100,000 guests expected at world social conference

Story by MUGUMO MUNENE Publication Date: 1/10/2007

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More than 100,000 delegates are expected to attend the World Social Forum conference to be held in Nairobi in a fortnight. Organisers said yesterday the preparations for the conference were almost complete.

[Image] Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, where the World Social Forum will be held in two weeks time.

They expected the meeting, to be held at the Moi International Sports Centre, to be attended by former Zambian President Dr Kenneth Kaunda, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai and Mrs Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland.

They will be joined by several dignitaries, government ministers, scholars and world renowned human rights activists. The organisers of the conference, which will be held in Africa for the first time, said they were working on the final details relating to traffic movement and security.

“Recently, three of us met with the planning permanent secretary Edward Sambili to present a progress brief for onward transmission to the Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura,” organising committee coordinator Onyango Oloo said.

Conference organisers

A second meeting between the forum team and Mr Muthaura was planned for later this week to identify government departments required to support the conference organisers, especially on security and traffic.

“We have told the participants that they bear the biggest responsibility for their own security.

“We don’t expect them to be careless with their valuables or to walk in dark places at night. In any case, Nairobi is no more insecure than other large cities of the world and we have to pull this through and make Kenya and Africa proud,” Mr Oloo said.

The secretariat has attracted a large number of volunteers, who will work with the police and security firms.

At Kasarani complex, a committee has been detailed to oversee the installation of sound and communication equipment, Internet centres and media rooms.

The meeting will take place between January 20 and January 25 and will comprise over 1,000 activities taking place in the 106 spaces provided at the complex.

It will open with a procession to Uhuru Park and end in a show of African music and culture “so that we can give it a face of Africa,” Mr Oloo added. “The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for ordinary people to get a platform for debate and exchange of ideas by groups and movements opposed to a world dominated by globalisation capital and any form of imperialism,” said a statement posted on the meeting’s web site.

“Everybody who is interested in changing the world for the better is invited to join the discussion. So far, we have 15,000 Kenyans who have registered and we are expecting more than 100,000 delegates from other countries,” one of the chief organisers, NGO activist Oduor Ong’wen said yesterday.

However, the meeting is expected to put a strain on accommodation and the already congested transport system in the city.

The forum has been held annually since 2001 to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the meeting which brings together government dignitaries, intellectuals, industry captains and chief executives of rich nations.

Kenya Airways has joined hands with the forum to facilitate the movement of the delegates from Africa and beyond. The airline will offer special discounted rates for all the delegates travelling to the conference and will promote the conference’s activities in all the countries it operates in.

The airline formalised the partnership on January 4, by signing a memorandum of understanding with the secretariat.

“We are glad to be the official partner of the World Social Forum. The success of this initiative will have a lasting impact on the country’s economy especially in the tourism sector,” said Kenya Airways Head of Marketing Michael Okwiri at the signing ceremony.

Mr Ong’wen said the forum will critique poverty-creating national and global policies and construct democratic and people-centered alternatives based on shared values:

“In order for the 2007 World Social Form to be a real instrument of social transformation, the agenda for discussions will be linked to peoples’ concerns, especially Africa’s concerns on the Global development agenda,” said Mr Ong’wen.

Information available at the secretariat in Nairobi advises delegates arriving for the conference to make their own accommodation arrangements and gives a list of hotels in Nairobi and their contacts.

List is divided

The list is divided into those that cost $100 or more per night, those that cost $20 to $100 per night and those charging below $20 dollars a night. Besides traditional accommodation in hotels, the organising committee is planning to provide cheap stays for groups by putting up a camp at the sports centre. They plan a separate youth camp with a capacity to accommodate 1,000 participants at the same venue which has been pegged at $10 per night. The meeting will have as its motto — People’s struggles, people’s alternatives — Another world is possible.

Participants will discuss, Aids, gender, privatisation of public property, landlessness, peace and conflict, brain drain, youth, international debt and trade.