Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Kenyan Blogger Reports from WSF 2007 Secretariat

7 Days.

That is exactly how many days remain between now, when I am keyboarding these lines, and next Saturday when a Peace March segues into the opening ceremony of the 2007 world Social Forum at Nairobi’s historic Uhuru (Freedom) Park.

All three offices of the WSF 2007 Secretariat located at Lavington, Yaya Centre and Kasarani respectively in the Kenyan capital are teeming with activity.

Phones from all over the world and across the country are ringing off the hook as anxious participants bombard front-line staff and volunteers with questions about registration, programming, visas, accommodation and a myriad other questions-notwithstanding the fact that a fair chunk of the answers to these questions reside at the www.wsf2007 site.

If you were to venture into Kasarani today you will be awed at the ongoing transformation: tents for the Youth Camp sprout on your left as you drive or walk via Gate One; just in front of the stadium itself the pavilions for the Kenya Social Forum, Africa Social Forum, Caritas/Ecumenical Platform and others are at various stages of completion; inside the stadium itself, the terraces where spectators usually ogle the athletes and other sports people are rapidly being modified into meeting rooms courtesy of the miles of tarpaulin covers; all over a bee-hive of activity: over here a staffer seconded from Tunisia and detailed to the youth, culture and media commissions types away on his lap top while yakking to an IT geek loaned from Dakar but born in Bangui; a the detail oriented and organized Honduran woman who handles publicity is giving a brief to the local coordinator of an online social justice newsletter which reaches over 60,000 people on a weekly basis; at their side a visiting Ghanaian programme officer working for a US-based progressive charity drinks it all in; above them, in one of the Secretariat offices at Kasarani, a recently arrived organizer and WSF veteran from Brazil pores over information on her computer; on the ground floor a meeting for the content, programme and methodology commission is in progress featuring Kenyans, Indians, West Africans, Brazilians, Italians and other members of the International Council of the WSF; just outside that room on your way outside, the Ugandan development worker bottom-lining the activities of the logistics commission is consulting with the young Kenyan woman who has been covering the phones at the second WSF office in the Hurlingham/Kilimani suburb- where you will find the national coordinator consulting with councilors planning the parallel but related local authorities forum- that is when he is not fire fighting over delayed visas for Indymedia activists threatened with non-arrival and non-participation because they are citizens from the so called “referred countries”.

And today is a Saturday in mid January, on the eve of Martin Luther King’s public birthday/holiday in other climes further west across the Atlantic.

Yesterday a high powered delegation from the WSF 2007 Secretariat met an equally formidable team from the Government of Kenya led by the Head of the Civil Service himself flanked by senior police officers, various permanent secretaries and senior state officials to cover all the remaining bases concerning security, safety and protocol. The week has been good to the organizers of the forthcoming global gathering with the largest selling daily in East Africa providing very positive coverage, one of the most watched Kenyan television channels sending overtures around live transmission of the proceedings, another leading newspaper unleashing a magazine piece on the forum this coming Sunday and respected international media houses like IPS unleashing one WSF 2007 curtain raiser after the next- a process likely to have a multiplier effect as the stories are picked up by other news agencies around the world.

Meanwhile, a dynamic twenty something Maasai woman who was one of the key organizers of the Kenya Pastoralists’ Week held at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre at the tail end of November is preparing to unleash her cultural troops and troupes to organize the welcoming Kenyan caravan from Namanga at the Tanzania/Kenya boarder that will meet a similar caravan snaking its way north from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

At the same time, 250 South African social activists are emailing the WSF 2007 Secretariat through their representatives indicating that they will be arriving early next week- around the same time a container load of alternative interpretation equipment lands in Kenya from Athens, Greece where the European Social Forum has shipped them from.

Across town on the fourth floor offices of a progressive grant making international organization, artists, activists, programme officers, event managers and other civil society actors meet daily to put the final touches on the much anticipated opening and closing ceremonies that will feature artistes like Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe well known Kenyan songbirds and entertainers like Suzzana Owiyo and Eric Wainaina together with their counterparts from West, South, North and other parts of eastern Africa.

The often-stressed out family of workaholics which makes up the WSF2007 team are steadily witnessing the fruits of their year-long (for some of the veterans, more than four years) labours and endeavours.

The smile of optimism often beams through the streaming perspirations of preparation.

Into this mix throw in your motley crew of naysayers, wet blankets and party poopers, not to forget the Afropessimists (some Africans to their very core) who are convinced that nothing good, nothing professional and nothing productive will ever come out of the much maligned darkest continent.

