own most of the key sectors of our economy. Though the Chinese are indeed arriving, they are working on the infrastructures – the bridges and roads. As far as I know, the Chinese have not bought a single working African firm.
Regarding the question of neo-colonial pillaging, how, today, can Africa take back its own resources?
We have always opposed privatisations and said that whatever its problems, Africa must preserve its own resources and use them wisely. First of all, we will take them back, that is to say cancel all the privatisation policies that were imposed on us by the World Bank and the IMF. That is a fundamental demand. Moreover, when we speak to politicians, that is what we tell them. Just because a state has lapsed in some way or has had problems, the solution is not necessarily privatisation. We can see that this doesn’t work, so we will take back our resources
Then how should we use them? Certainly the continent will continue to sell some of its raw materials. We cannot use everything immediately. However, we must increasingly turn towards transforming these raw materials on the spot. We think that inter-regional cooperation allows us to have an area in which viable policies of industrialisation become possible, which would enable us to convert our raw materials, to create fresh added value and jobs!
You spoke of the disastrous consequences of structural adjustment. How do you see the promise of a better representation of Africa in international institutions?
Firstly, even if they give a few minor roles to the African countries, this is not worth very much. It’s negligible in practice. Secondly, the Africans who will be there will be those who have accepted neoliberal ideology. So they are not the ones who will defend different policies. Thirdly, as long as these institutions still fully support neoliberal ideology, the fact that they have some African representatives doesn’t change anything very much, since the economic policies remain the same, policies based on privatisation, free trade, and the completely free movement of capital and flexibility of the labour market. So long as the World Bank and the IMF remain standard-bearers of this ideology, putting a few more Africans there is meaningless. As far as I’m concerned it’s not worth discussing.
You spoke of the need to stress the alternatives. Can Africa, precisely because it is the first victim of this capitalist system, also be a prime area for the invention of alternatives?
But of course! Even on the African level, even at the level of decision makers. Africa has already decided to create an African Central Bank, an African monetary union and an African Investment Bank in three different capital cities. The President of the African Union’s Commission, Jean Ping, formerly Foreign Minister of Bongo’s Gabon but now, because of the crisis, expressing an almost militant discourse, has declared: “We know that the capitalist market cannot resolve everything (I’m just quoting from memory) and that no one must impose policies on Africa any more. Africa must no longer accept policies being imposed on it – it must regain its freedom and choose what suits it and who its partners shall be”. This is most important, coming from Jean Ping, who is President of the African Union Commission. We ourselves have always said that another policy is possible. Some others are also saying: we must control our own resources and put an end to this policy of unbridled privatisation that has been imposed on us. Sub-regional integration allows us to speak with a single voice at the sub-regional level and even at continental level. This gives us negotiating strength.
Then there is the problem of sovereignty of food supply. I am not talking about security but of sovereignty, because Africa can feed itself – on condition that present policies are changed. We have producers, some associations of producers, particularly in West Africa, the ROPPA (peasant and producer organisations in West Africa), which is a member of Via Campesina and which has affirmed: “We can feed not only this sub-region but also a good part of Africa. However, we need politicians who follow us, who are ready to listen to us”. Politicians are beginning to listen to them. The Government of Senegal is talking of reaching sovereignty of food supply by 2015; so is Nigeria … Even the CEDAO (Economic Community of West African States),in its programme, is talking about sovereignty of food supply by 2015 or later, as is Mali. So there are ideas that are gaining ground.
Then there is the problem of industrialisation. People are realising that we cannot simply export raw materials, the prices of which depend on speculators and other fluctuations – they have no added value and do not create jobs. Moreover, very often, even for the raw materials that we do sell, we do not get paid the full value because intermediaries take a big slice … Therefore they must be converted on the spot as part of a policy of socialisation. This can only be viable at sub-regional level. In the fifteen countries of West Africa, we number 300 million souls. Even in capitalist terms this is a viable market. Here is an area that allows the conversion of our products.
There is increasing discussion of the need for autonomous African currencies, because it is not possible – as the whole history of development has shown – to develop using someone else’s currency. At the level of the CEDAO there are discussions about a sub-regional currency, but political inertia has put a brake on the process. … Moreover, even at the level of the Board members of the African Central Bank, this is being spoken of as a necessity – because we cannot continue to use other currencies and, above all, to submit to the supremacy of the dollar. If we want integration, we must have a common currency that enables easier trade and exchange.
