Peoples’ Struggles and Alternatives - No Vox at the World Social Forum in Nairobi -January 2007

Wednesday 28 March 2007

The NoVox network was present at the World Social Forum in Nairobi through the participation of French movements -Agir ensemble contre le Chômage ! ( Lets fight together against unemployment !), Droits Devant ! (Rights first !), The association for employment, information and solidarity APEIS, Droit Paysan-, of those from Mali: The Malian association of the deported. From Belgium and Japan: the movements of the homeless and precarious workers. It was not possible for some movements to come such as the MNLM (National movement of struggle for housing from Brazil). The alternative youth movement from Mali and from Senegal and Portugal (Solim DAH) weren’t able to come.

As at every forum, NoVox reaffirmed the necessity of the participation of the grass roots movements as much in the debates as in the elaboration of proposals of alternatives. “We rely on the social forums for us to meet and to enlarge the network to other struggling movements!” In Nairobi the meeting with the grassroots movements called the ‘Peoples Parliament’ was decisive. One foot in, one foot out, No Vox was present at once, at the alternative forum organized by the Kenyan movement in a Park in the centre of the town and also at the workshops and assemblies of the world social forum on the themes supported by the network.

Many of the reunions were important, between the Dalits of India and the associations of the Japanese NoVox network. An ‘Assembly of the Have nots ’was held on the third day on the basis of exchanges of information about the struggles of each group. Two documentaries by the film group of No Vox were shown: “In the footprints of the NoVox network since 2004” and also “The demolitions of shantytowns in Lisbon” were put on despite the material conditions.

The forum had a new innovation, in relation to previous forums: the fourth day was a day of convergence of different workshops enabling concrete positions to emerge. No Vox were in that spirit present at the migrants’ assembly. Also as a member of the assembly of social movements, No Vox participated in the preparatory meetings and intervened during the final assembly, as much as the African movements present at the forum.

No Vox came to support the various Kenyan actions and protests denouncing the cost of entry and the prices of food, the presence of multi-nationals, the treatment of volunteers and the general organization of the forum.

1. Misapplication of the charter of principles of the World Social Forum

The World social Forum 2007 took place in the vast Sports complex at Kasarani situated around ten kilometers from the centre of Nairobi .On a guided tour of the still deserted complex the night before the opening, we learnt that two members of the Kenyan organizing committee, convinced that there had been embezzlement of funds, had been excluded from its preparation. The organizers made a final estimation of 50,000 participants, an over estimation according to most observers. The organizers had initially estimated 100,000.

Planned at the start for 10,000 people, the youth camp actually didn’t receive more than a few dozen participants. The price was prohibitive at 15 dollars a day. Its appearance was almost military and the separation of men and women drove the youth to desert the place. The174 page programme of the WSF had a very unclear timetable and still wasn’t available the night before the opening.

It listed that between 180 and 200 conferences would be held each day, of which some were in spaces with a capacity of 2000 people. The translation was vague and barely audible in the plenaries and seminars and almost non-existent in the workshops. The offer of Babels to provide translation was rejected to the profit of a commercial Indian company which didn’t seem up to the job of providing all the translation required.

The provisional budget for the Forum was 5 million dollars, which was reduced to 2.5 million during its preparation of which a part was paid for by the Italian government. The registration fee was 80 euros for Europeans, 2000 shillings (20 euros) for people coming from Southern countries and 500 (5 euros) shillings for Kenyans, costs judged exhorbitant by everyone! For the first time volunteers were officially paid, but differently according to which country they came from.

There was the widespread presence of CELTEL a South African telecommunications company which is omni-present on the advertising hoardings of Nairobi. Offers of Safaris of every kind, advertising for casinos and for young Kenyan prostitutes in chique Nairobi hotels. Escalating in numbers and in means, there were NGO organizations and charities. It is also very regrettable that the Kenyan government operated a very restrictive visa policy which prevented a large number of African activists from attending.

