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January 29, 2007


Jimmy Higgins

There have been several daily diaries from the Nairobi WSF posted at the Fire on the Mountain blog. Submitted by two activists who work around agricultural issues in the US Midwest, they are not, perhaps, as rounded and deep as Jordan's worhty piece, but have some insights worth checking out and an orientation toward the US Social Forum slated for Atlanta this June.

john mitugo

l find your comments about the police absurd.what you you rather have?gangs which will kill at will and nobody to bring them to book or what?come down to earth and take time as you have to go korogocho find out what the police have say.


Not to contradict anything my co-editor Jordan said in his excellent article, but i think this piece by Trevor Ngwame is interesting:

>>FW Trevor Ngwane:

What Happened in Nairobi

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 WSF.

the burningman

Trevor writes: "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."

For some background on this, which has paralleled some of our own experience here in the USA (with "space" quite a common activist term in contradistinction with "movement" and "vanguard"), it's worth checking out the Bamako Appeal.


And for a solid archive of all of these discussions, including various critiques of Samir Amin's Bamako Appeal, you can check out:

Also, getting back to the Zapatistas 6th declaration, its interesting to read the two documents and compare & contrast. RJ Maccani has written a bit about this at:

(check out specifically the piece "Enter the intergallactic"

Renegade Eye

Really good report.

Nairobi is actually one of Africa's most prosperous cities.


Any thoughts on the Indian Maoist criticism of the World Social Forum and the whole back and forth with the RIM that happened around the time of Mumbai Resistance?

via "Off the Radar"

Public Enemy once recorded a mantra saying “Yo Bum rush the show”and that’s exactly what happened as dozens of street children invaded a five-star hotel food tent and feasted on meals meant for sale at the World Social Forum in Kenya’s capital. The hungry urchins were joined by other participants who complained that the food was too expensive at the annual anti-capitalist get together.

The police, caught unawares, were unable to stop the free-for-all that saw the food containers swept clean. The gathering in Nairobi is discussing social problems, including poverty. A plate of food at the tent being operated by the prestigious Windsor Hotel was selling for $7 in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.
The children, who had been begging for food, launched the raid after being told they would have to pay for the food. The hotel management declined to comment on the incident.

Two days ago, World Social Forum organisers were forced to waive entry fees for participants after Nairobi slum dwellers staged a demonstration against the charges. Participants were originally being asked to pay a 500 Kenyan shillings ($7) accreditation fee.


I was reading a recent issue of People's March, the leading publication associated with the Indian Naxalites. It includes a series of polemics about the World Social Forums in response to arguments with the RIM.

I thought they were persuasive (on both sides!) and something activists should familiarize themselves with.

When the WSF landed in India, the Maoists organized a separate conference Mumbai Resistance. They issued a strong critique of the leading bodies of the WSF (Lula, ATTAC, the associated bourgeois NGOs which are a blight in India, among other countries).

Unfortunately it appears that People's March is having trouble with their web presence... so if anyone knows where these polemics are online, I'd like to include them here.

The CoRIM's position is here:
The World Social Forum and Communist Tactics

The People's March article is (partially) here:
The Participation Trend & CoRIM Stand


My request (to the great gods of the internet!) is if anyone has the complete text of the People's March article, I'd like to get it up. The above link is an excerpted section of the People's March article that cuts to the disagreement, but doesn't include the full argument.


Well, I can't claim to be a 'great god of the internet' but I did find the link to the People's March article (on the all-mighty web archive):

The Question of an Approach to WSF/MR

If you're ever looking for stuff from a website that doesn't exist anymore, go to and type in the URL of the defunct website and you can click on an archived version of the site from various points in time. It can be very handy!

PM Supporter

People's March's recent issues are archived here:

For the past few months, this has been the first place where new issues of PM have appeared.

The issue containing PM's reply to the AWTW polemic, which they apparently expected to be printed in the latest AWTW issue and then published themselves when that didn't happen, is here:

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