The World Social Forum (WSF), held in Kenya 20-25 January, had its usual mix of peoples and causes, and Kenya added an unmistakable African flavour. There was also an overwhelming set of 1,000+ meetings to choose from, some headlined by world-renowned speakers, others letting women farmers speak for themselves. Certain themes stood out: land rights, food sovereignty, and opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) – and, of course, the lampooning and lambasting of George Bush and his allies.
The Kenya event was my first WSF and overall I found the experience valuable, at times exciting, and often a lot of fun. This is an event at which one’s own passions and values can receive affirmation and validation simply by recognizing the extent to which others share them. It is an event in which disagreements are more about priorities and tactics than about causes, though there is ample opportunity for learning.
To many Kenyan activists, the WSF was a disappointment, a missed opportunity. Patrick Ochieng, for instance, who joins me in Alliance Online in an extended conversation about the WSF, blamed the organizers for making it difficult for people with limited means to take part. He also points the finger at international NGOs in Kenya who in the main focused on pushing their programmes and agendas rather than on ensuring participation of the people they supposedly support. Certainly, the WSF in many ways resembled a large NGO forum rather than a citizens’ assembly.
Despite the criticisms, the WSF is still a rare and wonderful opportunity to join with others in the pursuit of social justice. It is, as Sr Marcelino dos Santos, a veteran of the Mozambican war of independence, told me, a ‘beautiful confusion’.