World Social Forum Nairobi 2007 Results

In a world where one of the worst problems is the inequality between people, aggravated by globalization, strong civil movements arise that question the current economic model which drives part of the world population to hunger and despair.

As an outcome of these movements, the World Social Forum (WSF) has become a sort of Mecca for all those in search of a fairer world under the motto "Another world is possible". It comprises an amalgamation of organizations, big and small, international and local, belonging to very different ideologies; social movements, base communities, trade unions, and many dissenting groups.

As indicated in its charter of principles, the WSF is a democratic space of ideas, discussion and articulation by the main civil society organizations searching for concrete solutions to the challenges facing the building of another world based on the principles of justice, equity and respect of human rights, where, thanks to a more humane globalization, the economy will be at the service of people.

In its origins, the WSF was a counter point to the Davos Economic Forum. Nowadays it has transcended Davos since, with a wider objective, it aims to visualize the concerns, hopes and alternatives of civil society.

Organized for the first time in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the Forum has held further editions in Porto Alegre (2002 y 2003), Bombay, India (2004), Porto Alegre (2005), polycentric in 2006 (in Bamako, Mali, Karachi, Pakistan and Caracas, Venezuela). In this last edition, the WSF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, between January 20 to 25, 2007 assembling more than 40.000 participants from all over the world.



Positive and negative aspects of the WSF (from our personal impressions)


Positive Aspects

1. The celebration of this edition in Africa. The decision, taken in 2004, to celebrate the 2007 edition in Africa was due to strategic reasons: the will to take a further step in the globalization of the Forum, already taken in 2004 with the celebration in Bombay, India, and to show at least during a few days, the diversity and cultural richness of the continent as well as the richness of its organizations and social movements. The aim was to show Africa as it really is which does not always correspond to the image presented on many occasions either plagued by conflicts or with exotic trends.

At the same time, as in previous editions, the African delegation was merely representative. The aim was that the African presence, its voices, concerns and specifically African themes, would have a stronger presence.

In spite of some deficiencies, this presence has been successful at large. If the Forum has had European and Western assistants, the African presence has been a clear majority.


2. The specific treatment of issues especially relevant for the African continent.

At the World Social Forum, there is a broad variety of workshops, seminars, round tables and varied activities. In this edition, more than 200 were held daily organized and managed by registered organizations. A great number of issues were analyzed, many of which had been treated in previous forums, such as the problem of external debt, the reform of multilateral institutions, gender and many others. Some issues seemed to us that were treated with a greater degree of relevance than in other editions, supposedly because of its relevance for Africa, such as peace, the solving of conflicts, AIDS, the exploitation of natural resources, refugees, migration, water or even the Chinese presence in Africa. The future of the WSF was one of the main issues discussed mainly because of the crossroads point in which it currently finds itself.

Finally we would like to point out the Jesuit Network organized a seminar of three hours duration called "Social Transformation in Africa: ethical aspects". In this seminar, various conclusions were presented on issues previously discussed during the encounter related to refugee problems, AIDS, conflicts and their causes, exploitation of natural resources, commerce and characteristics that should define political advocacy.

As in Bombay, although not as clearly marked, there were two complementary forums. One on discussion, internal debate or exchange of experiences, which took place in closed areas in the Moi Sports Stadium and the more external colourful manifestations such as live expressions, demonstrations, demands, outdoor theatre, music, regional costumes. Folklore and apparently, but only apparently, leisure activities behind which were the suffering and demands for people's rights to a dignified life.


3. Live and visible religion presence.

Some may consider it positive, others negative, others indifferent; but one the most surprising thing for us was the clear and visible presence of individuals and groups linked to religious institutions. Not only the Catholic Church, which through Caritas and many other institutions had a very strong presence, but also Evangelist Churches and Muslim communities had their space. This leads us to reflect if total secularization is mostly a western phenomenon.


4. Live and vibrant women presence.

In workshops and round tables, as participants or attending, in manifestations or demands, in the opening and closing ceremonies, women had a relevant role in this World Social Forum, maybe as their relevant presence and meaning in the African continent.


5. Possibility of net articulation.
Maybe one of the greatest possibilities the Forum offers is the capacity to articulate different nets on issues and common agendas. This is neither easy nor spontaneous. But we find a significant example to be followed in the South Asian People's Initiative net, which holds more than 200 organizations of marginal populations in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. They were formed by the Jesuits prior to the Bombay Forum and since then, work together on various issues. A SAPI Delegation of 60 people was present at the forum with very active participation, both in organizing the seminars, presenting, sharing and offering solutions for the issues that worry them ( the untouchable Dalit situation, globalization effects etc.) as in public demonstrations, outdoor theatres etc. They were everywhere. The SAPI example is very significant and could be reproduced trying to facilitate people's union on common issues throughout the various continents.



