WRI at the World Social Forum 2007: Report
"People's Struggles - people's alternatives" was the theme of ther 7th World Social Forum which took place in Nairobi from 20-25 January 2007. War Resisters' International took part in this World Social Forum with a 10-persons strong delegation.
No doubt, this World Social Forum was different. Africa - Kenya - made its presence felt. Kenyan and African culture and music were present everywhere at the forum, to the extent that drums and music did not always have a positive impact on discussions. But Africa also made its presence felt in terms of participation and content: on one hand negatively, as participation from European or Latin American social movements was poor, compared to previous World Social Forums. Poorer especially when it came to more grassroots based movements, which simply often could not afford the expenses for travel to Africa - or were less inspired by a WSF in Africa, as there are much fewer links with African social movements. On the other hand positively, as nonviolence and dealing with conflict were higher on the agenda in Africa, as for example in Porto Allegre or Mumbai.
Very different were also the stalls of groups present at the WSF: many African groups are church or religion based, and this was very visible when wandering the stalls. And many are linked to Western church-connected humanitarian and development NGOs such as Caritas or Oxfam. A lot of the work of these groups is more focused on community development, education, etc, and less on street protest or direct action. But this is not to say that those groups do not have a political perspective critical of economical globalisation, privatisation of public services, militarisation, and other forms of domination, and are not at times involved in protest activities.
While nonviolence and dealing with conflict were important issues at this World Social Forum, this cannot be extended to antimilitarism. We got our first schock when we arrived at the WSF venue, which was guarded by Kenyan military and militarised private security. At best, this can be attributed to a lack of awareness among the organisers, combined with legal requirements. But also among the participants there was little visible critique, not to mention protest about military presence at the World Social Forum.
Another open question is how much this World Social Forum taking place in Africa really helps to develop new links between European, US- or Latin American and African groups, or how discussions happen in parallel worlds. The different way to organise - the importance of church and religion in African organising - often makes it difficult to create these links, as there is little understanding for each others approaches. The poor presence of non-African movements does not help to overcome these problems either.
But clearly there are common issues and common perspectives. Economical globalisations makes its presence felt in Africa too, and Africa's resources are of high interest for globalised corporations, and fuel many of the conflicts on the continent, from Congo to Angola, from Sudan to Somalia.
In contrast to globalisation from above, globalisation from below should value differences, and global cooperation should be rooted in local and regional cultures and struggles. If the global social movement - if there can be such a movement - does not just want to be a mirror image of economical globalisation and cultural imperialism, then we need to take this serious and make an effort to build on the many contacts made at this forum, to build and strengthen links with African movements built on mutual respect.
As War Resisters' International, we now need to build on the contacts made at the WSF, and reach out to groups in Africa and elsewhere. But we also need to evaluation what role we - as war resisters - want to play at future WSFs, in spite of all our political criticism.
Report on War Resisters' International's activities at the World Social Forum in Kenya
War Resisters' International took part in the Nairobi World Social Forum with an international delegation, consisting of participants from 4 continents: Ela Gandhi (South Africa) and Theodros Azbaha (Eritrea), Rafael Uzcategui (Venezuela), Michal Stoler (Israel), Clare Bayard (USA), Subhadip Mukherjee (India), Tobias Pflüger (Germany), Stellan Vinthagen (Sweden), and Andreas Speck, Javier Garate and Yvonne Kassim from the WRI office in London.
This was the strongest presence War Resisters' International ever had at a World or regional Social Forum. The aim of WRI's presence was to promote nonviolence and antimilitarism at the World Social Forum, and War Resisters' International had organised a range of activities to do so. A more detailed report on these activities can be found below.
The first World Social Forum in Africa suffered from quite some logistical problems. While some problems can be expected for an event of this size, and participants are generally tolerant of problems, others clearly caused problems for the functioning of the forum. Even until the very end of the World Social Forum, not every participant was able to get a programme - which made it difficult to know what was going on when and where. The WRI delegation in the beginning had just one programme, and a printout of the version that had been posted on the WSF website before. Others never managed to get hold of any programme.
But on a positive note, registration worked smoothly, at least for the WRI delegation.
More problematic were some of the political shortcomings of the World Social Forum organisers. The area of the World Social Forum was "protected" by private security and military in uniform with automatic guns - while this might be common in Kenya, it did not feel very appropriate for a World Social Forum. Other problems related to accommodation, exclusive contracts for selling food and drinks at the World Social Forum - for a price higher than could be afforded by many of the Kenyan participants. More information on some of the problems and protests during the World Social Forum is available in the online issues of Terraviva, an independent paper produced during the WSF.
War Resisters' International's own activities
As mentioned before, War Resisters' International had organised and registered a range of activities. In addition, War Resisters' International had a stall, which served as contact point and meeting place for many people. Prior to the forum, War Resisters' International produced a special issue of its newsletter The Broken Rifle, focussing on Africa and the World Social Forum. This issue was available in English, Spanish, French, and German, and received a lot of interest. WRI even needed to reprint copies of the English version, and still could not satisfy demand.
All members of the WRI delegation contributed to the success of the stall, and we - the WRI staff - want to thank everyone for the help.
Three seminars took place during the World Social Forum, albeit not all of them as planned.
African Perspectives on Nonviolence
This seminar was the first of WRI's seminars. Speakers were Dennis Brutus, Ela Gandhi, Netsai Mushonga. Ela Gandhi talked about the role of nonviolence in the struggle to overthrough the South African apartheid regime. Netsai Mushonga, involved with IFOR's Women Peacemaker Programme, talked about the gender dimension of nonviolence, and pointed out that any definition of peace needs to include gender justice. Dennis Brutus shared his experience as prisoner in South Africa, and called for a day of nonviolent action on the anniversary of the beginning of the war on Iraq.
