The forum ended today, and instead of going to the closing ceremonies, as I should have done, I followed my NIGD colleagues to Les Almadies, the westernmost point on the African continent. Unfortunately, the point is part of a capitalist hotel that has privatized the commons to the exploitation of us humans, so I could not actually step foot west of West Africa. Farther west of Les Almadies is Recife, and apparently planes from South America used to fly via Dakar to Europe. Nevertheless, being out on the coast, even if it is surrounded with seafood restaurants, is much nicer than being back in -25C snow. Visiting this point was the last remaining thing I wanted to do in Dakar, so it is maybe as good as any way to spend my last hours here. I thought that somehow coming to Les Almadies should be representative of my time at the forum, but I’m not exactly sure how.
For a variety of reasons I have not spent much time blogging on this trip, and I feel as if I have less to say about it than I have on previous forums. In part this is perhaps because after so many forums it feels as if the most interesting things I might say I have already said before. In part, it is because I have been spending my evenings when I would normally write hanging out with people instead (which also plays complete havoc with my malarial medication–I’m supposed to take it at the same time every nite and two hours after I’ve eaten, but that point in time has not existed once yet on this trip).
It seems if at least I should go back and summarize what I’ve been doing for the last week. Let’s see, I think it must have been Monday nite, February 7 after I posted my last blog post that we found out about a reception at the Brazil embassy. Brazilian diplomats gave long winded speeches about the good work that they were doing while we became more and more hungry, but at least by the end of the nite we were able to plow through the free snacks for dinner. Lula had spoken earlier in the afternoon but we couldn’t figure out when and where he was soon enough to catch him.
Tuesday and Wednesday were my main work days. On Tuesday, the first and second time slots had CACIM panels on the future of the forum and Axis 12, and for the third slot I attended a session that Deborah James organized on the WTO as part of Our World Is Not For Sale. On Wednesday, Thomas and I spent the morning organizing our NIGD session for later in the day, and in the afternoon I attended the launch of Geoffrey Pleyers’s new book Alter-Globalization. In the last slot we had the main NIGD session we have every year on the future of the forum. I have notes from these sessions that sometimes I’ve posted on my blog, but I don’t have the where with all to clean them up this time, and I am not sure they are worth anything in their raw form. I do have audio and photos that I’ll post as soon as I have better internet.
The schedule came out in bits and pieces which made it very hard to plan out a schedule, and Wednesday nite I could not verify what was happening on Thursday, so I did one of three more historical (touristy) things I wanted to do in Dakar. Just off the coast is the island of Goree that the French used for the export of slaves. After visiting the slave forts in Ghana, I was very curious as to what the slave island was like (more of the same, perhaps). The island, nevertheless, was a nice quiet retreat from the bustle and pollution of Dakar, even though I did get rather sunburned.
I planned to just go to the island in the morning and return to the forum in the afternoon, but instead I followed a group to the Monument to the African Renaissance. It was a waste of time because it looks the same close up as it does from our house, and I wasn’t about to pay 10 euros to take an elevator to the top of the statute.
I returned to the forum in the late afternoon in time to catch Milla’s session on e-publishing, which was well done. This (Friday) morning we had our NIGD meeting, and in the afternoon I returned to the forum but the session on assembly of social movement assemblies was not meeting where and when it was listed in the program, and instead of attending the closing ceremonies I came to the coast.
After playing for the last 2 days instead of foruming I find out that despite the chaotic schedule interesting stuff did happen at the forum, including some interesting social movement assemblies that I wish I had attended. My German farmboy work ethnic kicks in, and I feel guilty for not being more productive. now the forum is over, and what do I have to show for it?
Everyone will say this was the most chaotic forum ever, and different stories swirl around why that was the case (the official story line is that Senegal’s president replaced the university’s rector a couple days before the forum in order to sabotage it). The program came out day by day (and finally time slot by time slot) with some sessions not even including locations, which made it incredibly difficult to find stuff. A couple of my observations for what they are worth:
Different forums have had different levels of security, but this was perhaps the most open. Anyone could walk onto campus and into sessions without showing any credentials. The only time I need to show mine was to get into the press center where I used the internet.
As the week of the forum wore on, more and more craft vendors descended on the forum which made it a real pain to navigate the grounds because of the added bustle, human compression, and constant hassle. At previous forums this was always controlled a bit by the need to have credentials to come on the grounds.
The NGO vs. grassroots divide seems to be as large as ever here, and unfortunately I have spent more time with NGO-type groups than with the grassroots. I’m in a very international setting, but few of my companions are from Senegal. I’m not sure I’ve actually been here.
On the other hand, this is West Africa and on the surface at least it does seem very much like Ghana. I had planned to buy souvenirs, but did not because everything looks the same as it did in Ghana. Dakar somehow seems wealthier (I need to check the UNDP’s HDI ratings), and one person told me that the president Wade has spent a lot of money on the roads. It’s still a pain to navigate the city, but not nearly as much so as Accra.
Ghana was the most religious, most christian place I have ever been, but Dakar is a much more secular muslim country. Even so, the Imams crying out early in the morning to bring out the dead is very annoying. Do muslims suffer from chronic sleep deprivation I wonder?
The weather here has been beautiful, though a wind has picked up the last couple days that makes it feel a bit chilly. Dust is swirling everywhere, which makes my throat hurt.
Ok, maybe later I’ll have more comments and reflections, and maybe more useful and meaningful ones at that. If so, I’ll add those later.