North-South School 2000: Focus on Africa, Islam, Women
From 4 to 25 November 2000, 18 people from 12 different countries came to the IIRE for the North-South School. The school was conducted in French and English, which made possible a strong turnout from sub-Saharan Africa: five of the 18, two each from Senegal and Mali and one from Congo-Brazzaville. This was the first IIRE session in which someone came specially from Africa to give a report on Africa, and it was certainly one of our best reports ever on the continent! He spoke from his own direct experience about the civil wars that have devastated much of post-Cold War Africa, the ethnic conflicts that are supposed to underlie these wars and the machinations of multinational corporations that are often clearly more to blame.
We also had participants from the Middle East - two from Jordan and one from Lebanon - as well as two each from Pakistan and the Philippines. The other countries represented from the South were South Korea and Paraguay, while Sweden (two people), Québec and Australia represented the North. Thus the South once more strongly outnumbered the north at this session, in part due to last minute change of plans by participants who had been expected from Germany and the Netherlands.
The discussion in the school covered topics from an in-depth look at the neoliberal globalization process, with its impact on the South and the North - every participant had something to say on this subject! - to the differing role of states in Europe and Africa. As usual, it was the application of the lectures to specific issues in each country that generated the most exciting and interesting questions. One of the most challenging discussions was on the role of Islamic fundamentalism and its political impact. Not for the first time, the divergent experiences of the participants from Pakistan (dealing with the Afghan Taliban) and the Philippines (dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in their country's ever-rebellious Mindanao region in the south) led to some lively exchanges. This debate will doubtless be carried on at future IIRE sessions.
Another interesting area of exchange was the role of women in our political analysis and organizations. These lectures and discussions revealed major differences between people's analysis and experiences in different countries. Not all participants saw feminist demands as inherent to a working class analysis, particularly given the presence of participants from very diverse political backgrounds. This may have been the first IIRE session at which a participant had previously had political education in the former USSR! The fact that he was here at all is a sign of how much once hostile currents have opened up to discussion over the past decade.
In any event, the debate over feminism and the workers' movement is always a useful one to review, especially now given the impact of neoliberal globalization on women. There was also a women's meeting held to share information about the women's liberation work conducted in each country. One particularly exciting discovery was that the women from Senegal, the Philippines and Sweden were all involved, at different stages, in organizing around women's health care.
In the final evaluations, the participants felt that the school had been a significant experience in their political development and wanted to continue their discussions after they had returned home. They all took back to their countries this intense educational training as well as the experience of living and working together at the IIRE. All were planning on helping prepare their groups to send other participants to future North-South Schools. The evaluation made clear that these participants will be able to use the planned IIRE website to help with many tasks - advance reading, follow-up study, linking up with educational programmes in their own countries - that have always been among the trickiest for us.
Our ability to help so many participants attend from desperately poor countries was due in large part to generous support from the Jakob Moneta Stiftung of Germany and the Tom Gustafsson Memorial Fund of Sweden. This report would not be complete without our heartfelt thanks to them.