Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Monday 22nd January, Moi International Sports Complex, Nairobi Outskirts

The main thing I want to do today is put some pictures up (including on past blogs) but there are some interesting things to report as well…

The outside space forms a ring around the circular stadium, and contains the stalls of hundreds of different organisations. Most of the events and workshops take place on cordoned-off seating areas within the arena, and are accessed by the concrete steps on the right.

A lot of people are talking about this being the most commercial WSF so far. In order to register, you have to hand over your fee to representatives of Celtel, the mobile phone company who are sponsoring the event. They then give you a SIM card, that you put into your phone and register via text message. Not quite what I expected from a mass gathering of grassroots movements… On the other hand, Celtel is the only visible sponsorship. They clearly got a very sweet deal, and probably didn’t pay enough for it, but that doesn’t mean that the WSF has suddenly gone corporate, as some people here seem to think. Although of course it is much more fun to leap to ludicrous conclusions from a small starting-point (someone’s set up a stall selling mangoes – that’s it, EVERYONE HERE IS A SELL-OUT).

For a more critical look at Celtel and the other WSF sponsors, have a look at Adam’s New Internationalist blog.

This is clearly the best stall at the WSF. Somehow, the fact that it's empty just adds to its appeal.

It’s true that things have been less than perfect on the organisational front . The programmes were late, incomplete and confusing; nothing is signposted; no transport has been arranged between central Nairobi and the venue (which is 15km out of town), meaning that everyone arrives in hordes of road-clogging (and polluting) taxis; the power and the internet connection keep going down; and, of course, thousands of local people are unable to attend as they can’t afford the entrance fee. Apparently, the central committee did arrange, in advance, for 6000 local people to get in for free, but this doesn’t seem to have been enough, and there is understandable anger as this anti-poverty event seems to be discriminating against the poor. This is something they need to find a solution for – and soon.

Despite all this, the event is still absolutely incredible and a credit to all involved. I cannot imagine what it takes to pull together something like this. Who cares about a bit of disorganisation when you can meet so many people that you’d never normally get the chance to meet, learn so much in such a short space of time, make extraordinary global connections and build new networks for positive change across the world?

A constant flow of different processions and demonstrations made their noisy, colourful way around the outside of the stadium every day, like this association of street traders.

I won’t go into details about the workshops here; since the last post, I’ve been to events on climate change, and extractive industries in Africa; I’m about to go to one on coffee and economic justice.

I’m a bit overexcited. Perhaps you can tell.

This is the main Chinese stall. People seemed quite interested, for some reason.

Top impenetrable jargon of the day: “I’m taking an eco-Marxist reading of that” (obligatory full-on ranty girl who won’t shut up in the climate change workshops)

Favourite slogan of the day: “Why This Incongruence???” (Banner of a coalition of small Indian farmers)

Painfully awkward chant I’d hoped never to hear again: “Who let the bombs out? Bush! Bush! And Blair!”, to the “tune” of “Who Let The Dogs Out?”. It wasn’t funny even when the song was around. It’s even less funny when a Stop The War activist decides to lead a procession around the stadium against US involvement in Somalia, and gets all the Somalians chanting it too. Excruciating stuff.

Right. Time to go swelter some more (is it hot in the UK too?)

D xXx


Anonymous said...

No, dear, it's not sweltering. In fact it's some approximation of freezing over here.

I continue to read your adventures with interest ...

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Great posts, I've enjoyed reading them. I don't think it's fair to belittle the concerns about corporate encroachment on the WSF though.

While it is true to say that the sponsorships haven't been completely over the top, the Celtel and Kenya Airways (and local catering companies linked to Government officials) deals have provoked a great deal of acrimony and resentment particular for those Kenyans who have been struggling to make the WSF a more open and democratic space.

We have an opportunity here to nip this in the bud before it spirals out of control, and I think it certainly fits in with the notion that the WSF is a forum where alternatives to corporate globalisation can be realised.

Equating mango sellers (some of whom have been selling at prices too high for many of the Kenyans here by the way) with giant multinationals is what is truly 'ludicrous'.

Salaamu sana kotoka Nairobi!


Danny said...

Hey Adam,

Thanks for reading and for adding your thoughts…

I wasn’t trying to suggest that the corporate encroachment wasn’t a significant issue, just that it hasn’t, on this occasion, been serious enough to dampen the overall spirit of the event.

However, I totally agree it needs to be clamped down on, and shouldn’t be a part of the WSF in the future.

Oh yeah, and I’m definitely going to make the point about the food prices in a future post. Although I don’t mind paying for marked-up mangoes from local traders, there was obviously an issue with local Kenyans not being able to afford the food…as evidenced by the Windsor Hotel "nationalisation" yesterday!


PS Jess mentioned that you wanted to inform me that "Jambo" is the lame touristy way of saying hello in Kiswahili - so what's the proper way?

Anonymous said...


Agreed about the spirit. If anything, the protests against the corporate deals and food prices has really energised things.

re: 'Jambo', it's a common mistake, not helped by the tourist industry, popular media about the region, Disney, and locals who assume that's what white people expect to hear. I just submitted a post about it as I've seen too many people unsuspectingly fall into the 'jambo' trap ; - )

Anonymous said...

oops, here it is linked.

Anonymous said...

And oh my, that Toto/Africa imagery still has me in stiches!

Anonymous said...

stitches even. ; - )