The most serious aspect was the profits generated by the monopolistic operators of the forum to the detriment of the people. The exclusion from the forum of independent stall-holders to the profit of expensive VIP dining organized by a local chain of hotels owned by the Kenyan Minister of the Interior, seemed to be only the tip of the iceberg.

2. Meetings, exchange and support with the Peoples Parliament

Our arrival in Nairobi was marked by a meeting with a local Kenyan group; the “Parliament of the People” who have been organizing daily since 1992, open political debates in a public park in the centre of Nairobi. Even before the opening this movement had organized a demonstration to denounce the impossibility for the majority of Kenyans to be able to participate in the forum because of two barriers: the cost of entry and the geographical distance of the forum which meant high transport costs for those local people who wanted to participate. The No Vox network decided to support their demands (No Vox has always asked for free entry to the social forums.)

A first collective action to unblock the barriers at the entrance took place on the first day of the forum, followed by a second action on the 22nd January to block the two roads leading to the Kasarani sports complex on the initiative of many networks. A third collective action of occupation and food redistribution took place on the 24th of January against the Windsor golf and country club belonging to the Kenyan Ministry of the Interior security, John Michiku, who was accused of multiplying by four the cost of the junk food on sale and of having pushed the traditional food stalls outside and got rid of the mobile stalls of locals.

The No Vox network also participated in the alternative social forum organized by the ‘Parliament of the people’ in a public park in Nairobi. The debates covered a wide variety of subjects; the economic inequalities in Kenya, the far too high cost of everyday necessities, homosexuality, the occupation of land and of buildings, the theft of the natural resources of the country by multinational corporations, and the collateral environmental destruction, the problem of the landless in Kenya, unemployment etc.

We were very impressed by the quality of the debate in the interventions! Not only was the alternative forum in the park a breath of fresh air in comparison with the amount of ‘alterglobalisation’ merchandise on sale at the official Social Forum; not just the culture of ‘free’ imposed by the organizers of the ‘Peoples Parliament’ but also the really grassroots identity brought about over the years through grassroots self organisation brought to Jumanjee Park a very diverse group of Kenyans (Unemployed people, precarious workers , University students and teachers). But apart from that the real quality of the debate was a lesson in direct democracy which will be an inspiration for us to remember: No panels and no platforms; each intervention took the time they wanted, telling of their own experiences or producing theoretical demonstrations. Polemics were made in a relaxed way marked by stinging humour towards the politics…above all, the quality of the reflections were as pertinent as academic discourse.

3. General Assembly of the “Have-Nots”

No-Vox organised a General Assembly of the “Have-Nots” within the framework of the official forum. This GA takes place at every social forum. It is an open space of meeting among the movements, exchange between different practices of struggle and of political reflection on our actions. It is the opportunity for the different movements of the No-Vox network to meet, communicate on the different contexts of struggle and to prepare together possible moments of convergence (common moments of solidarity, action weeks, coordination of our different calendars, etc.)

At Nairobi, the meeting with the People’s Parliament because a reference for the No-Vox network. To that extent, the GA of the “Have-Nots” was useful to enlarge the No-Vox network, to build, to the extent possible, concrete solidarity with movements in the WSF host country.

Numerous movements participated in the Assembly: regular participants, groups not seen for some time, new movements, associations and militants there out of curiosity. The diversity of struggles and regions in the world were represented via the participation of such groups as the Indian Dalit movement (NCDHR), Droit Paysan (Peasant Rights) and APEIS from France, Malian Association of the Deported, different associations of the Japanese No-Vox network, a women’s movement from Benin, member of the CADTM (Committee for Cancellation of the African Debt), an association from a working class neighbourhood in South Africa etc.

4. Participation of the No-Vox network in the workshops

A) Dalit Movement: “Untouchability is a crime”

The National Campaign for Dalits’ Human Rights (NCDHR) organised two consecutive workshops on questions connected to the discrimination which Dalits suffer, on untouchability and access to land. Several speakers pointed out the consequences of lack of access to land, peasants deprived of their lands, the double discrimination faced by Dalit and landless Dalits. Different strategies have been organised by the Dalit movements in India to recover their ancestral lands and affirm their right to these lands as one that has been long flouted. An open debate between Asians, Indians, Africans and Europeans revealed once more the similarity of situations on these continents.

