World Social Forum 2007 - My thoughts on the Slogan "Another World is Possible"
I couldn’t help but to think that many governments must have been wondering why the idea of social forum has not died and what the teeming masses of “representatives” of the oppressed peoples of the world gathered at the World Social Forum in Nairobi between 20th and 25th January 2007 were actually discussing. They must have been asking the same question that we ask them: “Do these civil society groups have the legitimacy to speak or act on other peoples’ behalf?” A big question by all means. A question of legitimacy versus legitimacy. A question of “relativeness” - who is more legitimate, the civil society without a flag or the governments with their flag of democracy and their delusory consent of the governed?
The banners were many, indeed of many sizes, colours and with strident messages on as many diverse issues: minority rights, slum dwellers’ rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, religious rights, gay rights etc. and even the civil society’s rights. Interestingly, there was no banner on “majority” rights –the very argument, from which “democratic” governments claim to derive their illusory legitimacy. When all the banners (which I suspect, if stitched together will stretch all the way from Nairobi to Washington) and their messages are added together, then the question of where the so-called “consent of the governed” taunted by these governments came from arises. This generalized discontentment brings the practice of democracy under question. It appears that democracy has taken on a new definition: the government of the people by some people to the detriment of the people. Indeed, there is something fundamentally wrong with the democracy structure. The legion of discontentments of the governed (not only from “oppressive” and "underdeveloped" countries, but also from “functional democracies”) manifested at the WSF underscores the irresponsibility of those entrusted with power. Political responsibility towards the governed has become only a malleable rhetoric. Goods of public interests are ignored at will, and the general welfare of the governed and their environment are sacrificed for a variety of reasons, ranging from poverty in the south to security in the north. If those in power had any legitimacy at any point at all, they have squandered their representation-legitimacy capital and have no moral right to claim the contrary under any guise.
An analogy can be drawn between their democracy and a building: Imagine for a moment a beautifully painted multi-storey building with the windows falling out, the walls cracking, the plumbing rotten and leaking, the electrical system short-circuiting, the doors broken and a part of the roof caving in. The tenants are in an uproar. The guards ignore them, and with their state of the art digital cameras, the guards take pictures of the edifice from a distance, touch up the images on their computers, and print out very fanciful post cards and brochures, which they sell to unsuspecting willing and unwilling prospective tenants. These brochures do not mention the state of the building. The state of the building continues to deteriorate. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to do something before many lives are lost. Firstly, there is no doubt that the contractors and the builders did a shoddy job and must be sent to jail for a very long time. They pose a threat to the society. So also, the con artists called guards. Their charges? Conspiracy to commit murder, 419, abusive use of power in compelling unwilling tenants to occupy the edifice. Secondly, the tenants should be evacuated from this about-to-collapse edifice. Thirdly, after having taken the contractor, the builders and the guards out of circulation, a serious assessment of the building should be undertaken and a decision be reached on the viability of the edifice. If it can be repaired, mentally sound contractors and builders should be found by the tenants to undertake the repair job. If it cannot be repaired, then the edifice should be brought down and another erected in its place. The tenants must have a say in the elaboration of the plan, in the identification of the builders, in the choice of building materials, and they must supervise the building at each step. The new building does not need to have as many floors as the previous one. Indeed, it needs not be painted. What all the tenants want are functional utilities, security and comfort for all.
And the civil society? The civil society cannot be accused of having squandered any representation-legitimacy capital. They did not obtain one in the first place, but people tend to ally themselves to one cause or the other which the civil society represents. Civil societies appear to do more good than harm (see the abolition of slavery), whereas, those entrusted with power tend to do more harm than good. Committed members of the civil society are the guardians of morality and values that tend to check the tendency of those in power to steer humanity towards the savage state of nature where brute force is paramount – a world, where the survival of the fittest becomes the rule.
The disdainful claim of lack of constituency and thus representation-legitimacy of the civil society by those in power is a puerile attempt to discredit and discourage any form of organized challenge to their perilous-to-humanity power-driven excesses and negligence. If they would pause for a minute, they would remember that the social contract that binds individuals into a state allows for only one social contract with the government for their wellbeing. When individuals no longer trust those entrusted with power, they seek new alliances and form new social contracts. The emergence of these new contracts is the beginning of the end for any government – small or big, strong or weak, rich or poor. It is an unmistakable sign of a major crack in the edifice of the state, a sign that social relations between individuals and between groups of individuals and their governments have to be redefined.
There is no doubt that another world will emerge when those multitudes gathered at the World Social Forum in Nairobi become armed with the representation-legitimacy from the majority which they represent. A new social edifice in the place of this non-functional, and irresponsible one will emerge.
“Another world is possible” was the slogan for Nairobi World Social Forum. When this new world comes, those in power today shouldn’t claim that they did not have enough warning.