25 Jan WSF: great talk, no walk
A follow up article by Al Kags.
A little more than a week ago, I asked a question – or a series of questions that left me castigated left right and centre by the online socialist community. My question was specifically related to the World Social Forum but generally to all other conferences. I asked that since the 7th World Social Forum was happening in Nairobi and it certainly is a good thing, what are the deliverables that we can expect out of the participants – in terms of tangible out come?
I said that while the WSF was a great thing – and Kenya could certainly use an exra 100 Million shillings anyday – it was created for a purpose and my request was that that purpose be explained to me. Needless to say, I got none of that. The National Coordinator of the Kenya Social Forum, a friend of mine for years, Onyango Oloo came back annoyed but still failed to illuminate on my simple question.
Onyango Oloo addressing one of the discussions at WSF 2007
I therefore attended the First Day of the WSF at Uhuru Park and listened to various speakers including the venerable Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia. I spoke to many people from all over the world and apart from the leftist rhetoric, that complained of oppression and “rights” and many other clichés, I was unable to discern the reason for the gathering.
One man there stood out in his reasoning. He said that he went there to meet new people and to register his dissatisfaction with the performance of one George W Bush, saying that Obama would do a lot better for the world.
I am a complete ignoramus on these issues. I was in need of a concise and simple explanation. The words that were used were way above me in this case and reading the wsf2007 web site did little to sort that confusion.
Maybe its me.
Koigi Wa Wamwere is a self confessed Socialist and a fighter for the rights of the poor. He is an assistant Minister in Kenya
At the end of it all, my education was to begin when I came across a letter to the editor in the East African that was titled, “WSF: Beyond the leftist rhetoric” by one Elkinah Odembo. She (I think Elkinah is a woman) explains that the world social forum believes that a better world, where the flawed system held by the World Economic Forum at Davos is improved upon. Apparently, the world social forum holds that the current system in which business is the driving force, does not take responsibility for the poor and the less fortunate in society as well as the concern that this system drives the gap between the rich and the poor wider apart.
Elkinah says that the WSF will provide a platform for civil society groups to explore alternatives and offer them as alternatives to the capitalist system held by the World Economic Forum.
While I was there, for the two days I went, I did not get the sense that these alternatives were being explored – but I could be wrong. My understanding is that at the end of the conference should be an alternative system – or systems – being proposed to the World Economic “man eat all” sort of system. That remains to be seen.
My own impressions gathered especially on the first day of the forum were that there are many people who feel strongly that the capitalist system is wrong or misguided. However, I put it to you, with all due respect to the socialists out there, that the world social forum is unlikely to achieve much as it is constituted today.
I see its largest handicap being the same one that I see with most – if not all – civil society setups: Too much rhetoric too little action. You see, much as there can be song and dance and poetry and movements and marches against the World Economic Forum capitalist system, as long as the World Social Forum does not at the end of the day use its intellectual resources to ensure that the interests of the world are taken care of while at the same time regarding those who work harder (or smarter) than others, all that is a song and dance about nothing.
Besides, the famous ‘Porto Alegre Charter’ – the Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum – is much invoked in controversies within the movement because it bans ‘party representations’ from participating and forbids social forums to take decisions. I can see why. It has tied their hands has it not?
The other thing that works against the Social Forum is that there are few specifics. Sure, we are talking about leveling the field and closing the gap between the rich and the poor – ostensibly by making the poor richer – not the rich poorer (but I could be wrong). But how is this to be done exactly? Robert Mugabe style perhaps: take from the rich and give to your cronies – I mean the poor? What are the key steps towards getting us to that new system? What exactly are the fundamentals of that system? So far, I have not seen it and I googled till my eyes are blue.
Also, what is to be done by the masses is done by no one. It will not be the masses that will work on changing the system? It is the representatives of the masses – well of individuals like the organizers of the conference who do not have to fight physically for the basics: food, shelter, water, education, who will be able to do this.
But then history has shown social movements fail – Tanzania, the Soviet Union and time has shown socialists in power do little but what the World Social Forum will eventually have done: paid great lip service to the problem. Aren’t died in the wool socialists, Mwandawiro Mghanga and Koigi wa Wamwere not in positions of power? Can we not name more?
This provided interesting reading;
I stand to be corrected on all this.