Socialist Worker

World Social Forum: a rolling carnival of resistance in Kenya

by Charlie Kimber in Nairobi, Kenya
Issue No. 2035

Making connections: Indian drummers meet Kenyan children at the World Social Forum  (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Making connections: Indian drummers meet Kenyan children at the World Social Forum (Pic: Socialist Worker)


» Listen to our audio reports from the WSF

The World Social Forum (WSF) in Nairobi, Kenya, began with a march from the slum of Kibera.

Kibera (which was featured in the film The Constant Gardener) sums up everything the WSF is about. Its 800,000 inhabitants are squatters, living in shacks with hardly any facilities.

There are grossly inadequate sanitation and water services, and just four publicly funded schools for the half a million people of school age.

Thousands of Kibera's people joined the march, which grew to around 5,000.

Many on the march from outside Kibera were forum delegates. They came with a range of immediate concerns – land rights, HIV/Aids, the liberation of Palestine and Western Sahara, trade, women's rights and many more.

There was a great feeling for justice and social change among those marching and many people at the WSF's opening ceremony in Nairobi's Uhuru park.

Margaret Sipho is involved in a campaign for free water. She rages against the way that 'the poor must pay for bottled water or drink from taps where the water is dangerous for health.

'This is a terrible dilemma for mothers and their children. Should they feed their children from the very little money they have or get water? It is an issue for all people who are poor.

'Let us have no wars and water for all instead. Let the rich lose their luxuries and let's have safe water for all instead.'

Organisers said some 50,000 people were taking part in over 1,000 seminars and dozens of other larger events put on by a vast range of groupings – NGOs, trade unions, debt campaigners, people's forums and many others.

The WSF was held in the Moi sports centre, a big stadium where the terraced seating was divided into sections for different meetings.

In the circular area outside, where spectators would normally walk, there were constant processions of groups drawing attention to their particular issue and expressing their solidarity with others.

In one ten minute slot I was passed by processions of Indian farmers, Kenyan women's rights activists, Somali pastoralists, German metal workers, South African Aids campaigners, Algerian human rights lawyers and Mozambican debt campaigners.

It was like this for much of the day – a rolling carnival of resistance.

Martha, a student from Nairobi, said, 'The best aspect of the forum is the chance to discuss ideas which never get mentioned properly in any aspect of the media or academic life.

'It's not so much in the formal sessions but in discussions outside that I can find out about war, the multinationals' plunder of Africa, strategies for real change and more.'

Rosanna from Zambia was part of a delegation of vegetable growers. She said, 'We work very hard to produce goods for export for people like your Tesco and Sainsbury's, but we get only a tiny fraction of the selling price back. Here I know everyone is on our side against the system that keeps us poor.'

The Africans attending the WSF were lively, vibrant, incredibly politically open and urgently determined to change the world. There were times when the event did not match up to them.

The forum would have attracted far more Kenyans if it had been free. The registration fees were a barrier to many poor people and there were protests throughout the week demanding open entrance.

The high food prices inside also angered many, particularly as the hotel doing the catering was linked to one of Kenya's government ministers.

The WSF is at its best when it takes place where there are strong social movements and left parties. This was true in Porto Alegre in Brazil, and in India.

Unfortunately it is not yet true in Kenya, although after the WSF there are hundreds who are enthusiastic to begin the task of building such movements.

But it was nevertheless a wonderful opportunity for discussion, for meeting new people and for activists to connect with each other. Africa, and the world movement, is much richer for the WSF in Nairobi.


Raging against US attacks

Several hundred Somalis and their supporters demonstrated in the World Social Forum grounds on Monday and Tuesday against the US assault on their country.

Around 200 people came to a Globalise Resistance meeting on War and Imperialism.

Activists from a range of African countries – South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Nigeria and Kenya itself – pledged to intensify efforts against George Bush and Tony Blair's war.

Walden Bello, the Filipino anti-capitalist, said, 'US imperialism is seeking to expand and defend its empire.

'There is great bloodshed and violence, but we should also remember that the US is weaker than it was ten years ago because of resistance from across the globe.'

Mwaniki Wahome from Nairobi said, 'I had never realised how many people in the US and Britain opposed the war and were taking action against it.

'We must do the same. We must not fear repression, we must be united across the world against Bush.'


Fighting the multinationals

African activists at the WSF spoke of the immense damage that the rule of the multinationals and the great powers had bought.

One of the most powerful interventions came from slum dweller Francis Nyambura from Kibera. She told a meeting of trade unionists, 'We live in a different world in Kibera, a world of poverty and violence and hopelessness.

'Things that should be human rights are impossible dreams. We ask the movement across the world to be in solidarity with us.'

A speaker at a meeting on homelessness condemned the bulldozing of squatter camps around some of the hotels in Nairobi by the government. 'It cannot be acceptable for the WSF to be a catalyst for increased poverty,' he said.


'We want for land rights for all'

Nathan Mumo, Rosephera Matingi and Eliatha Mate Nthiga want justice for Kenyans driven from their land.

Nathan from Muchakos in Kenya said, 'We have been reduced to squatters because our land has been stolen.

'It is given to private developers who make huge profits. Land is a right and people with money should not be able to steal it.'


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