World Social Forum Woes

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World Social Forum Woes



Judy Rebick's article about this year's World Social Forum in Kenya can be found [url=

I find many of the points she makes interesting. Some of them I think need more elaboration.

First, I hadn't read anything about the successful protests of Kenya's poor to be allowed entrance to the costly forum. This was good to know.

Second, it sounds like women's issues are gaining some momentum at these forums, which I had read were quite noticeably absent in the past.

I am curious about one point Rebick makes, which seems to hang there, but could be perceived as a major social issue.


...the stereotypes I had about Africa relating to starving children and skeletal AIDS victims were smashed to smithereens by the Social Forum. Even those of us who fight for social justice are reduced to charity when it comes to most of Africa. The needs are great, no doubt.

What does this mean? Did Rebick feel that she was reduced to charity while in Africa? What kind of charity?

This can be a big issue for the left -- charity v. action. Is this the conversation she is having?


She talked about the importance of having the opportunity to meet the good people from around the world and then critiqued the exclusion of the poor but ended with a series of recommendations from the poor people's social forum that they held in the slums ...

I would like to know more about the poor people's social forum. Did it happen during the entire forum? Isn't it a little ironic that the World Social Forum is supposed to be the parallel forum to the world economic forum, but then there is another parallel forum of those pushed out of the WSF?

Maysie Maysie's picture

I received this lengthy email from Jai Sen, an attendee at the WSF. It long, but is circulating on email and has no copywrite issues.

My one comment is the few stories in the MSM regarding the lunches, is that Kenyan children "stole" it from the conference. Not a surpirse that that was a lie.



The WSF was smaller than usual. It was dominated by NGOs (the stalls) and the churches (the opening march). Some Christian fundamentalists even protested demanding that a statue depicting a pregnant young woman be removed from the cross it hung upon (the statue was in support of reproductive rights for women). The latter incident prompted some comrades to include in the statement of the social movements
that organizations not in line with the WSF politics should not be allowed to attend.

The WSF was visibly commercialized with the cellphone company Celtel doing the registration and linking this to comrades buying a Celtel simcard. Celtel adverts were all over the show. The worst part is that it is more expensive in Kenya to use Celtel than the other cellphone company Safaricom. The restaurants inside the WSF precinct were pretty expensive and there were many vendors selling water that at times cost at least double the usual Kenyan price.

Kenneth Kaunda addressed the beginning of the march and a few hours later he gave a 40-minute speech at the opening rally. His line was anti- poverty and reconciliation (between rich and poor, Jew and Palestinian, etc.) I heard from a comrade that she saw the Organising Committee of the WSF in Kenya having dinner with a minister at the Hilton hotel. But the worst part for many comrades was that many local Kenyans could not attend the WSF because they had either not been informed and/or could not afford the 500 shillings charged at the gate (100 shillings = R12.50, I think). As a consequence some workshop sessions were devoid of any Kenyans, indeed some did not have
any Africans, or were dominated by "Northerners", mostly academics who, to be fair to them, mostly support or claim to speak for the movements.

The frustration with the picture painted above, especially entering the WSF gates but leaving locals locked outside, was expressed at a meeting whose aim was to prepare for the Assembly of the Social Movements to be held on the last day of the WSF. This meeting elected 4 comrades to raise these concerns with the Organising Committee. During the meeting it emerged that the co-ordinator of the Kenya Social Forum and at
least one member of the Organising Committee were also unhappy about this situation. They told the meeting that they had repeatedly raised the issue of entry fees but had been
overruled or outvoted by other committee members. In the meeting a Kenyan comrade gave a riveting speech about how they felt left out as they had no money to pay and as a result they had decided to have their own meeting, a "people's parliament" in a venue nearer to the struggling masses of Kenya.

I was part of the delegation chosen to meet with the Organising Committee but we failed to make contact with them on the same evening. But the following morning I met with 2 of the committee members including its chairperson Professor Oyugi. I conveyed the
meeting's concerns but both were rushed and promised to look into the matter although Comrade Oduor, the other committee member, was quickly on the defensive. By the following morning the frustration was high and we decided to storm the gates to allow the Kenyans in for free. About 200 Kenyans got in free this way but later in the day it emerged that the gates were again locked for those who did not have 500 shillings. We also heard that the fee had been reduced to 50 shillings. The South African comrades saw a parallel with the South African government's indigency policy and together with
other comrades from other countries and movements rejected this.

We eventually secured a meeting with the Organising Committee where 3 of us met Prof Oyugi and Comrade Taoufik (secretary of the African Social Forum). I was with Comrade Daniella, a Canadian from the Women's March and Comrade Emily from Benin. Unfortunately the other delegate (from the People's Parliament) could not make it as they could not get through without the official name tag which you only get if you are
registered. The meeting was really bad with Oyugi raving and accusing us of lack of democracy and basically saying we were coming from the North and South Africa (a
kind of northern state in Africa) to undermine Kenyan processes. To be fair to him he confessed that he was flustered and angry because during the day he had been confronted by demonstrators who were raising the same issues with him. Earlier he had half-jokingly accused me of sending "my boys" to deal with him. We left in disgust (and demoralization) with no clear answer from the Organising Committee.