Negative Aspects. (From our personal impressions)


1. An organization with deficiencies
In our opinion there were many shortcomings and deficiencies. Seminars and workshops closed or postponed at the last minute without previous warning, speakers who did not show up, rooms with no adequate material and a certain degree of chaos characterized this WSF, although the situation improved as the days passed. Nonetheless, it could not be compared to other editions and it was not a minor problem. However, these are the set backs due to the lack of experience in organizing these events, which were not backed as they were in Porto Alegre, by the municipality or the public authorities.



2. The African presence, although relevant, was not one of social movements or community or poor people's organizations.
As stated above, there was a clear African presence. However it was not evident that it represented marginal or poor communities. This may have been due in part to a lower mobilization like in other editions such as Bombay, a less degree of social structure in the African continent or the high transportation and accommodation cost. The price for the entrance tickets was high for Kenyan standards as was the food and drinks available. This was highly criticized and on the third day they allowed free entrance.



3. Where is the World Social Forum headed? Is there a certain saturation?
The number of participants in this Nairobi edition, around 40.000, has been significantly lower than in other editions. In Bombay, for example and in Porto Alegre there were more than 100.000. Is this due to high cost, a lower social network or a certain WSF saturation? It is true that the Forum has been decentralized, that there are other regional and thematic forums and success must not be necessarily measured by numbers, but we still think that the question is relevant and that the risk of saturation exists. This is closely related to one of the points debated in this edition, regarding to the future of the forum.

Undoubtedly, from its first meeting, the Forum exceeded all expectations as to the number of participants and its geographical expansion. It is also unquestionable that it has transcended the Davos Economic Forum, which, on those very days, gathers prominent leaders of the world's economy. It is equally true that a number of the Forum's demands have come to form part of the political agenda and have become a worldwide reference. As Bonaventura de Sousa puts it: "The international institutions and other power-holding authorities, in recent years, have been obliged to take into account proposals and demands made at the WSF". Nonetheless, after a few editions, the Forum is now going through a bad patch with regard to its future and this has given rise to intense debate. As Sami Nair, an Egyptian intellectual and one of the leaders of the Forum of Alternatives, points out: "The World Social Forum has played an important role, but it is a system that is beginning to wear out".

Must the Forum remain, as its charter of principles indicates, a democratic venue for ideas, in-depth reflection, formulation of proposals and a link between civil society organisations without issuing documents, joint declarations or taking collective steps? Or must it, on the contrary, make stronger proposals and take collective steps? What is sure is that, almost from its beginning, that question has been intensely debated between those who consider that the Forum, given the huge diversity of the organisations that attend it, should be an encounter and space for dialogue, and those who want it to take unique stands, issue joint documents and carry out collective actions. That question and that debate come up at every Forum with increasing urgency.

It is not easy to answer those questions without knowing what might be the most adequate solution. What seems certain, however, as Roberto Savio, member of the organising Committee pointed out, is that the Forum's success cannot be measured by the criteria of the number of participants or geographical expansion alone; more importantly, we must ascertain that it is contributing to the building of that other world that it proclaims.



"Africanizing Entreculturas"

As part of the Ignatian Family Net, this is the result that our envoys at Nairobi came up with, at the meeting prior to the Forum. Because the Jesuits have always had a strong commitment for this continent and now more so, after this encounter in which they have seen that African society's role is stronger than ever.

In fact one of the deepest impacts was made by a Zimbabwe university professor when he stressed the need to reformulate the African identity and know "who is going to tell what to whom." We are responsible that the image we transmit of Africa may not be the usual image of brutal catastrophe or exotic safari images, but that we may transmit the cultural richness and diversity of the African continent or the aspiration of citizens increasingly capable of leading their own development.

The representatives of the Ignatian net discussed five issues during the three day meeting they held to share their concerns and proposals so as to improve the Jesuit's work in Africa.

  • Refugees and forced migrants: to listen and accompany is key for the Jesuit Refugee Service's work with the people who for one reason or another have been forced to abandon their homes, communities, countries, families etc. More so, in a globalization context where the value of African hospitality is changing, so that the migrants are becoming foreigners. Regarding this issue, an improvement of the refugee camps so as to make them more dignified, was set as a target.
  • AIDS. The importance of the AJAN, the Jesuit Net working in projects against the illness, was pointed out. It was agreed to continue efforts to train professionals and awareness raising agents. It was also questioned if a more active role in the dialogue with pharmaceutical companies was needed.
  • War and peace and conflict solutions. The general idea was that Africa is starting to close eternal wounds such as Angola, Sudan and even Liberia; however worry grows over conflicts in countries such as Congo, Chad and especially Darfur.
  • Governance. The demand of a good government, the need for good management of the common goods in the majority of African countries was discussed. For this purpose, the Jesuit organizations pressure with follow up work regarding the efficiency of public services and controlling budgets.
  • Exploitation of resources. The abusive exploitation of Africa's natural resources is one of the causes of the continent's conflicts, as is the case for example of the minerals in Congo or the oil in Chad.


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Entreculturas at the VII edition of the WSF in Nairobi, Kenya