After a long flight of 12 hours and with 2 stop over in Bangkok and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I finally made it to the VII "World Social Forum".I had left Chiang Mai, Thailand at 9:30 PM, January 20th, as an Agricultural Missions delegate representing International Ministries, American Baptist Churches.I had heard a lot about this forum and was looking forward to being one of the participants.
The world social forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to build a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Mankind and between it and the Earth.
This forum brings people together and interlinks organizations and movements of civil society from all countries in the world, but intends neither to be a body representing world society.It seeks to strengthen and create new national and international links among organizations and movements of society, that – in both public and private life – will increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of dehumanization the world is undergoing and to the violence used by the State, and reinforce the humanizing measures being taken by the action of these movements and organizations.
It's where alternatives are proposed to deal with the process of Globalization commanded by large multinational corporations and by governments and international institutions at the service of those corporation's interests, with the involvement of national governments.Designed to ensure solidarity, where there is respect for human rights, and those of all citizens' men and women of all nations and the environment and rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of people.
To exchange experiences and ideas, the world social forum encourages understanding and mutual recognition among its participant organizations and movements, and places special value on the exchange among them, particularly on all that society is building to centre economic activity and political action on meeting the needs of people and respecting nature, in the present and for future generations.
The practices of real democracy, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, in equality and solidarity, among people, ethnicities, genders and peoples, and condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another.
It is a process that encourages its participant organizations and movements to situate their actions, from the local level to the national level and seeking active participation in international contexts, as issues of planetary citizenship, and to introduce onto the global agenda the change inducing practices that they are experimenting in building a new world in solidarity.
Excerpts from 2007 Kenya Nairobi "Charter of principles world social forum" (For full version:www.forumsocialmundial.org.br)
The WSF is meant to be an international meeting place where people, community leaders, local NGOs and social change advocates from around the globe can envision a better world - one where people's basic human needs are met, where international cooperation replaces war and militarism, and where governments and corporations respect the earth and its inhabitants - and share ideas about how to create it.It is attended by thousands of dedicated people.Past World Social Forums have spawned global collaborations, including the February 15, 2003, demonstrations against the Iraq war, and the largest public mobilization in human history.Among issues addressed are as follows:
Debt and development,
Genetically Modified Organisms,
Strengthen human, social and political rights,
Conservation and the preservation of wetlands
Preserve common good (water, land, energy and food),
The VII World Social Forum had come to Africa (1st in Africa) with a purpose, to spread the possibility and strength of existing and potential social movement economic justice struggles.For example: One of the local groups - the Gender and Development Networking Centre (GADEN) - which educates community members and employers about the need for conservation and preservation of wetlands. GADEN works near Lake Navaisha, whose ecosystem has been devastated by large flower growers that take water from the lake to support Kenya's export flower industry.
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As in many other developing countries social movements have been suppressed in Africa.One of the main reasons for these movements is to relate to the barriers that people face. Many are resources poor and / or do not have same opportunities as mainstream national.Much of this authoritarianism has to do with past liberation movements becoming governments, which are later supported by overriding economic players.
There is still a high percentage of Africans living below the extreme poverty line of $1 per day.Nairobi is one of the poorest capitals in the world where there is a large gap between the rich and poor.The UN ranks it 152 out of 177 countries in terms of human development, and the World Bank puts the average income at $ 460.The UN habitat Centre says that there are at least 200 slums in Nairobi.
There were over 50,000 attendees and 1,200 workshops in this forum.As a participant the forum provided me with an opportunity to learn much about of the injustice that is taking place in developing and developed countries, as well as where to network with movements / organizations that are fighting similar causes.Although there seemed to be some contradiction to the Forum Charter of principles when it was observed that there were many Kenyans that could not afford the registration fee of$7 (others paid $ 28). The forum took place 7 km outside Nairobi at the Moi Arena Complex, centered around the Kasarani stadium. The irony was that to get to the forum one must pass scattered settlements of mud, plank and corrugated iron houses, where many of the residents never heard of the "World Social Forum."As reported in one newspaper "It's a world away from the Forum's heated debate on ‘Another World' and globalization, where young men and women are busy scratching out a living at a nearby market.
Even with those who are blessed with natural resources for subsistence living they would not have the cash to attend forum events, workshops and meetings.But even with these constraints it was pleasing to see that there were some who were able to organize and mobilize their communities to participate in the forum, where NGOs and churches supported others.Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI) was able to provide some support for some of the Kenyan and Ugandan rural women participants.
Our supported Kenyan and Ugandan women where amazed and encouraged by the number of women leaders that gave presentations, powerful speeches and were influential in policy decision making.Women leaders did indeed dominate the stages of the Nairobi WSF, from Wahu Kaari to Njoki Njehu of the daughters of Mumbi.In our delegation Ugandan and Kenyan women leaders included Gertrude, Mary, Rhoda, Jane, Florence and Gladys, among others.And the potential for horizontal organizing was evident everywhere you looked at the WSF in Nairobi.Lots of networking took place there, and there is no doubt that the WSF contributed toward an expansion of the possibility for progressive organized Africans.