We have been in the kitchen, juggling, filling and rearranging the organizational cauldrons planning and executing the vision of the first ever full edition of the World Social Forum to be held in Africa. We are convinced that whatever else happens, we will deliver on our promise to our fellow Africans and the rest of progressive humanity that this WSF will be a memorable and historic event not just for Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia who share the hosting duties, but the rest of Africa and the Global South.

Sure, the traffic to and from Kasarani via Thika Road will be a logistical nightmare and there is no guarantee that a national pickpockets festival will not infiltrate the spaces of the World Social Forum.

Over here at the WSF 2007 Secretariat we have said to participants that the biggest responsibility for security will be borne by the delegates themselves. Nairobi shares common issues and concerns with other major cities around the world- crime being one of those perennial pains in the neck. The police and the forum organizers will work hard to provide adequate security. But this will be very ineffectual in safe-guarding a visiting WSF delegates who insists on sleeping under the night sky in the great outdoors. Nor will it help very much to insulate a reckless visitor who prefers to schlep all their cash, jewelry and other valuables on their person at all times.

Unlike other international gatherings, we will not attempt to sanitize underdevelopment or criminalize poverty in Kenya by locking up all the street kids, beggars, hookers or carting off other members of society who are on the margins of the Kenyan neo-colonial periphery, locked out from sustainable development and denied a chance of thriving; there will be no attempt to stifle those vocal voices of protests who yearn for a Kenya and an Africa that is peaceful, democratic, progressive and prosperous.

Strolling through the avenues, lanes and cul-de-sacs of Kenyan blogosphere I spy a smattering of Kenyan bloggers sharing their often ironical and cynical takes on the upcoming World Social Forum 2007.

For instance there is the prolific Nairobi-based Al Kags asking, somewhat scornfully, about who exactly CARES that the World Social Forum is coming to Africa; then there is Majonzi fuming about apparent poor planning; “Every Gals Man” over at kadhat fretting about accommodation while the toiled-mouthed Potash dubbing the event the “world social scrotum” in an forced, if smug bid to impress his/her loyal teenage browsing fans with his/her stream of obscenities and expletives. The vapid Kenyan petit bourgeois wannabe class venom is vividly apparent to even the most comatose cyber lurker.

Truth be said, even the most die-hard cheerleaders of the WSF do NOT contest the need for some rejuvenation. The present writer/blogger recently wrote a piece for the Pambazuka Newsletter bigging up the efforts of African Social Movements to deepen the process of using the WSF space to confront imperialism and its attendant neo-liberal toxins.

The Sao Paolo-based Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) headed by WSF guru C├índido Grzybowski has just completed a research indicating (based on participants’ views from the Caracas and Bamako Polycentric) that “defending human rights, democracy and diversity are the WSF’s strongest point, but its main defect is lack of public visibility.”

Leading South African progressive academic and activist Patrick Bond reiterated the need for the WSF to be more action oriented in an IPS interview a few days ago to wipe out the “talk shop” tag.

At the same time you find his fellow South African Hassen Lergat looking forward to the Nairobi forum with hope and enthusiasm.

A group of anti-imperialist activists from El Salvador see the efficacy of the World Social Forum. That is why they are bringing their campaign against international financial consortia to Nairobi this January.

Same with members of the UK-based Tax Justice Network who are coming to Kenya to launch the Africa chapter of the network.

And for those who think that nothing tangible comes out of the WSF process, sample these reflections from those who participated in the January 2006 Polycentric in Bamako.

Penning off, let me say that as we count down to next Saturday we hold our heads high, certain that we did our bit in putting together a once in a life-time global experience.

We leave the evaluation to those who will feast on what we have been cooking in the kitchen.

Onyango Oloo
National Coordinator
Kenya Social Forum @ WSF Secretariat in Nairobi.


Anonymous said...

It is good that it is green after the rains
Even so the roads are constantly repared when potholes appear
Yesterday the VP and Trade Minister at a private initiated 2030 vision waxed eloquently how our population of 30+ milliona had 21+ M youth who have 5+ million unemployed youth and challenged the private sector to facilitate empowering this 5+ miilion Kenyan youth. That the WSF is doing what you describe and we read it is very commendable. Other than opening 'deepened consciousness of their situation which leads people to apprehend that situation as an historical reality susceptible of transformation' you have the jobs created that for many means energy to push and hopefully as reggae star Dennis Brown once sang, their story is "the half that's never been told". Rings a bell?? Children of Sisyphus

We will sing our own songs

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