Another world is possible.- World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi –

Ando Isamu, SJ
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 136 / February 15th, 2007

Last January was the stage of two main world events that tried to shapethe future orientation of the international community for the years to come. The sites were different and symbolic: Nairobi in Africa and Davos in Europe. The programs were somehow opposite. In Davos (Switzerland) the issue was how to advance or rectify the policies of globalization and free movement of capital, but in Nairobi (Kenya) the call was for strict controls on capital and the liberalization of people’s move. In Davos businessmen
and politicians gathered secretly behind closed doors, but in Nairobi about 40,000 people from all over the world expressed freely, in the open, their dissatisfaction with a world system that being global produces more poverty, oppression and military conflicts than peace, security and comfort. People experience that they are mislead and cheated by international institutions
and their leaders.

An Ignatian Family Encounter
Days ahead of the World Social Forum (WSF) Jesuits from all 5 continents started to gather in Nairobi to begin a 3-day “mini-forum” to learn about Africa and share knowledge and information on important international issues affecting people’s lives. By January 17 about 155 delegates from over 35 countries gathered at Hekima College (Nairobi). We were Jesuits, religious and lay persons cooperating in Jesuit-inspired works and about 1/3 of the participants came from the African continent. Several Jesuit seminarians studying at Hekima College were also present with us.

Why so many Jesuits and fellow lay-cooperators (the Ignatian Family) gathered in Nairobi? What is in the minds of Jesuits with regard to the World Social Forum? As far as I know, no matter the importance of the World Economic Forum of Davos there was no Jesuit presence there. But why it was so different in Nairobi?
The 3-day Jesuit encounter combined plenary sessions and global orientations with 5 different workshops oriented towards some key global issues of the African continent that are considered also important world wide. They are: [1]refugees and migrant workers [2]HIV/AIDS, [3]Conflict situations,[4]Public Debt, Trade and Government, [5]Exploitation of natural resources and poverty.
Fr. General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach was scheduled to open the Encounter but was unable to be present and sent a special message to the Ignatian Family assembled in Nairobi.

“It is with great joy that I welcome the initiative taken by the whole Assistancy of Africa and Madagascar to hold an international encounter on the theme Spiritual and Social Transformation in Africa and Madagascar as a prelude to the 7th World Social Forum at Nairobi. I offer special greetings to you and to all the participants who have gathered from the whole continent of Africa, the island of Madagascar and from other parts of the world. You are fortunate to experience the traditional hospitality of Africa!

The theme you have carefully chosen expresses a deep aspiration to share, with the whole Church, in the integral evangelisation of Africa and Madagascar; an evangelisation that demands from us a renewal of our commitment to the service of faith, the promotion of justice, a greater sensitivity to the rich cultural diversity and an openness to other religious experiences (GC 34, D 2, n. 19).

The task of looking for an integral transformation of individuals and communities in the African continent presupposes a compassionate understanding of the complex and difficult situation confronting many of the countries. More than 20 years ago, the participants at the First African Synod, and later John Paul II himself, compared the situation of Africa to the man who was on his way to Jericho (Lk 10, 30-37) and fell into the hands of the robbers who stripped him of all he had, beat him and then departed leaving him half dead (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, 41: AAS 88 (1996) 27). New external and internal forces have combined to maintain and, in some cases, aggravate the marginalization of many countries of the region.

In this ‘ocean of misfortune’ as General Congregation 34 described the marginalization of Africa (D 3, n. 12), there are many signs of life, and hope as many Jesuits and other apostolic partners have kept on the struggle to build a future for those who come after them (GC 34, D 3, n.12). I would like to stress the momentous nature of this gathering as an important step in crystallising these hopes and in affirming the willingness of the Society in Africa and Madagascar to shape its own future.

The set of various workshops you plan to conduct during this encounter give us an idea of the immense, and at times, unknown efforts, that the Society in Africa, and more particularly, the social apostolate, have made in many crucial areas. I think it is important to mention some of them briefly.

With the support of the Jesuit Refugee Service thousands of displaced persons and refugees have been accompanied, educated and their cause defended at many international fora. A variety of efforts have been underway to mediate in delicate situations of conflict and war; the Hekima Peace Institute intends to carry these efforts forward in an academic setting and is looking for closer cooperation with other international partners. Some social centres have fought courageously against the burden of international debt, coupled to unfair trade practices; they have contributed to strengthening democratic processes and have strived to make national governments more accountable to the common good. The network AJAN has been able to strengthen and coordinate the efforts of many individuals, give respectability to the Church’s involvement with the pandemic spread of SIDA and, above all, accompany with dignity many of those suffering from its effects. Some recently undertaken initiatives have started to link more effectively the advocacy efforts in Europe and the United States with the work done by some social centres and groups against the most blatant violations of human rights by multinational companies.