The next day we again planned to storm the gates but found police and army reinforcements at the gates. Those officers carried very big guns. Comrades decided to block the main road until the people were allowed in for free. This action took about half an hour and then the gates were opened. The crowd than marched to the Organising Committee's offices to demand a change of policy on the question of entrance. Another demand was added: free water inside the WSF precinct and cheaper food. The demonstration found no one in the offices and then gatecrashed a press conference where a member of the committee announced under pressure that henceforth all entrance would be free. I did not get clearly how they responded to the other demands (water, food, commercialization). Comrade Njoki, another member of the Organising Committee, was shouted down by the crowd when she repeated the Oyugi line that northerners were
undermining local processes because these were controlled by Africans (which seemed to me like a roundabout way of saying we were racists).

The atmosphere changed for the better inside the WSF with locals being able to come in and out as they please. I attended at least one session by a local movement fighting against evictions that would not have been a success if an entry fee had been demanded from its participants. They simply could not afford it. But comrades were still unhappy as it emerged from a newspaper widely distributed in the WSF that the most expensive
restaurant inside the precinct belonged to the Kenyan minister of internal security, known as "the crusher" for his strong arm tactics (which he honed as a servant of the colonists and later as minister of transport when he sorted out the taxi industry and substantially reduced the road accident rate). A demonstration was organized to occupy his restaurant
called Windsor Hotel which had pride of place at the center of the WSF area while other
> eat-houses were located further away in food courts. As things turned out scores of Kenyan children, many who were street kids, enjoyed a free lunch as the protesters liberated the food and served the hungry children.

These 2 incidents, storming the gates and expropriating the hotel food, were organized by a minority but somehow spoke for the majority of those participants who felt that their WSF was being hijacked by our class enemies. I met many comrades, including locals, who congratulated the steps taken to rectify matters. Later I was asked to chair the Assembly of the Social Movements and I have no doubt that this was because of being
part of the 2 actions. The Assembly approved enthusiastically and supported the demonstrations ex post facto. My co-chair was Comrade Wa'hu who sits on the Organising Committee. She was apparently driven to support the actions, or at least not oppose them, because on both occasions at the gate she was present and was given a platform to explain the committee's entrance policy. Her chairing of the Assembly indicated that there was no intention of rejecting the committee, let alone the WSF, but
rather we had taken the necessary action to rectify an injustice which we found intolerable within our space.

In conclusion, I was involved in a debate with Comrade Chico Whitaker and other prominent comrades of the WSF on whether the WSF should be a "space or movement". This was in the context of a discussion of the Bamako Appeal, a document issued by Samir Amin and other comrades suggesting a political way forward for the WSF. My opinion is that the "space or movement" debate in a way is a false debate. Sometimes it looks like one of those debates that start and end in the mid-air preoccupations of the
professional middle class, especially if we consider the millions and millions who were
absent from the WSF and who know nothing about this debate.

Ordinary working class and poor people need and create and have a movement of resistance and struggle. They also need and create and have spaces for that movement to
breathe and develop. The real question is what place will the WSF have in that reality. What space will there be for ordinary working class and poor people? Who will shape and drive and control the movement? Will it be a movement of NGO's and individual luminaries creating space for themselves to speak of their concern for the poor? Will it be undermined by collaboration with capitalist forces? I think what some of us saw
happening in Nairobi posed some of these questions sharply and challenged some of the answers coming from many (but not all) of the prominent NGO's and luminaries in the

Jai Sen

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Also available [url=]on the web.[/url]



TIME: Sat., Feb. 24, 2007, 1-6 p.m.
PLACE: LIB 72, Ryerson University
ADDRESS: 350 Victoria St. (Gould/Victoria)

Hear from Toronto Social Forum activists Janet Conway, Judy Rebick and Carlos Torres, as well as first-time WSF delegates Akua Benjamin, Grace Edward Galabuzi, and many others, about the first social forum in Africa. See images and a wonderful short film courtesy of Fierce Light films and the NFB. Attend self-organized workshops, and enjoy African food and music.


I was wondering if Judy could write an entire article without slamming the church.

I didn't think so.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Why should she?


Kind of a dumb observation, really, by someone who obviously hasn't read many of her articles.

[url=]I only had time to scan the first eight of these[/url], none of which "slammed the church", whatever "the" church is. She does mention "liberation theologists" in one though, in the context of progressive people working together.


Although, like Frustrated Mess, I think it's perfectly reasonable to "slam the church" (assuming by "the" church you mean the Catholic church) in any article that discusses AIDS in Africa, or abortion rights in countries strongly dominated by the Catholic church.

Maysie Maysie's picture


Reports from WSF-Nairobi

People's Global Action (PGA) activists have created an archive of various
reports, discussions, and debates concerning the World Social Forum in
Nairobi (2007).

Some of these articles include:
- Trevor Ngwane: What happened in Nairobi (January 2007)
- Patrick Bond: From WSF 'NGO trade fair' to left politics?
- The World Social Forum 2007: A Kenyan Perspective
- Shannon Walsh: We won't pay to discuss our own poverty!
- Sarah Choukah: The World Social Forum fails to Address the War in the
Middle East
- Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem: Africa: WSF
- It Was a Meeting of NGOs, Not the Masses
- Jordan Flaherty : World Social Forum Diary