Can another world be made possible via the World Social Forum?

Author:Mushtaq, Najum
Position:Feature

The World Social Forum (WSF) is supposed to be a meeting place for the poor as a counter to the World Economic Forum, which is a meeting for the rich. But what happened at this year's WSF held in Nairobi, Kenya, where an $8 registration fee prevented the poor from attending, has thrown up the question of whether another world, different from the one centred on capitalism, be made possible through the World Social Forum. Najum Mushtaq reports.

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Seven years after its inaugural congregation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the World Social Forum (WSF) came to Nairobi in January this year. It was the Forum's first sojourn to Africa. For most of the people living in the Kenyan capital, the annual gathering of NGO activists, anti-globalisation protestors and flag-bearers of social and economic justice was just another conference they are so accustomed to. Nairobi, after all, stages a conference virtually every month owing to the disproportionately large presence here of UN bodies, diplomatic missions and international humanitarian relief and aid agencies.

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But for those who actually went to the Forum, it was a window to another world. Unlike the high-security assemblage of UN mandarins and diplomatic glitterati, the WSF was a charmingly chaotic affair. Though it attracted celebrities and Nobel laureates like Desmond Tutu and Kenya's own Wangari Maathai, the Forum remained a people's show. It did not take us long to discover the difference.

My Spanish friend and I were amused to find that Nairobi's slum-dwellers were staging a demonstration outside the Moi Sports Complex to protest the $8 registration fee for entry: Neither of us had paid up. We had just walked into the stadium, unaware that there was a fee or we required registration. And no one asked us to do the needful.

Except for the opening ceremony in Uhuru Park and the closing marked by a mini-marathon through slums, the organisers were conspicuous by their absence. The show comprising more than a hundred simultaneous events went on regardless. The protestors, though, had a point. Left out for want of eight dollars, they were precisely the people in whose name anti-globalisation activists from all over the world had started this ritual of gathering every year to vow resistance to inequities of all kinds.

Most of the protesters were from Korogo-cho, one of Nairobi's bigger slums. Their forced absence underlined the limitations of the Forum, which poises itself as the...

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