What I see at the World Social Forum


I'm meant to understand this is the seventh World Social Forum (WSF) but the first one of its kind to be held on the African continent - here in Nairobi, Kenya.

From January 21 to 25, delegates from all over the world have been congregating in Nairobi to hammer out and demonstrate against policies, tendencies or call them practices, which pit the world, particularly Africa into abject poverty.

Scripts and pamphlets are reading tough and tasting like very hot chilly. Banners are screaming and debates are deranged and almost unstoppable as speaker from speaker unleash scathing attacks on the west for its lack of concern to help in the redemption of the less developed countries.

Key issues here are not anything new you haven't heard about but the WSF is an international platform that is vividly tackling among other issues HIV/AIDS, gender, peace and conflict, human rights, privatisation, land and housing, immigration etc.

At the Uhuru Park, the host venue for the WSF, a lot of excitement brews up. A groups of people sing and dance to demonstrate against the unfair trade between developing and developed countries, double standards often exhibited by the World Bank and IMF, GMOs the list is endless.

It is these issues that cement a common voice to call for change and a strong belief that a better world is possible.

In the scorching sun, one group comprising Kenyan students tells delegates gathered around a food kiosk about the unbearable food prices in many African countries that lead to starvation, malnourishment and in some severe circumstances death of the poor.

Farther a field, people gather around a group of Pakistanis to hear words of encouragement to rally against world leaders who have plunged the Middle East particularly Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon into a holocaust that has seen many die.

This Pakistani group believes that because disinformation is a victim of speed, truth in the western media has totally become the first culprit. To allegedly raise money for those suffering in the Middle East, they are selling Pakistani cuisines and people are buying in droves. If this is a statement against the US, the WSF is predominantly just that.

I also sight a number of Venezuelans carrying placards and donning in materials in support of their leader, Hugo Chavez, who has in the recent past stepped on the global pedestal to defy forms of neo-colonialism.

One of the Venezuelans informs me that by vehemently opposing the US, their president has struck a code with the common people through the introduction of numerous pro-poor policies.

"My presence here is a statement to the world to join President Hugo and make poverty history", he emphasises.

On the social front, the advert of a play in Swahili - Mapenzi Tamu (Good love) captivates me. I become concerned about the power of edutainment (music, dance and drama) as an effective method of dissemination.

At the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) the venue for the play, people start cramming in the tent, as this vibrant Kenyan drama group prepares to go on stage.

Good Loving (Mapenzi Tamu), as the play is titled is a mixture of fiction and humour that simulates real life experiences.

Although the play intends to increase awareness on issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, such as condoms, VCT, ARV, it also exposes the trials and tribulations young girls in Africa go through in resisting advances of unscrupulous men. But being victims of deprivation due to abject poverty, these girls are powerless as they often yield to men fit to be their fathers.

The play, elaborately packed with humour also has some scenes that cause a lot of distress and tears.

Attacking some conservative religions for their hardnosed stance on the use of condoms, the play vividly shows that preaching against the use of condoms causes confusion and as a result becomes a contributory factor to the spread of HIV.

With a remarkably clear message, more drama from the stage to the audience ensues. A group of nuns moves out in disgust, as this is clearly an attack on their religion. With a somewhat hostile reaction to our hallowed sisters my concern is how the rights of such people could be protected to avoid turning the WSF into a platform of recrimination where people in a free world have choice.

If such are the myriad voices that underlie the World Social Forum, its significance has become a clarion call for social justice, international solidarity, gender equality, peace and defence of the environment etc.

My thinking that activities of the WSF engineered by activists, social and political movements, networks, coalitions and other progressive forces, could lead to dissent in various countries is laid to rest.

But as outlined in the charter of principles, the aim of the WSF is not to overthrow governments but to offers an international platform where people come 'to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action'.