Thousands March for Justice at the World Social Forum in Nairobi

It’s important to have moments of collectivity, to remember that another world *is* possible. And yesterday at the World Social Forum, over five thousand people marched to remind each other, and the world, of exactly that. Here’s a report from the AFP newswire.

January 20, 20007

Thousands march in Nairobi at anti-globalisation forum


By Karen Calabria


Anti-globalisation activists were marching through Africa’s largest slum, calling for an end to conflict and a new war on poverty at the start of a major protest against global capitalism.

Nearly 5,000 delegates attending the World Social Forum Saturday trekked from Kibera, the slum featured in the
2005 film “The Constant Gardner” that lampooned the pharmaceutical industry’s practices in Africa, to the capital’s Uhuru (Independence) Park, clogging one of the Kenyan capital’s main arteries.

The gathering, days before government and business leaders hold their annual powerfest in the Alpine resort of Davos, was enlivened by the beat of makeshift African drums and chants of “another world is possible”.

The carnival atmosphere however failed to mask disappointment at the low turnout for the opening of a forum which organisers hope will be attended by up to 80,000 people.

“We are fighting against poverty, ignorance, corruption and exploitation,” said Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda in an address at Uhuru Park.

“We must fight together, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, whatever. We are all creatures of God,” said the self-styled Gandhi of Africa.

Many of the topics on the agenda — HIV- AIDS, debt relief and conflict resolution — are of particular concern to the world’s poorest continent where complaints about the impact of globalisation are often most heartfelt.

Anne Nyawira, who lives in the Soweto township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, said Africa rarely had a chance to voice its concerns.

“The world ignores African issues and the forum is the only way we can make them listen,” said the South African health worker.

The seventh annual forum, being held in Nairobi Saturday through Thursday, is the first to be held in its entirety in Africa.

Despite drawing such luminaries as Kaunda, Kenya’s 2004 Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai and former UN human rights chief Mary Robinson, numbers were woefully short of expectations.

“It’s unfortunate that not nearly as many people are here as organisers predicted because we need this to draw attention to Africa,” activist Richard Gitau, waving a rainbow flag emblazoned with the word peace as he marched through the streets of Nairobi, told AFP.

Gitau, a programme manager for the Kenya-based Koinona Community which works with street children, said he was disappointed at the lack of political leadership and prominent African social activists at the forum.

Volunteer organiser Elena Perego, who works with the Milan-based Christian aid organisation CARITAS – Ambrosiano, was also underwhelmed by the response the forum was able even to yield locally.

“In Kenya, all they knew was that the forum would bring in a lot of money and tourists — not the good it could achieve,” Perego said as the oversized speakers in Uhuru Park blared out the Bob Marley anthem “One Love”.

Perego, who has been in Nairobi since October helping to organize the forum, worried a lack of political will and an “overwhelming ignorance of what the forum seeks to do” would lead to an unproductive five-day meet.

“Whatever we are going to resolve here is just going to be water under the bridge if we have no political will behind us,” echoed Betty Oyugi of Maathai’s eco- friendly Greenbelt Movement.

But others remained upbeat the forum would unite the world around African issues and create a venue from which dialogue and progress would emerge.

Patricia Murray of the Irish-based Loreto organisation which campaigns against environmental damage said the forum was the best chance for the concerns of Africa to be aired and heard.

“The WSF in Nairobi will bring Africa and Africans’
needs onto the world stage. This is the platform for the continent to have a voice,” said Murray.

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