B) Simultaneously at Jeevanjee Park; “Employment, Movements of Workers, Minimum Wage as opposed to Vital Minimum”

On January 22,2007, in the middle of the afternoon a debate was organized at Jeevanjee Gardens by the People’s Parliament on “Employment, Movements of Workers, Minimum Wage as opposed to Vital Minimum”. No-Vox via notably the APEIS was invited to testify to the similarity of situations, resulting from the similarity of oppressions, of unemployment and precarious employment in France and more generally in Europe. The connections were quickly made between the profits of some and the poverty of many others, and the correlation between the unemployment rate and the cost of labour became evidently clear, supported by many speakers who questioned the very notion of employment and affirming the need to refuse underpaid employment.

It was very clear that our different testimonials supported each other as the same logic of exploitation is being implemented everywhere in the world… And this is in itself a response to the usual often condescending arguments (“Africa is different”) to observe that, even if forms of exploitation present variations, the exploited understand each other and in fact speak the same language.

C) Migration

Here is a brief summary of the main topics analysed during the workshops: the externalisation of Europe’s frontiers, the blackmail carried out by northern governments on the question of the controlling the flow of migration, the American policy of control and progressive closing of the border with Mexico, new legislation in some African countries tending to penalise acts of “illegal emigration”, plans to tax immigrants’ savings.

Concerning our demands, the principal of the freedom of movement as well as the defence of the right of asylum and the fight against the violations of Human Rights of which migrants are victims received a wide consensus among the associations we were able to meet. On the other hand, the principal of the freedom to settle is not demanded by all the organisations, some prefering to stress the development of migrants’ countries of origin and limiting the outflow of skilled labour. On this question, we took part in the “Assembly of Migrants” which allowed participants, on one hand, to establish a calendar of mobilisation and, on the other, to create an informal global network of associations working on questions linked to migration.

No-Vox through the AME (Association of Deported Malians) and Dd (Droits devant!!) organised its own workshop on the theme of the internationalisation of the struggle against the deportation of undocumented migrants.

The Nairobi World Social Forum thus allowed us to find our place within a global netwrok which is under construction to struggle against the policies of “mastering immigration flows” carried out by northern governments. The goal henceforth is to enlarge the network by integrating a larger number of grass roots movements, like the movements of illegal migrants in the North, and associations of the deported in the South.

D) Meetings and reinforcement of our links with the associations of the No-Vox network in Japan

The workshop organised by the IMADR (International Movement against Discrimination and Racism in Japan) and the Ligue of Burakumin Liberation (Japanese “Untouchables”) allowed us to reinforce links between Europe and Japan. IMADR was founded to fight against all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination on the international level. Their struggle is principally connected to that of the Dalits in India and in Sri Lanka. One of the organisation’s targets is to set up anti-discrimination legislation in Japan.

An intervention by a young precariously employed worker and union member highlighted the problems of poverty in Japan, and in particular the situation of the young homeless, too many of whom spend their nights in the cybercafés and “manga cafés”. Attac-Japan of Osaka is a splinter movement from Attac and which is active in the Japan No-Vox network. Their representative, who participated actively in various actions during the Forum, described the situation of the homeless of Nagai Park, who have since been evacuated on the order of the City. Following the announcement at Nairobi, the No-Vox networks in France and Brazil launched a petition against the evacuation of the homeless of Nagai Park, followed by the occupation of the City of Osaka delegation office in Paris.

