On Saturday the 26th of January, I was able to attend the International Council meeting. This is a group that oversees the WSF process. There were some initial thoughts on the WSF in Nairobi, with the Kenyan Organizing committee starting the feedback session. They were on the defensive from the get-go. They remained ultimately positive, however, and stated that the forum was a success because it actually happened. So their criteria for success was the mere fact that the WSF was not cancelled – it ‘happened’.
The arguments coming from the other side were slightly more rigorous, and based on the events of the 5 day forum. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- The 500 Shilling entrance fee was brought up time and again;
- high cost of water and food. The main chairperson of the Kenyan Organising committee informed the council that 50,000 litres of water was actually donated, but the many volunteers who were in charge of distributing this ended up selling it;
- There was the overall participation of the WSF, with only 50,000, which did not even reach conservative estimates of 60,000, and was way off the hopefully number of 150,000;
- And then, there was financial mismanagement all along the way. Many who invested in bus services, tents and camping facilities lost a considerable amount of money;
- The presence of religious groups whose views were anti sexual and reproductive rights. Firstly, there was a display of a crucified pregnant women (pictured below), which some groups asked to be taken down because they considered in blasphemous. Secondly, there were anti-abortion stands using the propaganda tools of displaying enlarged photos of mutilated foetuses;
- Commercialisation and institutionalisation of the forum: Celtel – one of two major mobile phone services – was one of the main sponsors, as well as Kenya Airways; lots of Oxfam 4x4 driving around the stadium delivering the late programs.
But is it all negative? There were lots of issues, but in the end lots of people came away feeling positive. As for my experience:
I met a lot of great people at the youth camp (although there were only around 200 people out of a projected 1,500 – so there was a feeling of emptiness with so many vacant tents!). These have now added to my own global network of politically minded friends. I had a chance to connect with some really inspiring Kenyan groups who can get so much done with so little. I also witnessed some really important networking. On this last point, the Belgian-based CADTM (committee for the abolishment of third-world debt) was able to connect with the People’s Parliament as a radical NGO wanting the forum to do better. And aside from making new friends, there is now talk of translating some of CADTM’s books on debt into Kiswahili, which would be amazing. It’s a great example – one among many more – of global networking that helps assist local struggles: directly, through providing support in terms of discussions, sharing of knowledge and contacts; and indirectly through a more general process of raising awareness and overall solidarity.
What is great is that the problems were identified so quickly, and people took action right there and then. It may even be that many of these contradictions were already in the WSF process itself, and the Nairobi edition helped to flush them out. At any other large international gathering, the organisational process is usually much more inaccessible and difficult to engage with and change.
So what of the future of the WSF? There were moment when I had some serious doubts, because of all the problems that occurred and the immediate feelings of frustration, and seeing that some people came away feeling more embittered than inspired. However, there is still a significant amount of energy to keep the process going, and the anger due to poor organisation has resided.
In 2008, there won’t be a WSF, but a series of local actions and forums to be held around the same time in January. In 2009, the WSF will continue as normal. The next WSF-related event will be the International Council meeting in Rostock Germany, which will coincide with the meeting of the G8, and the subsequent counter-mobilisations. (on an interesting side-note, if you google ‘G8 2007’ the first hits you come up with are to do with the planned protests and not the G8 summit itself).
So it seems as though the broader ‘movement’ – alterglobalisation, global justice, global solidarity – is doing alright for itself, and maintaining a sense of direction, build-up and overall continuity.
Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple reflections and reports on the Nairobi WSF. Here are some links to the ones that I think jive most with my experience:
Patrick Bond: http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2007-02/01bond.cfm
Firoze Manji: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/39464
People’s Parliament: http://www.cadtm.org/article.php3?id_article=2437