Against All Militarism
Speakers were Clare Bayard from the USA, Michal Stoler from Israel, Rafael Uzcategui from Venezuela, and Tobias Pflüger from Germany. Clare Bayard talked about the efforts of the US antiwar movement to fight US militarism, and especially highlighted the work done on counter-recruitment and by veterans from the present and previous wars. Michal Stoler talked about the militarisation of Israeli society, and resistance to it, highlighting the patriarchal structure of Israeli military in spite of conscription for women. Rafael Uzcategui drew a complex picture of events in Venezuela, highlighting the problems of grassroots movements and the attempts of the Chavez government to centralise and control everything. Tobias Pflüger talked about the militarisation of European foreign policy and the need to fight militarism wherever it occurs.
Eritrea: human rights and antimilitarism
That the World Social Forum is not able to provide a safe space, free of governments' repression, became obvious with this seminar. In the days before the seminar, several Eritrean government agents had been spotted at the World Social Forum, and also at the hotel of one of our speakers. At an emergency meeting the night before the seminar, we therefore had to decide that the risk to the speakers and their families was too high - given the specific family circumstances.
The "solution" we went for was to highlight exactly this fear of repression which was present even at the WSF, and prevented people from speaking out about the situation in their own country. WRI staff Andreas Speck and WRI Council member Stellan Vinthagen gave a brief presentation about the situation in Eritrea, and explained why the expected speakers - symbolised by two empty chairs - were unable to speak. Stellan Vinthagen gave the example of Dawit Isaac, an Eritrean-Swedish journalist, imprisoned in Eritrea for more than four years.
Participants in the seminar were very interested in receiving more information on campaigns in support of Eritrean human rights activists and war resisters, and follow-up ideas are presently being discussed.
If you too want to be involved in supporting Eritrean activists, then please contact the WRI office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the difficulties for finding the room assigned for the nonviolence training, this workshop was a big success. In three hours we did practical exercises around the concept of nonviolence, practical exercises on decision making and street action techniques.With a lot of sharing from their own participants experiences. The main comment from the participants of this workshop was the importance of doing this practical and participatory activity at the WSF, were most of the events are with speakers and listeners, but no real interaction.
Networking Against War Profiteers
The workshop started with a go-around from participant about their knowledge on the war profiteers in their region and their involvement in the issue. Were we learned of what is happening in different regions of the planet and how the corporations are profiteering in all these regions with some commonalities and difference in the way the profit from war. Followed by a presentation of WRI's Global Initiative Against War Profiteers and some concrete proposal for networking against these profiteers.
This workshop suffered from the worst of all slots at the WSF, as it was the first thing in the morning of the first day of the WSF, when almost no one had a WSF programme, and even rooms were not properly allocated. We still managed do the workshop. It started with a presentation from Ela Gandhi on how nonviolence resistance worked in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, followed by a brief presentation from Javier Garate on the bartering experience in Argentina during the economical crisis. We ended the workshop with a group discussion on what we can do to promote nonviolence for social change.
Venezuela: From a Human Rights Perspective
Rafael Uzcategui representing the Venezuelan Human Rights organisation Provea, presented a report done by this organisation on the current situation regarding human rights in Venezuela. While the report mentioned progress by the government of Hugo Chavez in many areas, especially in relation to education, health and housing, the report was very critical on civil liberties, such as the right to protest. This workshop was a good opportunity for people to know more about was is happening in Venezuela in relation to human rights and what human rights organisations are doing in Venezuela, as we also had a Venezuelan member from Amnesty International Venezuela.
Independent media played an important role during the World Social Forum in Nairobi. The Inter Press Service produced a daily paper - TerraViva - with reports on activities during the Forum. The daily paper can be downloaded in PDF format at http://www.ipsterraviva.net/tv/Nairobi/EN/default.asp. But also the Kenyan mainstream media reported almost daily about the World Social Forum. A list of some of the reports - some of them quite shocking - is given below:
- Kenya: Thousands Gather in Nairobi, 19 January 2007
- Kenya: A Cultural Mix As WSF Kicks Off, 20 January 2007
- Slum dwellers making World Social Forum ideals a reality, 21 January 2007
- Kenya: Global Ecumenical Coalition At World Social Forum, 22 January 2007
- Kenya: Social Forum Best Placed to Question World Order, 22 January 2007
- Kenya: Maathai - Our Debt Too Heavy, 22 January 2007
- Kenya: Nobel Peace Laureates Vow to Fight for World Peace, 23 January 2007
- Kenya: Government Asked to Punish Homosexuals, 23 January 2007
- Kenya: Environment Concerns Dominate Conference, 24 January 2007
- Kenya: Forum Ends With Calls for Social Equity, 25 January 2007
- Kenya: It's Song And Dance As 7th World Forum Ends, 25 January 2007
- Kenya: Gays And Lesbians Step Out to Demand Rights, 26 January 2007
- Kenya: Country Should Learn Lessons From WSF Talks, 27 January 2007
- Kenya: Investor Lost Sh2m At 'People for Justice' Forum, 27 January 2007
- Kenya: Prostitutes Cash in On World Social Forum, 27 January 2007
- Africa: WSF - It Was a Meeting of NGOs, Not the Masses, 28 January 2007