Magazine article New Internationalist

Poverty Bites WSF on the Backside

Magazine article New Internationalist

Poverty Bites WSF on the Backside

Article excerpt

AS WE ARRIVED at the stadium where the 2007 World Social Forum was taking place - a vast concrete Chinese-built vanity project of former Kenyan dictator Daniel Arap Moi - the traffic ground to a halt. While this is pretty normal for Nairobi, it soon became clear that it was no ordinary gridlock. A noisy group of Nairobi slumdwellers had decided to step up their campaign to force the Forum organizers into opening the event to any poor Kenyans who wanted to participate. They marched up the road, singing, dancing and chanting: 'Everything free! Everything free!'

When they reached the first set of gates they were allowed straight through. This prompted a quick, passionate and surprisingly efficient decision-making session: should they leave it at that, because at least they could all get in today? 'No, comrades!' was the emphatic answer- what about all the others who had also been marching and who were being blocked at other gates? It's a point of principle. Why host the WSF in Nairobi if the poor can't join in the discussions because they can't afford the entrance fee, or transport to get there, or food and water once they're inside?

So we marched onwards, into the stadium where the boisterous and rapidly growing crowd gatecrashed the daily press conference. Representatives climbed on top of the media tables to let all present know why they were there.

'When you come to Kibera [the biggest slum in Africa] you see the worst of us. You see our poverty and our misery. We want to come here and show you the best of us,' explained an eloquent, forceful young woman named Wangui Mbatia. …

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