At Dakar: My Time of “Mouvance”

WSF Space for Network and Social Mobilization

The World Social Forum (WSF) at Dakar in February was the third WSF and the second World Forum on Theology and Liberation (WFTL) that I took part in.  I suffered a certain uneasiness at Belem and Nairobi, but I inexplicably warmed to Dakar as if affected personally by the African sun.

At the WFTL in Nairobi the well-known, well-paid theologians arrived, deplaned, gave their speeches and left, virtually ignoring the WSF.  By contrast, the theologians took part in the WSF at Dakar, but suffered from its disorganization.

In Nairobi and in Belem government ministers were involved in financing the WSF, while we were protesting against the public and private institutions that control the economy. Meanwhile, the WSF itself has never given transparent accounts of its own finances. In Dakar, the government played games: at the last moment the WSF was denied the use of the promised university classrooms and was left homeless and barefoot like the poor whose voice it wants to be. The government was afraid that the university students would behave like their counterparts in Tunisia, or Egypt.

The University was the meeting place of the WSF at Dakar, and yet massive and peaceful presence of the young people was a surprise. Although the young people were demonstrating to obtain their constitutional right to be on the University Campus and the university employees were demanding the dismissal of their manager, there was never any physical or verbal violence, nor did even one police officer show up.

My key to understanding the whole event came unexpectedly, a word springing up like a spark from the fire-sticks of a Khoisan nomad [see] that made me change my mind. This word is mouvance, a French word used by a Canadian theologian.  The meaning is that the WSF revealed a deep tidal wave, barely rippling the surface of the sea until it comes to shallow water.  It is perceived but not visualized, nor can it be analyzed, and yet it exists.  It is strong; it is growing; it changes even the course of fish in the depths, and when it comes to the surface it sweeps away everything in its path. The Dakar WSF seems to be a mouvance.

We find ourselves in a liminal moment of cultural history, a space and time in which the past has already been dissolved but the future hasn’t taken shape yet, even though some of its characteristics can be intuited. This mouvance is very significant for the political and economic life of society, and also for the WSF and the WFTL.

First of all, the WSF and the WFTL in Dakar manifested a major shift in orientation.  Even if the WSF takes place soon after the World Economic Forum, the dialogue or contrast is no longer between an economic event of powerful governments and a social celebration of the grassroots.  Certainly at the WSF economics are important and some aspects of globalization are criticized, but the focus is on an interpretation of current global political, social, economic and cultural matters.  The true future counterpart of the WSF is the “United Nations System” which was founded to be a “Family of Peoples” but has instead become a dreadful “Club of Governments”.  Today the WSF is unique as a free and democratic open space for civil society.

It is in this open space that, despite the Statutes of the WSF itself, will be forged the intermediary organizations between people and governments, between states and nations.  And there will be indicated the operational and daily plans for moulding a different World.

It’s remarkable that the FMTL experienced the same change.  The theme of the FMTL was no longer the Theology of Liberation, but Theology and Liberation. The dialectic movement is not found in the struggle against the structures of evil that dominate society and economics, but in the universal context that takes shape wherever you find human groups and churches. In India, the encounter between suffering and compassion speaks “God” and gives birth to the Theology of the Dalit.  In Africa the visceral religious dimension of life is faced with the violence of weapons and rape as tools of war while the theology that wants to free people speaks of reconciliation. At Dakar the theologians brought many examples of this new path, and the panels of the WSF proposed an abundance of creative initiatives, such as a world passport to abolish border posts and recognize people as citizens of the world, a meeting of the two African diasporas created by slavery and migration with the African nations to overcome the dichotomy between Africans and Afro descendants and the search for a new language, new categories and new actions that are inclusive.

And so my irreconcilable differences with the WSF and even with the WFTL became reconciled at Dakar. The various groups gathered in Nairobi and Belem reminded me of the story about a monk who left his community to found his own group.  His former abbot went to visit this monk and found him on a top of a hill talking to himself.  When the abbot asked “Why are you doing this?” the good monk answered: “It is more comfortable for me to listen to someone who thinks as I do.”

For me, in Dakar, a true mouvance occurred, that sprang up from the deep, from the bowels of the people and the earth. There they could begin to look for, and even to find the road towards unity and a global theology starting from the concrete experience of different people and moving ahead that speaks “God”.  The WSF and WFTL have morphed through the open door to the future where, with differences but without clashes, sincere people can hope to build and live in this possible, different and better world that we all continue to seek.

By John Paul Pezzi, MCCJ