As you aptly mention in the documents explaining the objectives of this Encounter, our Jesuit vocation to be “servants of Christ’s mission” (GC 34, D 2, n. 1) defines our apostolic identity in terms of service. “As companions of Jesus our identity is inseparable from our mission” (GC 34, D 2, n. 4). The foundational experience of Ignatius at La Storta is also a call to be “servants of his mission, to labour with him under the same Cross until his work is accomplished” (GC 34, D 2, n. 4). This vocation “to be placed” with Jesus carrying his Cross is also a profound call to be with those who are today crucified, abandoned and marginalised. This foundational experience of Ignatius becomes a beacon to guide our reflections on how to achieve this spiritual and social transformation as aspects or dimensions mutually and intimately connected. As a universal apostolic body, “we want […] to be present, in solidarity and compassion, where the human family is most damaged” (GC 34, D 2, n. 4).

Finally I would like again to thank all of you who have made an effort to be present at this encounter, and those who have worked tirelessly to make it a reality. I also believe that this gathering can help you to prepare a joint public presence at the forthcoming World Social Forum where the aspirations of all those for whom we work and our particular way of proceeding can be forcefully put forward.

Let me end by encouraging you to walk ahead in strengthening the bonds between all the institutions and individuals engaged in transforming the social reality, in developing a wide consciousness that would promote among you greater cooperation and unity of purpose, and in developing a truly African and Malagasy Society of Jesus ready to build on the richness and confidence of the various cultures and peoples it is involved in.”

Program of the Jesuit Encounter
The characteristic nature of this Encounter was to deepen the Ignatian spirituality in the context of African actual social realities. The practice of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola is the basis of Ignatian spirituality. It consists on a radical view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, healer of people and stresses his life style always at the side of the poor and destitute, ready to give them hope, because of the dignity they have as children of God. It insists, first of all, on the conversion of oneself before trying to change others and structures. The transformation of social realities must start from imitating the action taken by God upon seeing the real situation of people around the world. As St. Ignatius observes in one of the most important meditations of the Spiritual Exercises, the Holy Trinity observing people around the earth decided to send Christ to become one of us and thus save human kind. This was a radical decision that inspires us to reflect that Jesuits have received the mission to serve others, a radical challenging mission.

The Spiritual Exercises end with a call to lives of love, not so much on words but on deeds, on action for loving God and others as ‘equals.’ There was also much discussion on discernment, on paying attention to experiences of joy and hope, as well as to desperation and disappointments, on the selection of sound judgement, on community building and individual respect, and on greater solidarity with the poor. In front of difficult social realities it is very important to seek the truth and objective information, to analyze it and use it to serve others, to listen to people’s experiences.

The social realities of African countries were offered by various African speakers in contrast to Ignatian spirituality, during the morning sessions. The post-colonial African continent has produced a variety of liberation movements with new social challenges in the economic, political and cultural fields. Although democracy is alive in several countries, independent states still following colonial ways are not able to deliver needed changes. Boundaries built by colonial powers still endanger the need for integration. The workshops in the afternoon sessions stimulated very live discussion on poverty, inequalities and violent conflicts, on the exploitation of natural resources, on refugees and migrant workers, on the spread of HIV/AIDS, on women’s discrimination, on national debt and the influence of multinational companies with their global economic policies, etc.

The World Social Forum
There was much confusion and lack of information in Nairobi days before the WSF started. We were told, for instance, that the Kenya government denied permission to hold the Forum in a place already decided and that at the very last moment a different one had to be fixed. Finally, on January 20, the opening ceremony of the WSF took place safely in a very big Park where the Moi new National Stadium is located.

Thousands of people marched through the city of Nairobi to confluence into the Park Uhuru. Groups of people walked dancing, singing and shouting slogans through the streets of Nairobi and gathered around a big central stage surrounded by a hill, similar to a natural amphitheatre holding about 40,000 people. Present there were the international committee of the WSF and several well-known personalities, like former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, Nobel laureates Wangari Maathai and Bishop Desmond Tutu, etc. Mr. Chico Wittaker, considered to be the author of the first WSF in Porto Alegre (Brazil, Year 2000) declared the first WSF in Africa opened.
Hundreds of workshops were organized daily in the vicinity of the beautiful Moi National Stadium and a special Jesuit Logistics Committee prepared in the evenings a selective program of useful workshops for Jesuits to attend. Many workshops would provide a space for fruitful discussions, but many others could not be held because the speakers were absent. Often, speakers were unprepared and that occasioned frustrations. Looking for workshops organized by Asian groups I run into some small ones dealing with Japanese ODA projects in Kenya or against exploitative migration and human trafficking, organized by groups like ATTAC Japan, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), etc. Attending a workshop on Migration I realized how similar are the issues faced by migrant workers all over the world and noticed the fact of a new official Convention between Japan and the Philippines, by which Japan has agreed to accept thousands of Filipino/a workers in exchange of a site in Luzon island to dump industrial waste from Japan.

The Jesuit delegation held a seminar at the WSF on the theme “Social Transformation in Africa: an Ethical Face.” The seminar was well attended, and issues earlier identified as priorities in Africa and discussed at the Encounter were looked at from an ethical perspective.
Anne Peeters from JRS read aloud some sections of a testimony by an Ethiopian refugee entitled “There is more than one way of dying.” There are over 10 million refugees and displaced persons in Africa alone.

