February 7, 2011
The World Social Forum Workshops Begin
Post contributions by Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Director, Nunu Kidane, Priority Africa Network Director & Opal Tometi, BAJI National Organizer
Today marked the first day of sessions of the World Social Forum in Dakar Senegal. The theme for the day was Africa and the Diaspora and featured a myriad of sessions highlighting issues of relevance to peoples of African decent. And although there was some confusion about locations for certain workshops we managed to find our way to 2 insightful sessions.
One session we attended was a workshop on Intra-Africa Migration that featured a panel of academics, migrants and activists from West Africa that exposed the complicity of West African and North African governments in violating the rights of migrants. The North African countries--Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Libya have signed undisclosed bilateral agreements with European countries--Italy, Spain, Malta, Portugal and France to act as their border control agents. North African countries routinely deport Senegalese migrants to their home countries, with many violations of their human rights. Migrants from all over West Africa are deported to Mali without regard to their nationality. The migrants are often brutalized, robbed and dumped at the borders. In exchange for their services, the North African countries receive development aid and military aid from European countries.
Senegal has also signed agreements with some European countries to accept deported Senegalese migrants and to provide Frontex, the European Union border control agency, complete and free access to its territory. In exchange, Senegal receives an undisclosed amount of aid. Mali has refused to sign these types of agreements.
In addition, most member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) do not abide by a protocol on circulation signed by all 16 countries in the 1980s. The protocol calls for freedom of movement throughout the countries. But migrants are regularly harassed, jailed and deported. And only seven countries honor the ECOWAS passport.
Ntamag Francois Romero, the director of the Association des Refoulés d’Afrique Centrale au Mail, or ARACEM (Association of Deported Central Africans in Mali), spoke about his work in aiding migrants expelled from North Africa. Over 100 migrants a month come to the ARACEM center for food and temporary shelter after being deported. They can stay for two weeks at a time until the next wave of deported migrants arrive. And the numbers are growing.
Another session we attended was on “Strategies for International Year for People of African Descent.” Doudou Diene, the former U.N Special Rapporteur on Racism on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance - was one of the key speakers. He spoke extensively on the process that led to the Durban Conference Against Racism in 2001 and the challenges related to the declaration and subsequent attempts towards the full implementation.
Also on the panel were Mareille Fanon-Mendes from France, daughter of Frantz Fanon and President of the Franz Fanon Foundation. She spoke passionately about the need to continue building on the foundations set in Durban, South African. She urged participants the world over to join the mobilization for the next gathering towards this that will take place in New York in September of this year. Following her was Jan Lonn, Secretary of the World Against Racism Network and Coura Mbaye Swedish Committee for the International Year for People of African Descent.
The day was truly rich and included several formal and informal conversations and meetings along the way. Every moment at the World Social Forum is an opportunity to learn. You never knows whom you are sitting next to until you take the time to introduce yourself and learn about their struggles and victories.
Here are some additional pictures from our day which concluded with a dinner reception hosted by Priority Africa Network for the Detroit to Dakar Delegation.