The Social Forum will be held at the UCAD (University of Sheikh Anta Diop). This is unfortunately known In Paris as the venue of Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech. Will holding it there also be a way of turning around and rejecting this colonialist ideology?
There are two reasons I’m glad you asked that question. Firstly, it’s the fiftieth anniversary of certain (essentially French-speaking) countries’ independence – an anniversary that, obviously, will not be forgotten in 2011! Secondly you’ve referred to the speech Sarkozy made in Dakar – a speech to which a number of Africans replied in a book to which I also contributed, L’Afrique répond à Sarkozy, Contre le discour à Dakar (Africa answers Sarkozy – against the Dakar speech). In Dakar we intend to pay tribute to Sheikh Anta Diop himself, to Thomas Sankara and to those who, in our view, have contributed to the resistance as much at the level of ideas as at the political level: to Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral and others. This covers all the struggles against colonialism, for independence and for Pan-Africanism. We expect to bring together a number of African intellectuals to talk about this. This, in our opinion will be the best reply to Sarkozy, because, I believe, Sarkozy does not know Africa. If he knew a little bit of Africa’s history, he would know that capitalism has been integrating Africans against their will since the 15th century, but before then some African empires, for example like the Mali Empire, had a wide influence at a time when Europe was still in the Middle Ages. This will be an additional lesson to Sarkozy.
The years 2010 and 2011 are going to be very busy years in Africa, with a number of difficulties. However, all the election periods are marked, in all countries, by the emergence of civic associations that are now refusing to permit lackeys, who serve the interests of the colonialist powers, to be foisted upon them. Are we going to see these associations at the World Social Forum?
Certainly! The problem of democracy will be one of the main focuses of activity – the relationship between the state and civil society, the choosing of African leaders. We have noticed that, with neo-colonialism, the majority of African leaders tend to think that they are more answerable to the Western powers and international institutions than to the citizens who elected them. We want leaders who feel responsible for and answerable to our citizens, not to the West. To this end, they must be people close to the ideas for which the social movements stand. That is why we want this round table – to bring the political leaders and the leaders of African institutions together for discussion, to tell them: “Your loyalty must be to Africa, to those who elected you and who trust you and not to Sarkozy or Obama, to the World Bank or the IMF”.
Moreover, we want to stress the need to expand democracy, because in our country, as in others, there are monarchist trends. Abdoulay Wade wants his son to succeed him – he denies it but his actions prove it. The Senegalese have said this will not happen here. He tested the waters with the 2009 municipal elections – he wanted his son to become mayor of Dakar. However, the polls massively rejected him – a real humiliation. We are, obviously, fighting for a rejection of the trend to monarchy, for a deepening of our democracy, for leaders answerable to the people – not to France or Brussels.
How do you envisage, globally, the importance of the World Social Forum in relation to the crisis?
I think that the Forum should enable the social movements taking part first of all to make an assessment of ten years of struggle against the neoliberal system and be proud of the victories we have won on the ideological level. We said that all these policies of privatisation and liberalisation, the policies of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, were leading us to a dead end, to the destruction of the economic and social fabric. Now the system is in a deep crisis, and most of the policies we attacked have been shown to be disastrous, just as we had foreseen. All in all, the international financial crisis has only demonstrated that the foundations were fundamentally bad. The Forum should enable us to deepen our critique of the system. We must not rest on our laurels and say we are satisfied because we were right. We should say: Let’s go deeper, because the system continues to live and intends to overcome its problems at the expense of the people. We must deepen our critique of the system, above all in connection with the problems arising from climate change. All those policies for coming out of the crisis, the co-opting of emerging countries to accede to the G8 to make a G20 … these are all issues that we must re-examine during the Dakar Forum. Capitalism is in a crisis – but it is still here.
Second, in the course of the Forum, there must be an emphasis on all the anti-systemic struggles, in the North as in the South – all the struggles against capitalism, but also against the imperialist system of all-out intervention and oppression of peoples. We must give voice to all the movements, all the organisations that are struggling, in their different ways in different parts of the world, to build resistance against the system and against imperialism.
Third, we have said that another world is possible. However, for us this is an opportunity not only to demonstrate the bankruptcy of the neoliberal capitalist system but also to say: “This is what we have proposed for this sector”, “this is what we propose for overcoming the crisis” and “this is what we are proposing at the national, European and African levels – and also at the world level”. What new policy, what new institutions must be created to really come out of the crisis – not to save capitalism but to secure advances in a period of post-capitalist transition? Indeed, I think that the Dakar Forum must take this opportunity to impart fresh momentum to the World Social Forum.