The Bamako Appeal (BA) was launched at the session of the Polycentric World Social Forum held in Bamako, Mali, in early 2006. Although this was done in the name of a number of think-tanks or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it was primarily connected in the public mind with the name of the Thirdworldist Marxist thinker and activist, Samir Amin. Amin, himself connected with these various NGOs, of Egyptian origin, long-based in Dakar, Senegal, but with bases also in Cairo and Paris. He was one of the three or four great names of Dependency or World Systems Theory, others including Theotonio dos Santos, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein. He is, perhaps, the most politically-minded of these. And whilst Wallerstein (and others of this tradition) have been associated with the WSF, Amin has been a member of its International Council and has most publicly and forcefully tried to transform the process.
Samir Amin, and his close associates such as the Belgian Catholic Thirdworldist, François Houtart, were here making a second attempt to move the World Social Forum from being primarily a place of dialogue amongst opponents of neo-liberal globalisation to a base for coordinated anti-imperialist and pro-socialist action. Their previous attempt, at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2005, was with the ‘Charter of 19’ or ‘Porto Alegre Manifesto’, which had crashed and burned (or burned first and then crashed?). The Bamako Appeal, on the other hand, took off successfully, in so far as it was immediately reproduced, approvingly, in left magazines and websites worldwide.
Within and around the World Social Forum however, and in the more general global justice and solidarity movement (GJ&SM), the Appeal met with a more critical reception, and a more ambiguous – or complex – response. The general tendency, amongst those longest associated with or most centrally located within the Forum, was either short dismissal or disapproving silence. Amin was considered a maverick, a vanguardist, an elitist, who was endangering the very purpose of the Forum. It seems to have been hoped that his second attempt to take over the Forum, or transform it into a 5th International, with a single programme and policy, would disappear into the Malian sands.
It will be evident from the contributions to this collection that its editors belong to the second tendency. They believe that the Bamako Appeal is more of a challenge than a provokatsiya (a standard Soviet pejorative), and that this challenge should be met in the open and dialogical spirit that the Forum has promoted. Conceived in the last couple of weeks before the World Social Forum, Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2007, they have clearly considered that – quite regardless of what either the sponsors or the detractors of the BA feel or do – this Reader will contribute to the kind of self-transformation of the Forum that is necessary if it is not to become institutionalized, ritualized and conservative. They have also, however, taken their writ rather more broadly than strictly necessary, providing also background texts to situate the BA historically.
I would like to add two or three points to what might or might not be said in this invaluable compilation (still being edited as I write).
The first is that we really still need a public accounting, by the authors of the Bamako Appeal, for the funding of their extensive exercise. On the one hand we have rumours that considerable amounts of money came from President Hugo Chavez – in other words from a radical Third World, and thirdworldist, state(sman). On the other hand we have a bunch of critics of the BA who have so far not dared ask where the money came from and on what it has been spent. And, on the third hand (or first foot) there is the fact that the WSF has not only regularly provided such public accounts but recently published an exemplary commission report on its complex funding pattern and the political implications of such (Lopez, van Koolwijk, and Shah. 2006).
The second is that we really need to understand the theoretical/ideological background to the BA, which clearly was not borne onto land on a seashell like some latter-day Venus. Obtaining such background does not necessarily require research into all the writings and itinerary of Samir Amin and his associates. It can be found, I think, within Samir’s recent writings, or online. Here I would indicate two significant pieces, one on the necessity for a Fifth International (Amin 2006a, b), the other on the legacy of Mao Tse Tung (Amin 2006b).
The third point is to recognize the implications of informatisation for this exchange on the BA. I am not sure to what extent any of the parties involved is conscious, or, rather, self-reflective, about the extent to which this whole process has been facilitated and is being developed in Cyberia. Before the web and without the web, any awareness of the BA – not to speak of dialogue about such – would have been confined to specific places, one-to-many publications, and to persons with privileged access to such. Such an oligopoly is today inconceivable. But there are also significant implications for any surpassing of the BA production model. The possibility of involving many (to avoid the word ‘multitude’), globally, in developing charters, appeals, platforms, and programmes becomes now an obligation. Those who fail to use such means are going to be open to the charge of, at least, neo-vanguardism. Those, however, who limit themselves to the immensely broader plains of Cyberia, are going to be themselves charged with neo-elitism if they do not translate Cyberian, using appropriate media and local languages (in all senses of this word).
Finally, this. Debate means the carrying out of warfare by verbal means, discussion means listening to the other, dialogue is an exchange in which each party takes on board arguments of the other or in which they collectively surpass the original terms. Debate is clearly better than warfare, discussion better than debate, but it is to be hoped that the collection will rather stimulate a dialogue, and that this will go wider and reach deeper than its original terms.
January 10, 2007
Amin, Samir. 2006a. ‘Towards the Fifth International?’, in Katarina Sehm Patomäki and Marko Ulvila (eds), Democratic Politics Globally: Elements For A Dialogue On Global Political Party Formations. Working Paper 1/2006. Helsinki: Network Institute for Global Democratisation. Pp. 121-144
Amin, Samir 2006b. ‘Vers la cinquieme internationale?’ http://www.nigd.org/globalparties/Karachi_draft.pdf
Amin, Samir. 2006c. ‘What Maoism Has Contributed’. http://www.monthlyreview.org/0906amin.htm
Lopez, Rolando, Theo van Koolwijk and Nandita Shah. 2006. ‘World Social Forum Financial Strategy: Report and Recommendations’. www.civicus.org/ new/media/WSF_finstrategy_FinalReport_EN.pdf