WSF Kenya Forum to Debate Democracy – 21 Jan 08

WSF Kenya Forum to Debate Democracy

During the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Kenya in January of 2007 one of the many presentations was about democracy and the general elections that were to be held here in December.  Civil society speakers warned the participants that unless the elections were free and fair violence was likely to erupt, as people would demand justice even through unorthodox means.  Exactly a year later, this prediction has become reality in this east African country.

Soon after incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the Dec.  27 elections, violence exploded in many parts of the country as people protested the win. Since then, the country has been home to endless street protests, damage of property, including road and railway barricading.  Over 600 people have died in post-election violence and nearly 500,000 are now displaced.

The WSF had come up with practical suggestions through which the country could have avoided such an eventuality and provided devolution of resources to the people as one such approach.  But this suggestion—just like others given during WSF meetings—was never addressed by the government.

Undeterred by the government’s attitude, the Kenya Social Forum (KSF) set out its agenda for 2008 late last year—since this year’s WSF process was going to be “retrospective and prospective because there will be no global gathering,” Peninah Odhiambo, media consultant for KSF told IPS in Nairobi.  “Each country will have localized social forums,” Odhiambo explained. “Our agenda for 2008 is a campaign for peace in Kenya with main consideration of the post electoral skirmishes,” Odhiambo said.  “Other activities on our agenda include dialogue on democracy.”

In the build up to last December’s elections, there were reported instances of violence from some parts of the country during the campaigns. Such incidents motivated the KSF to open its channels of dialogue entitled “Another Kenya is Possible” in December. Since then KSF has travelled to two of the areas most affected by pre-election violence. “We went to Molo and Kuresoi [both areas are to the west of the capital Nairobi] and held a peace concert for the clash victims,” Odhiambo said.

The concert exposed nationwide issues such as governance, insecurity, unemployment, poverty, land, peace and HIV/AIDS.  The organisers also handled these issues through open discussions and short documentaries. “These issues have seemingly been ignored,” Odhiambo said.  “We created a channel for Kenyans to speak out about them.  The most outstanding issues were good governance and peace in Kenya.” Governance and peace have become the greatest challenges in 2008 here following the controversial presidential elections. Predictably, the KSF’s work for 2008 was all cut out for it even before the new-year.

According to Philip Thigo, the KSF national coordinator, the “KSF project for 2008 comes out of an urgent concern to address the human costs of Kenya’s post electoral violence and its root causes. The project also identifies ways of restoring and strengthening civil society as a space for constructive and non-violent resistance.

Last year, the WSF hosted about 80,000 participants in Nairobi from Jan.  20- 25—the first time it was held in Africa.  The event was the seventh in a series of yearly events since its inception in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The WSF is an open meeting place where social and civil society movements opposed to any form of imperialism come together to debate ideas and share their experiences freely.

Last year’s WSF designed a 21-point action plan, which social movements could use to campaign for the betterment of society.  The plan encompasses issues affecting the world’s poor—ranging from the fight against poverty and exploitation of the poor by industrialists to issues touching on gender equity, maternal health and environmental degradation.

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