Preview: Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu & Wangari Maathai to join 80,000 at global jamboree Print E-mail
Nairobi -- 19 January 2007

Tutu to attend Nairobi jamboree  

  Wangari Maathai

NAIROBI ­ African rights champions such as clergyman Desmond Tutu and environmentalist Wangari Maathai will join thousands of fellow campaigners when the continent hosts a global anticapitalist jamboree for the first time this weekend.

Organisers predict more than 80000 people will descend on Kenya’s self-declared “Green City In The Sun” ­ Nairobi ­ to campaign over trade, poverty, war and the environment at the seventh annual World Social Forum.

The forum, attended in the past by left-wing leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, began in 2001 as a counter- balance to the annual gathering of business and government leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

Problems afflicting the world’s poorest continent, Africa, are sure to top the agenda of the six-day meeting from tomorrow.

The meeting kicks off with an antipoverty march from Nairobi’s Kibera slum ­ home to about 800000 people and one of the biggest shantytowns in Africa ­ to Uhuru Park, named after the Swahili word for freedom when British rule ended in Kenya.

Some of the participants were due to drive to Kenya in buses, vans and cars originating from places as far as Cape Town and Lusaka, Zambia.

The main events will centre on the Kasarani sports complex in the outskirts of Nairobi, also named the Moi International Sports Centre for Kenya’s previous president, Daniel arap Moi, whose 24-year rule ended in 2002.

Edward Oyugi, a member of the organising committee, said the event was intended to stimulate challenges to the world’s capitalist social order.

“At the end of the forum, there will be more people questioning why we have adopted a market-driven economy, why we don’t challenge debt and say it should be repudiated,” said Oyugi, who heads a Kenyan nongovernmental organisation.

While no heads of state are due this year, Tutu and Maathai, both Nobel laureates, will provide some star turn.

The world forum, which began in Porto Alegre in Brazil, comes this year just days before the World Economic Forum in the Alpine resort of Davos from January 27. Stalled global trade talks will be a key theme there.

Activists say fairer trade rules, including an end to first world farm subsidies and fewer tariffs for third world goods, are key to combating poverty in Africa and elsewhere.

During last year’s World Social Forum in Venezuela, thousands ­ led by firebrand Chavez ­ marched against US “imperialism” and the Iraq war. Organisers of the Nairobi event predict similar protests over debt and poverty.

“We have already paid much more than we borrowed, so why should we continue paying debts when people are dying of hunger and disease?” said Wahu Kaara, of the Kenya Debt Relief Network.

Although it has the largest economy and is one of the most stable nations in east Africa, host country Kenya nevertheless encapsulates many of the problems under the microscope. AIDS has devastated the Kenyan population, while more than half of its 35-million people live on less than a dollar a day.

Organisers face a logistical nightmare hosting participants, with many expected to be put up in tents or in homes. Reuters