E) Right to Land

The seminar “Access to Land and Agrarian Reform” showed different situations in the struggle for land reform through different interventions: Endirat Fall from Senegal, Via Campesina, MST Brazil, Consortium for Land Reform in Indonesia, Ekta Parishad from India and East Africa. A second workshop allowed us to understand the political position of Food First and to analyse why the Green Revolution has failed, even if it has not ignored Africa. A meeting was organised with Kenyan peasants who had been recently evicted from their ancestral lands: John Ayila, Walter Otieno and Salome Okongo, from the Siaya District were expelled, pushed back 30 or 40 kilometers, following the arrival of a multinational, “The Dominion Group of Companies”. Today they survive in a camp, and are fed by several international associations as they no longer have land to farm. The lease with the multinational was signed by the Kenyan government for 25 years. In the meantime, the farmers can die in their camps, all attempts to defend their interests have failed. The latest news is that a power plant will be constructed around a dam creating an artificial lake, stagnant waters which will carry their load of sickness and death. They have attempted legal procedings which have been under way since 2003, but they feel that the legal system is constantly cheating them and delays are constant. According to them, the judges have received money. They have no solution, no hope unless it is the meager one that this forum can allow their situation to become better known.

5. No-Vox at the Assembly of Social Movements

Excerpts from our speech: “We are satisfied that the World Social Forum has taken place in Africa and particularly in Nairobi. However we cannot stand the display of wealth in this Forum, the exacerbated expression of capitalist oppression through the publicly apparent presence of multinationals such as Celtel and the sub-contracting of food supply to hotel companies who multiply by 4 the price of food, the entry price for participants and organisations, the price of seminars and stands to allow a space of debate and meeting. We are surprised by the lack of visible information concerning the traditional unitary demonstrations organised at the beginning and the end of the Forum! As both individuals and as movements, we are feeling the strain. But we must continue our efforts to foster an ever more numerous participation by grass roots movements who struggle each day, and particularly for the inclusion of local movements in the preparation process. We consider it essential to express our solidarity with the actions carried out by different Kenyan groups including the People’s Parliament!”

6. The Future of Social Forums: elements of proposals

The World Social Forum remains a privileged space for discussing our militant experiences and constructing the necessary globalisation of struggles and resistance. And yet, the WSF has shown this year that capitalism is also within our midst.

If, as we clearly stated above, this Forum cannot be reduced to an “exhibition” of struggles and political alternatives, it is nonetheless in this manner that it presents itself to a visitor belonging to what we could call the “general public of alternative globalisation politics”.

For example we note the exclusion of a large part of the potential public from Nairobi because of prohibitively high entry prices, as well as the exclusion of numerous Kenyan speakers because of the exhorbitant fees charged for “seminar” space. If a World Forum is not also “local”, it misses a part of its purpose. Not far away, the forum organised by a Kenyan organisation, the People’s Parliament, in Jeevanjee’s Garden was in every way a contrast to the outlandish resources, the closed space remeniscent of the gate communities for the rich, the academic tone of the debats which held sway at the Kasarani Stadium.

It is important to draw the consequences which could be the following:

A) The WSF must not be organised in the same way and with the same type of market-oriented subcontractors as a trade fair, economic summit or sports event.

This supposes: 1) Limiting the budget in absolute terms on the basis of costs appropriate to the standard of living of the host country. 2) Limiting the size. The aim must not be to increase infinitely the number of participants and activities which are not criteria for success. 3) Each organisation should be able to propose a limited number of activities. These organisations would participate in the WSF budget not depending on the number of seminars proposed but on the basis of their budgets. 4) Over consumption and pollution resulting from the Forum must be limited to the greatest extent possible.

B) The WSF must not globally reproduce the form of an academic conference.

1) The participants should not be locked into spatial structures of only one type generated by a single principle of organisation. This means that the WSF should also propose spaces directly designed by the organisations who desire to use them. This would open up a plurality of forms of debate and more generally of political practices. The organisation of space is in fact always a means to appropriate power. 2) An evaluation of the level of mutual understanding within the seminars should by tried out.

C) The WSF should be as much local as global.

1) Preparatory work should be undertaken allowing participants in the Forum to be informed in advance of the particular forms that globalisation takes in the host country. 2) The participation of the local society must be a central objective of the Forum. 3) The participation of grass roots social movements of the host country must be a key goal of the Forums. 4) The organisation of an upcoming Forum in a rural region should be considered.

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