January 28, 2007

New Reports from the World Social Forum-Nairobi [24-25 January, 2007]

[These are the latest reports from two folks from the agricultural US Midwest who are delegates at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The reports are done quickly and show it, but that gives a real flavor of things so editing and rewriting is minimal. Online communication with Nairobi is shaky, but we can try to get them questions if readers submit them in the comments section.

Note: Additional material by the other delegate has been added to the first two reports from the Nairobi World Social forum, here and here. ]

24 January

I'm learning some, not a lot but something, about Africa.

One theme seems to be relatively constant among people we have talked with, both at the WSF and on the street in Nairobi. The governments do not serve the people. A Black bourgeoisie, or elite, replaced the white colonialists, and ran neo-colonial regimes, in every case. The only country/leader we have heard people talk about in a different way has been Kenneth Kuanda of Zambia. He addressed the Opening Ceremony of the World Social Forum, and in our delegation meeting that night, a North American questioned why--wasn't he neo-colonialist too? The African women present from Uganda and Kenya passionately explained that, to Africans, he had at least accomplished a stable government and that he allowed the government reins to be passed from himself to a predecessor by losing an election--two things they are very uncommon in Africa. Their view was that, without some level of stability and democracy, it is even more difficult to solve the bigger economic and social issues.

When I ask people "What happened to the liberation movements?" they say that "they turned into governments," and turned on the people. It appears that the percentage of the populations actually engaged in, or transformed by, the liberation movements was much smaller than I realized. There is a higher level of consciousness among the people of southern Africa, at least based on the people we met from South African and Mozambique as compared to the Kenyans and Ugandans. The Kenyans and Ugandans we are traveling with remind us of African-Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era South. They are self-effacing and subservient too much of the time, especially in relation to whites. We've actually discussed this with a couple of the Kenyan women, and they agree that there was no real cultural revolution among the grassroots people during the overthrow of colonialism, and that many, many vestiges of colonialist culture and practices have remained.

There is also, as among African Americans in the United States, a generation gap. One of the Kenyan activists in our delegation said that her parents were probably aware of Amilcar Cabral, but she and her siblings were not. Everyone in our delegation was impressed with the high percentage of youth that were involved in the WSF, especially from Africa, but also from around the world. I had a good conversation with two 20-year-olds, a woman and a man, from Nairobi, during the lead-up to the march and protest against EPAs, "EconomicPartnership Agreements" between African nations and the European Union. They were part of a large delegation of all kinds of people, including but not only young people, wearing red t-shirts proclaiming "Stop, Think, Resist (EPAs)!" Limited Internet access has prevented me from checking out their website, but I will do so later. These two young people said they were part of a youth organization called ACORD (the R and D stand for Research and Development). They seemed very knowledgeable about the neo-liberal trade regime, structural adjustment, debt, etc. The mission of their NGO is to educate young people on neo-liberalism, though I was unable to get a clear understanding of methods. They said they had 115 youth volunteers and 35 staff, with an office in a building in downtown Nairobi, in an area where I was told many government buildings are located. They seemed eager to learn about Amilcar Cabral and the liberation movements from the '60s when I talked with them about that, writing down his name, and exchanging e-mails with me so we could pursue the discussion further.

I focused on Cabral in conversations because his writing on nation-building in the context of countries created not by the Africans but by the European colonialists was important, years ago, in my own coming to agree that there is an African American nation, despite the dispersion and other problems related to the classic criteria for a nation. I believe these writings and experiences might still be very relevant to African movement builders, as well as to India and other similar places where there are large numbers of separate tribes or indigenous groups, different languages, etc., who have been forced together into a common socio-political state structure that now must be challenged and overthrown because it is supporting neocolonialism.

There did appear to be some effort during the WSF to highlight and teach revolutionary African thinkers. Tents were named Amilcar Cabral, Franz Fanon, etc, and there were workshops that I did not get to attend on Franz Fanon. I do not remember seeing mention of Nkrumah, though there may have been. As part of the overall positive effort to "gender the WSF," there were also tents and workshops about some African women revolutionaries that I do not know and did not get the chance to learn about, but should do so in the near future.

I believe I will learn a lot more, at least about Kenya and Uganda, during the second part of this trip.

25 January

A few more highlights from the WSF:

Poor Kenyans continued to protest the cost of the WSF, and as they got inside, eventually for free, also the costs of the food. The main food tent just inside the main gate was run by a hotel corporation owned by the Kenyan Minister of the Interior, who had been a torturer during colonial rule and remains a significant repressive force. Costs of food and beverages were more than twice the norm for comparable offerings. By the morning of January 24, a large group overran this tent, "nationalized and socialized" it, turning the food over to poor people and children. The Peoples Parliament of Kenya held the Poor Peoples' Social Forum in a park in downtown Nairobi, and sent an eloquent spokesperson to the Social Movement Assembly to present their resolutions--a good platform against neo-liberalism. But you probably already know this from the more mainstream press, and we did not manage to learn where this assembly was being held and check it out.

The WSF 2007 leadership, speaking from the mikes during the Assembly of the Social Movements, spoke about how NGOs are frequently conduits of neo-liberalism from below. Samir Amin said we need to go on the offensive, not just resist in defense against imperialism. The Peoples' Settlement Network from the slums of Nairobi said the movement needs to place an end to corruption as a central plank in our platform.

The IVth Social Forum on Sexual Diversity met throughout this WSF, and many people, including the Kenyans who are part of our delegation, made much note of this movement, including the number of openly gay WSF participants, as expressing great possibilities for eventually challenging patriarchy and authoritarianism. Their official statement called on all social movements to struggle to decriminalize sexual conduct in all countries, and committed to organizing the LGBTQ communities to participate in future actions and activities of the WSF.

The Labor Assembly proclaimed "Workers need the social movements, the social movements need the workers!" They determined to create a permanent international network for a different international economy that would consist of both trade unions and social movements. The main players in this assembly were the Italian and French labor movements (at least some part of them), the Brazilian CUT, and also the NTUI from India. This movement would focus on both formal and informal workers, men and women, etc.

I do believe that the US Social Forum may offer a good opportunity for revolutionaries within US labor to organize significant activities bringing together, at a minimum, some of the unions with the workers' centers and other manifestations of organization among the 90% of workers who are not in unions. And possibly to make some inroads in the US on this whole idea that workers need the social movements and vice versa.

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