WSF 2011: Spotlight on Community-centred Development

The World Social Forum returned to Africa in 2011 bringing 75,000 people from across the globe to Dakar, Senegal. ACORD participated in order to contribute, learn and connect with activities on all four of the themes on which ACORD works. The Forum was founded in 2001 by social movements and other civil society groups as an open, democratic arena to share, discuss, inspire and start trying to build a different, better world. While global business and political leaders may be cutting backroom deals at the exclusive World Economic Forum, which takes place over the same period, the Forum brings the people themselves to speak directly to each other in a collective space about the burning issues of our world. This Forum coincided with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt which brought a sense of renewed possibility. ACORD brought a team of 36 staff and partners to Dakar, coming from ten countries across Africa. ACORD's francophone programmes took the lead, with coordination through ACORD's office in Mali.

Livelihood and Peace-building in Africa

Bayelle and Awa leading a discussion on the challenges facing pastoralists

Pastoralism is a strong focus of ACORD's work in West Africa, and the Dakar Forum was an opportunity to highlight this, celebrating pastoralism as a viable means of livelihood through a range of activities. A workshop was held with speakers from pastoralist groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Ethiopia. Arguably upstaging all the human participants, the team was joined for a day by a camel, a cow, a sheep and a goat, who drew much attention, with the camel as the star turn. ACORD held a march in support of pastoralism, led by the animals, and as crowds stopped to look, staff were able to answer questions and start conversations on pastoralist issues.

ACORD's workshop on community level peace-building brought together people from both sides of the continent, from Guinea and from Burundi, to talk about their experiences of ‘cultivating peace' in contexts where everyone has become bound in to conflict. Discussion emphasised the importance of recognising that this will be a long process that must be centred in the members of the community themselves. The process itself, of communication, of valuing people's knowledge, of setting up local mechanisms for conflict resolution and of finding ways to engage all actors including those who initially refuse dialogue, is itself part of establishing a culture of peace. Pastoralism was again highlighted in analysis of conflict between farmers and pastoralists in West Africa, including across national borders.

Land-grabbing was one of the hottest topics at the Forum, and ACORD supported a workshop coordinated by CCFD (Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement), an ACORD member organisation based in France. In the second half of the Forum, organisations working on this issue came together in an assembly, and issued the Dakar Appeal Against the Land Grab. This is open for signature and ACORD encourages you to sign up: www.petitiononline.com/dakar/petition.html

The Power of Participation

As well as these activities, the ACORD stand was staffed throughout the Forum, distributing publications and campaign materials and answering questions. Each day a quick quiz was held on a different issue, which many visitors to the stand enjoyed - especially the first 50 people to complete the quiz, who received a tshirt! Alongside ACORD a group of women from one of ACORD's partners in Mali sold dried fruits and handcraft. The stand also hosted a band of musicians from Mali playing traditional instruments, who helped to spread ACORD's message, and gave a party atmosphere to the end of some long and dusty days.

More information on the ACORD's activities at the World Social Forum can be found on the blog which participants wrote during the Forum: www.acordinternational.org/news/wsf2011/

  • conflict and peacebuilding
  • gender
  • pastoralism
  • social forum