Documentation and Evaluation of the IMCiA working group
Global Co-operation and Mutual Aid in the Alternative Media Project „IMC Nairobi WSF“
Fabian Frenzel in collaboration with IMC in Africa working group Contact Fabian: fab(at)in-no.org
During the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi the international working group Indymedia Africa (IMCiA) will host an convergence based independent media centre in order to provide critical and independent coverage of the WSF, to offer workshops and meetings that allow for an exchange of knowledge and ideas among African and other independent media activists. The IMC will produce online, print, radio and video coverage of the WSF. As volunteer and long-term activists in the IMCiA I am taking part in realizing the IMC in Nairobi. This project touches several important questions that arise with international co-operations in independent structures. I will try to address these questions in an action research guided documentation and evaluation of the project.
Background: the WSF & Indymedia
The World Social Forum (WSF) was intended to be a leap forward from traditional North-South relationships in globally working development NGOs and the centre-periphery pattern of world system theory that dominated the analysis of global politics in the late 20th century. The WSF thus represents different theoretical and pragmatic approaches to global politics, in which through capitalist globalization all local politics, whether in the north or in the south were rendered equally related and interdependent. In this perspective local struggles cannot be subsumed in one overarching theory and strategy against globalisation, concepts of resistance and democratization cannot be easily exported from the North to the South, and particular approaches and tactics cannot be dismissed as merely local. Rather all local struggles have their autonomous say in what can become new spaces of interaction and exchange, of networking and co-operation, of sharing knowledge and power; and euro-centric grand-narratives of political change and historic telos are rejected. While the World Social Forum since 2001 attempts to be one of the physical spaces where this exchange is taking place on a global scale , the global Indymedia Network, born shortly before the WSF, attempts to serve a very similar function as a virtual space . Instead of depending on corporate media, grassroots initiatives here find ways to produce their localities and concerns towards a potential global audience, network them with similar and related struggles and thereby allowing for a horizontal reorganizing of the public sphere. Indymedia’s development has been technically permitted and propelled by the rapid expansion of the Internet and the ever-increasing amount of people using it at lower and lower cost. Yet this growth is not taking place equally in the world.
Although the growth of Internet usage and available bandwidth are massive today in Africa as elsewhere, there is a dramatically smaller availability and usage of the Internet in Africa than in any other part of the world. This massive global inequality has been labelled the Digital Divide . From the perspective of Indymedia the desire to bypass corporate media and to connect local struggles is as big in Africa as it is everywhere. Furthermore the production of specific localities on a global scale is of significant importance as many representations of Africa and African struggles originate outside the continent. Yet a horizontal organizing of the public sphere in Africa poses a challenge when virtual spaces are difficult to access in the first place. Huge gaps in wealth and an overall poor infrastructure mean again that every locality is unique and cannot be approached in one overarching approach. Over the last decade development agencies have created hundreds of projects that relate to the use of new media in Africa. Ironically, while addressing the problem of the Digital Divide many of these projects are in danger of reproducing the one-way street of global knowledge transfer that they, rhetorically at least, are meant to tackle. This problem occurs when western funding bodies and development NGOs consider the lack of Internet access and usage in Africa as a general problem without considering local contexts and desires. Internet development projects may in this way originate rather in a trend in northern funding criteria than in southern needs. Several large-scale projects in this area have been criticised for exactly this problem.
IMC in Africa
Since an initial conference in 2004 organized by people active in the global Indymedia network, the working group „IMC in Africa“ (IMCiA) has been trying to address the various specific problems and situations that arise in regards of independent media in Africa, primarily through the means of an open mailing list. Reflections and critique of the paternalist structures of development aid has been part of that process. It was one of the central themes of the conference that was held in Dakar and brought together over 40 local, African and European media activists. Since Dakar the working group has assisted IMCs in Africa in their creation process and has organised an Independent Media Centre at the polycentric World Social Forum in Bamako, Mali in January 2006 . The same working group is now planning the Independent Media Centre at the WSF in Nairobi, aiming at critically reflecting on the World Social Forum debates from an Independent Media Perspective as much as allowing networking process between Media Activists from Africa and beyond. Furthermore the IMC is supposed to assist local media activists in media training and contribute to the long-term creation of a strong network node in Kenya of the global network of Indymedia.
Questions for the IMCiA group
As outlined, the philosophical and political conceptions of Independent Media are based in the spirit of a horizontal, non-hierarchical networking process of local struggles. While this is reflected in the way the IMCiA working groups have been cooperating theoretically, the structures of global injustice do speak for themselves in practice. As in other projects where global co-operation is attempted, north-south relations and power structures are an underlying reality of the project. Previous experience and reflection suggests that the setting of the IMC in Nairobi’s WSF will once more create a tension between the ideal of horizontality and underlying structures of „making it happen“. This tension is opening up questions about how effective assistance can be given without recreating and maintaining global power structures and hierarchies. This will occur not only in regards to the way the IMC in Nairobi is organized, but also in regard of its atmospheric qualities, the roles different people involved play and the ways knowledge is transferred. Relations relevant in this respect are the position of the IMC in regards to the WSF, the position of IMC in regards existing local alternative media in Nairobi and Kenya and the relations between the different activists involved.
Approaches: Documentation and Action Research
Documentation and synthesis of the ongoing IMCiA project is long overdue. With its third major international meeting within three years of existence, the scale of the work performed makes IMCiA one of the most active working groups in the Indymedia Network. The documentation of the work will be done with the help of archives of mailing lists and analysis of WebPages and interviews with people involved in the process. The main aim of this historical perspective is to contextualize the Nairobi IMC endeavour and reflect on the development and process of the project.
Following this contextual work, special attention will be given to the documentation of the preparation and creation of the IMC in Nairobi. Through means of participant observation and interviews with participants the documentation of the project will assist with consideration of the questions outlined above. Based on a constant feedback with the collective the documentation and action research project will hopefully be helpful in enabling the project to improve and solve problems. Special attention will also be placed on atmospheric qualities of the actual gathering and the ways they are produced, in relation to concerns re: the relations between north and south identified above.
Additionally a workshop at the IMC will produce a video-documentation of the project. The making of this video documentary will therefore also serve as a tool to learn video making in the context of the Nairobi IMC for interested participants and allows active inclusion of the views and ideas of participants in to the process of reflection about the IMC.
Co-operation and context
This documentation and action research projects is realized in co-operation with the UK based project alt.media.res. Alt.media.res is a two-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK to document and reflect on experiences of alternative media producers in the context of the global justice movement.
More information of the alt-media-res project and insights into other case studies within the project is available on the alt-media-res wiki Alt_media_res
This documentation and action research project can hopefully help to shed light on the process of the IMCiA from its beginning in 2003 to the Nairobi convergence. This will be of help for the project itself to reflect upon and possibly improve its process. As outlined above, the project is located within a context that is similar for several projects of global cooperation in the wider context of the World Social Forum and the global justice movement. This makes it relevant to consider further theoretical and practical questions of how to work in mutual co-operation in a divided world to enhance the desires of these movements.