25 January 2007

Kenya: It's Song And Dance As 7th World Forum Ends

Nairobi — The curtain fell on the World Social Forum with an estimated 20,000 participants taking part in a symbolic 30km marathon.

The race, flagged off by the world marathon record holder Mr Paul Tergat, started at St Johns Catholic Church in Korogocho slums and ended at Uhuru Park.

The runners, donning black and white T-shirts, were drawn from the church, slums, civil society and politics.

At the closing ceremony at Uhuru Park, where several awards were given, it was song and dance as participants danced to a medley of tunes

Speaking at the function, Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai and Italy's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Patricia Centinelli, termed the forum a great success.

"There are people who came with nothing, but will go home inspired. They will do something for themselves instead of complaining. When you are working with the poor, you get discouraged.

But that changes when you meet with others who face the same challenges you are dealing with; Then you know you are not alone," said Maathai.

Centinelli said it was the responsibility of governments to provide water, food and land. "We should take advantage of the world forum to demand that our governments address problems afflicting their people,"

At Korogocho, Tergat said the poor can be helped out of the missery in keeping with the forum's motto, 'People's struggles, people's alternatives -- Another world is possible'.

"We decided that the marathon begins here to show residents that we are part of them, and that they can come out of the slums to make a better living," he said.

Tergat, who is also the World Food Programme goodwill ambassador, said slum dwellers are often discriminated against and unfairly blamed for the rot in the society.

"This is because they don't have the opportunity to enjoy their rights. They also don't have a voice, which is why we are here. We want to show them that everything is possible if they build their confidence and believe in their future," he said.

But matatu operators complained of bad business following the closure of various roads during the race.

There were heavy traffic jams on Juja, Lusaka, Muratina, Kamunde, Jogoo and Bunyala roads, Uhuru Highway and parts of Haile Sellasie Avenue.

The 7th world forum, which started on January 20, was the first to be held in Africa. The forum is an annual event in which activists share experiences on various issues and refine organising strategies.

It is held in January to coincide with the World Economic Forum, which is under way in Davos, Switzerland.

Issues discussed at the meeting include the Millennium Development Goals, international trade, rights of minority groups, foreign debts, human settlement, poverty, politics and environmental degradation.

On Tuesday, demonstrators paralysed operations at the European Union offices in Nairobi, complaining of exploitation of poor countries.

They denounced a pact that calls for African countries to open up their markets to EU member states, saying this would harm young economies.

Kenyan legislators gave the discussions a wide berth. Only eight turned up at the World Parliamentary Forum on Tuesday where solutions to key issues affecting represented countries were discussed.

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