WSF coverage: Opening of the World Social Forum – Another Africa is possible?

NAIROBI, Kenya

Wahu is small and charismatic when she more yells than talks. “Africa is not poverty, Africa is not HIV, Africa is not dying. Africa is the human spirit. Another Africa is possible. We are refusing to die. Let me hear you audience; another Africa is possible. Let us welcome all our guests to Nairobi.”
It’s the opening of the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, the first WSF to be hosted completely by Africa. Last year the WSF was called polycentric since taking place in three locations on three continents: Mali, Venezuela and Pakistan. I am downtown in the so-called Park of Independence: Uhuru Park. Rumours say the forum will host between 100,000 and 150,000 participants, but when I look around I would say we are around 10,000 at the opening.  

DJs on stage play cool music in between the conferenciers. A young guy that looks like some TV host screams out to the crowd: “Another World is possible?” and people yell back, “another world is possible”. In front of the huge stage, groups from all over take turns in dancing and singing, while the rest is scattered over the soft hilled park, watching, talking, moving. Another world is possible...

There is no translation, I notice. Only into sign language.

The groups are a diverse mix of all ages and colours... Unions, the workers movement, women’s groups, people fighting for gay and lesbians rights, farmers, political activists, foundations of all kinds, church associations, peace groups, ethnic minorities, disabled people, human rights organisations, journalists.

I speak to people of the Danish agency for development assistance - MS, which is big in Kenya. They have been involved in the preparatory process and tell me that there are less participants from Latin America, North America, Europe or Asia, than what they would have expected. About 80 % of the participants are from Africa. Just as Porto Alegre had a majority from Latin America, and Mumbai from Asia. Around 45,000 people have registered in total, but so far only around 25,000 have actually shown up and paid.

Three women from the WSF organising committee officially open the programme. They introduce the first speaker, which is Wahu Kaara from the Kenya Debt Relief Network.

Wahu is small and charismatic when she more yells than talks. “Africa is not poverty, Africa is not HIV, Africa is not dying. Africa is the human spirit. Another Africa is possible. We are refusing to die. Let me hear you audience; another Africa is possible. Let us welcome all our guests to Nairobi.”

People are dancing, the sun is shining. Behind the park are the big modern buildings of Nairobi city centre. There is quite a contrast between the many black t-shifts that say “no to capitalism” and the expensive hotels, which are fully booked for the forum.

I ask some of the people, who stand around me what they expect from the forum. Will it make a difference or be just a big talk show? “I expect it to help us link local to global”, “I want to meet people from other countries and to hear about their struggles”, “I hope to build networks”, “I hope we can build a stronger social movement”, “We need to give voice to the voiceless”, “The forum will make us visible” - are some of the answers I receive.

No matter how much you can possibly believe in another world or not, the spirit is here. On this afternoon you would have to be made of stone not to be touched by the power and the energy of the people dancing and singing in Uhuru Park.

I am curious to see what the World Social Forum 2007 will materialise into in the coming days. For Africa and for the rest of the world.

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