20 January 2007

Kenya: A Cultural Mix As WSF Kicks Off

Nairobi — It was pomp and colour, dance and measured excitement, agitation and powerful speeches as the seventh edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) officially opened in Nairobi on Saturday.

An estimated 50,000 participants began to assemble in Kibera, reputedly the world's biggest slum, as early as 7am for a symbolic peace march that weaved through the contrasting residences of the rich and poor to Uhuru Park for the official launch.

And at Uhuru Park, it was a cultural mix to behold as participants from different parts of the world tried to gyrate to a remarkably varied mix of music that boomed from powerful sound systems. It was partly entertainment, according to the participants, but it was also a powerful way of expression.

"We are aiming for a world in which all people - white and black, rich and poor - shall be seen as equal in the eyes of God. A society in which man shall not be exploited by fellow man," said Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia.

Security was on high alert as riot police hovered around, escorting the procession all the way to Uhuru Park. Participants found their own way of expressing and ensuring that the theme - Another World is Possible - came out loud and clear.

But the pomp and flair was nearly clouded by the news that at least 50 delegates from Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon had been turned away at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport due to visa complications.

Nonetheless, the carnival mood carried the day and Nairobi schools-Loreto Convent Valley Road, Moi Nairobi Girls High School and Loreto Msongari-caped it all. The students carried placards amplifying the original WSF theme on environment: say no to plastics, save the environment.

Vendors and hawkers - carrying placards that read: "Another world is possible for street vendors in poor and rich cities"- joined them. And they too, chanted peace songs.

Children carried placards condemning forced marriages and female genital mutilation.

Andreas Loebell, a participant from Switzerland, said: "I hope that this social forum will make a difference where most of our problems might be addressed.

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