World Social Forum 2007: Declaration on Debt

Some 66,000 people from around the world gathered in Nairobi from January 20-25, 2007 for the seventh World Social Forum (WSF). Well over 1,000 separate workshops and events were planned under the theme “Another World Is Possible: People’s Struggles, People’s Alternatives.”

Initiated in Porto Alegre, Brazil as an alternative to the annual meeting of the world’s financial elites in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum has gathered an amazing and creative challenge to the assumptions of neo-liberal globalization and systemic injustice with its emphasis on social justice, international solidarity, gender equality, peace and ecological justice.

Africans describe the WSF using a Kiswahili expression: a global Jukwaa, “an international platform, an open meeting place where groups and movements of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism, but engaged in building a planetary society, centered on the human person, come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action.” (from the Porto Alegre Charter)

Organizers promised that the WSF in Nairobi would be an opportunity to showcase Africa and her social movements; Africa and her unbroken history of struggle against foreign domination, colonialism and neo-colonialism; Africa and her rich heritage of natural wealth, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; Africa and her reputation for embracing communities from around the world; Africa and her contributions to world civilization; Africa and her role in the quest for another possible, more progressive global human society.

It succeeded to some extent, but no meeting of that size is without its challenges – especially the challenge of unmitigated inclusion. For too many people from the slums of Nairobi, registration fees and transportation costs were prohibitive. At the same time, the dominance of big international nongovernmental organizations, the very visible presence of private corporations like Celtel and of expensive food concessions was disconcerting.

The results of the Nairobi World Social Forum were, nevertheless, important. The following declaration on debt cancellation is one good example, but probably the most important fruit of the huge gathering was in the countless encounters of people from every corner of the world and the exchange of great ideas, large and small, for making another world possible.

Declaration on Debt
1. … Together, we the undersigned participants of the World Social Forum are determined to achieve an end to debt domination. ... Indebtedness is still robbing the peoples of Africa, Latin America and Asia of their rights – their rights to independence and political autonomy, as well as to health, education, water and all the other essential goods and basic services which should be available to all.
2. The debt crisis is not just a financial problem for the countries of the South. It is also a political problem that is based on and reinforces unequal power relations: debt continues to be used as an instrument of control, through conditions attached to loans and debt relief. It is an instrument of leverage used by lender countries and lender-controlled institutions to: aid the entry of their transnational corporations; enforce their foreign policy options and military and invasive strategies; secure favorable trade deals; and promote resource extraction from recipient countries.
3. It is also a responsibility of the North: their reckless, self-interested, irresponsible and exploitative lending has fostered this crisis, and their imposition of policies has deepened it. ... We also recognize the role of unaccountable and corrupt governments of the South in creating this debt. These governments must make restitution for their theft from and exploitation of peoples in the South.
4. We applaud the Norwegian campaigners, working in partnership and solidarity with Southern movements, who succeeded in convincing Norwegian government to be the first lender to cancel debts on the grounds of its own irresponsible lending. We know that their years of hard work have brought the Norwegian government to this position. We call on the G8 governments and other lenders to look at the debts which they are claiming, to question the justice and legitimacy of these claims, and to recognize their own responsibility. All lenders – governments, financial institutions and private companies – must take up this challenge.
5. We know that our strength lies in the commitment and determination of social movements, campaigns and individuals working in solidarity around the world. ... This, over many years, has forced the debt crisis from being an issue that few knew about, and that many governments did not acknowledge, to being a subject of debate around the world. It has also brought successes such as that in Norway, and the realization of official debt audits in Ecuador and other countries. We, Southern and Northern people’s movements and organizations, are determined to work and raise our voices together until our call for an end to debt domination becomes irresistible.
6. ...We assert that the South is the creditor of an enormous historical, social, cultural, political and ongoing ecological debt. This must be acknowledged, and restitution and reparations must be made.
7. We are calling for just economic relations between and within countries. ... We assert the rights of peoples to hold their own governments to account, and call on governments to uphold those debts. We are calling for official and citizens’ audits of debt and a citizens’ audit of the international financial institutions. We are calling for systematic social control of public indebtedness. We are calling for debt cancellation without the imposition of conditions by lenders and for restitution and reparations. We stand in solidarity with governments who choose to repudiate illegitimate debt. We are calling for the total elimination of illegitimate, odious, unjust and unpayable debt.
Faith in action: To read the entire declaration and the actions planned for 2007 in support of its aims, see www.maryknollogc.org