Maria van Driel* reports on the People’s Forum as a stepping stone in building solidarity against neoliberal globalisation in Southern Africa.
The People’s Forum (PF) was held in Mauritius from 13-16 January 2003, to actively oppose the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The PF meeting was held at the same time as the second AGOA Forum was held. At the last minute George Bush decided not to attend the second meeting of the US-Africa heads of states which he convened. (See article by Rajni Lallah in this edition – editor.)
Origins of the PF
The PF was initiated in a series of workshops held in the context of the World Summit for Sustainable Development. It was organised by a Mauritian ngo, CEDEREFI, which is engaged in research and policy development. The PF was formed in the last quarter of 2002, after a process of consultation involving ngos, trade unions, democratic formations and community organisations. More than 30 organisations formed the PF.
What is AGOA
AGOA is a United States law that was passed in March 1998 and was formally implemented in 2000
The AGOA continues until 2008. The AGOA is aimed at promoting a free trade area between the US and Africa. According to AGOA the US president will decide whether an African country is eligible for trade with the US. Eligibility is based on conditions and policies of individual African countries. These conditions include:
- The centrality of the free market and the private sector
- Whether the policies of the nation state are compatible with the WB, the IMF and the WTO;
- The promotion of trade liberalisation;
- The removal of food subsidies and pri control;
- The removal of subsidies on medicine;
- That land be sold on a willing seller, willing buyer basis;
- The privatisation of basic services such a health, electricity and so forth;
- National treatment – that US companies are afforded the same treatment as local African countries;
- Opening US markets to poor countries where wages are lower and unions weaker;
- Countries have to commit themselves not to go against the interests and US foreign policy.
The agreement enables US customs officials to inspect African countries to ensure that its internal customs processes are in order and to prevent transhipment transgressions. If any transgressions are found, strict penalties will be imposed.
The People’s Forum Critique
The PF was opposed to AGOA on a number of issues: This is a US internal law and not an agreement.
As such, AGOA is a unilateral law imposed by the US on African countries on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis. There is no recourse or process to follow should the US ‘transgress’. This undermines the political sovereignty of African countries. Through the covert and overt conditionalities enshrined in AGOA, the US will impose neoliberal policies and induce African governments to implement policies such as privatisation if they want to be eligible for trade with the US. These conditionalities amount to the recolonisation of Africa.
No to War!
The PF also denounced the war mongering policies of Bush and the US’ constant erosion of the sovereignty of nation states. The PF unconditionally opposed any war against Iraq and demanded the closure of the US military base on the island of Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia belongs to Mauritius and is illegally occupied by the US.
On the basis of this platform, the PF drew support from organisations and broad sections of the population within Mauritius. Another important development was that the PF drew support from Southern Africa. From South Africa the Social Movements Indaba, Khanya College and AIDC attended the meeting. From Reunion a teachers union, education organisations, ATTAC, and Marron attended. A significant development was the participation of the unions in the PF. This served to re-establish unity between unions and other mass formations after a few years of lukewarm relationships. Affiliates of the Public Services International hosted some of the seminars, and also produced their own statement on AGOA in addition to the PF platform.
PF March victory
On 26 December 2002 the Mauritian government banned the proposed PF march for January 2003 to oppose AGOA. In a letter the government said that the banning was because “…the AGOA conference will be progress and no public gathering or procession will be allowed as the (police) Force will be fully taken up with the commitments in connection of the said conference.” The deputy Police Commissioner also copied the letter to the US embassy for ‘ease of reference’. This was the first time that correspondence between Mauritian citizens and the police were ‘copied’ to an Embassy. This was a demonstration of AGOA undermining democracy and sovereignty. The PF mobilised and took the matter to the courts, which ruled that the march should go ahead.
The PF programme ran at the same time as the AGOA from 13-16 January. The programme consisted of participatory seminars and workshops on AGOA and on the need to oppose it. On the day of the march, a programme was held at the Grand Theatre in Port Louis. It also focused discussions on what we mean by development within Africa. The PF managed to make an impact on public opinion and raise the debate on AGOA.
The PF was a concrete and important stepping stone in building anti-neoliberal solidarity within Southern Africa as a whole. The PF against AGOA must be seen as part of the international struggles against neoliberal globalisation.
* Maria van Driel is an activist and a member of the