Agricultural missions facilitate 3 workshops: 1) Food Sovereignty 2) Defending Common Goods 3) Green Revolution Critique.
Some of the lessons learned in Nairobi:
- There must be procedures implemented to allow representation from grass root indigenous movement struggles especially those that are affected from government and non-government policies and decision-making, no matter what the financial costs.They are the major thrusts for social change.
- Non-government organizations should be along side these movements assisting in opening up opportunities, providing encouragement and information so that they can be the leaders and move forward with their own agenda.Through this there can be true transformation not only in Africa but also around the world.Not just in the forefront with proxy representation.
- Governments have to allow space and opportunities for voices to be heard at all levels from the bottom-up and help encourage open dialog so that policies and decision-making can alleviate many of the struggles that these grass root movements are facing.
The World Social forum was a new experience for me but the issues and struggles that people in rural and urban areas were not.In much of my travels around the world as a Global Consultant for rural development I have seen and been in contact with many of our local Baptist partners that are struggling over many of the issues that were voiced at this forum.There are times that I feel totally helpless as local churches plea for assistance, which many times we are not able to assist due to financial restraints and/or the inability to assist due to political or social reasons.But what I can do is listen, bring awareness to our churches and others, help establish networks, assist with workshops that can provide some skills to alleviate poverty, be an encourager, and pray with them.
Churches at the local level are major bodies that can bring about change.It is our biblical responsibility as churches at the international level to help our local churches bring about this change in a Christ-like manner.I truly think that we as American Baptist can be facilitators to bring people out of poverty and to have access to what God created for all to have access to.
What can we do as a Church?
- Educate and bring awareness to our congregations and communities about these issues that our partners have to deal with day in and day out.
- Continue to pray for our overseas partners around the world, who continue to experience injustice, lack cultivatable land and clean water, proper sanitation, and in many cases are living in extreme poverty (below $1/day).
- Contribute financially to efforts that will alleviate resource-poor people out of poverty and bring equality to their churches and communities.
Sustainability is Biblical
- By Christian scripture and tradition, we have a responsibility for justice, and the restoration of society, and to provide long-term and sustainable solutions to the problem of poverty and injustice.
- Solidarity, compassion, charity, love, justice, and reaching out to the poor all are part of our Christian faith.
- Sharing resources, the land and other natural resources are gifts to all mankind and not only to a few.The right for all to use these natural resources is prior to the right of ownership. (Myers, 1999)
- We shall be able to train in godliness, and comfort one another in adversity.It is always in the context of sustainable relationship with the Living God.
The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
For He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Proverbs 31: 9
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This was written by one of our Ag mission's staff:
Stephen Barlett, Ag missions staff person, writes:
Standing outside Gate # 14 of the Kasarani Sports Stadium on the outskirts of Nairobi with ears of organically grown white corn and a sign that said: "Food Sovereignty: Strategies for Transformation" was the only way we could think of to get the word out.
On the panel facilitated by Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI) were women and men speakers from tough African American farm communities facing agrarian extinction, rural villages in Bungoma District of Western Kenya hammered by governmental neglect and depleted soils, farm labor camps in Florida, US (the Dis-United States), small-scale farmers from Missouri, and a respondent speaker working with small farmers in South Africa. Including the facilitator, three of these were members of the Via Campesina movement by membership in the US based National Family Farm Coalition! And by the time the session was finished, we had heard from knowledgeable and engaging participants from Ethiopia (former minister of agriculture there, now working with peasant struggles), India, Germany, Haiti, Jamaica, the U.K., Kenya, and Uganda, among several others.
The topics of most intense dialog during the 2.5 hour session? The role of food aid in undermining food security and trumping food sovereignty in African countries; the common interests and varied complementary struggles among farmers in the industrialized north with those of rural peoples in the more agrarian south; the importance of gender equity and empowerment in community development; erasing the stigma from eating (for example) millet, diverse tubors and bananas and other hardy and resilient African crops, and ways of breaking down the hegemony of corporate virtual monopoly agriculture, fast food culture and export commodity dumping regimes. We talked strategies for reigning-in corporate mafiosos, and lending grit to weak-kneed politicians. We explained the importance of low-input organic production, value-added activities and fair trade in helping farmers get out of chemical dependency and input-debt, and the bottom line of basic human dignity and decency sought through sometimes powerful strategic movements (such as farmworker movements in the U.S.) by those displaced from their livelihoods by structural impoverishment and forced migration, due to neoliberal policies and savage capitalism worldwide. And we repeated the clarion call and platform of the Via Campesina: Agrarian Reform, No to Privatization of Life (ie Seeds) or other Common Goods, the WTO, IMF, WB, Free Trade Agreements Out Of Agriculture, and embracing all those: Food Sovereignty! The millenial birthrite that is agriculture (culture!) can be denied only at the risk of annihilation of the human species. We were here to say, that is not going to happen while we draw breath! And the breathing is sweet here in Kenya these days of Solidarity.