"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.

Andreas Speck
WRI Office

Programmes & Projects

Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.