Paterne Mombe SJ from Togo dealt with violence against women, one of the main causes of the spread of AIDS. The adult rate of infection from HIV/AIDS is as high as 24.1% in Botswana, 20.1% in Zimbabwe, or 18.8% in South Africa. In Kenya alone about 6.1% of the population, 1,300,000 adults and children are HIV infected.

Antoine Berilenger SJ spoke about natural resources, one of Africa’s blessings, and paradoxically, one of its main curses. There is neither fair nor free trade; prices of agricultural commodities are fixed by the powerful, and African countries have been forced to open their markets to foreign products.
Peter Henriot SJ brought home the point poverty should be seen as an affront to life. Who profits from war and conflict? Who manufactures the arms and collects the money? Conflicts usually arise over natural resources.
Frank Turner SJ closed the session, highlighting the need for advocacy and briefly explained its meaning with regard to action that could be taken in industrial countries.

Highlights at the WF
The main avenue surrounding the Moi National Stadium provided an image of what could be to live in “a different possible world.” Bazaar type stalls managed by Africans sold all kinds of merchandise and souvenirs and thousands of foreigners from African countries and from all over the world strolled along looking for the sites of the workshops or observing the demonstrations and shows of different groups. Farmers or landless people, AIDS groups, street children, minority groups from India, Palestinian independent groups, Human rights organizations and Christian groups, and many others.

Workshops exposed misconceptions people have when it comes to child labor, like the poor does not want education or globalization creates more opportunity for children to go to school. There is widespread misunderstanding that child labor is necessary to provide enough income for the household. School is the best place to work.

African health institutions indicate that at least 586,911 Africans are dying from TB annually and that 24 million people living with HIV/AIDS have TB. The annual AIDS death figures for Africa alone is 2.1 milllion.

Regarding the issue of migration, there was a universal call to dedicate the International Workers Day in May 2007 to the rights of migrant workers in the world. There is an estimated 200 million in the whole world. The refusal of industrialized countries to accept Africans trying to reach European coasts was strongly criticized by high profile politicians, “Europeans exploited us for 400 years. Why do they refuse our young people when they try to enjoy part of their riches now?”
The 7th World Social Forum in Nairobi was a special moment in the face of the severe inequality in the process of globalization, terror and the war that feeds it. The WSF continues to expand and its increasing network creates hope. “Much of its power originates from being an open space, founded in the respect for diversity and plurality. The recognition of the principles and ethical values of freedom of choice and opinion, equality, solidarity, interdependence, participation and shared responsibility, non-violence, the preservation of common goods and nature – all of this fuels the WSF as a factory of ideas and alternative proposals to the devastating and exclusive capitalist dominion.” (Candido Grybowski, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum)

From Slums to Another World
A sea of participants wearing colorful T-shirts filled Uhuru Park. They came some 7 km southwest of Nairobi, from the Kibera slum house to about 800,000 people, the largest slum in East Africa, and marched through the venues of the Forum claiming the immediate need to erase poverty from Nairobi and all Africa, to provide them with water, roads and all necessary services, decent housing, welfare and education. One afternoon about 70 of them, in a sign of defiance, assaulted two open restaurants inside the venue of the Forum and took all food and drinks shouting loudly, “We want food! We want food!”
During my stay in Nairobi I visited the slums of Kibera with a Jesuit scholastic that has made a study of the situation there. I was deeply impressed by the inhuman living conditions. That is a totally different world.

The size of the households I interviewed, said the young Jesuit, varies from 4 to 19 persons, including the father, the mother and the children. They all live in single rooms with mud-walls and rusted iron-sheet roofs, without any formal system of electricity provision. These single rooms of about 3 meters by 3 meters as average are rented from landlords who live outside Kibera and who may own up to 10 rooms, the number of rooms depending on the size of the plot. The average monthly rent is Ksh. 600 (about \1,200). Access to food on a regular basis is very limited. Seven households simply declared: “We eat when we get.” Depending on what they get, a family can have one meal or two a day, but some days none at all.
Sanitation conditions in general are pitiful. There is only one latrine and one bathroom for a whole plot, which concretely means for about 50 persons. The water is sold to slums dwellers by private owners; the lack of proper sewers added to the heaps of uncollected garbage and human waste, make the environmental conditions unhealthy.
Access to decent health care services is a real head-ache for the great majority of Kiberans (Kibera dwellers) because of their high cost in good health centers.

There is a Jesuit parish, as well as several Catholic parishes serving the slum dwellers, as well as various NGOs. There are no official services and institutions present in Kibera, but I was much impressed by the education activities undertaken by lay persons of Christian Life Communities. They have initiated a School for the children of Kibera slums and built classrooms inside the slums, where 90 children are studying now. After 5 years they plan to build a School nearby for over one thousand children in a land bought by the Archbishop of Nairobi. Their dream is: “In Kibera also another world is possible.”

Where is the World Social Forum headed?
As the seventh edition of the World Social Forum, WSF has become a sort of Mecca for all those in search of a fairer world under the motto “Another world is possible.” It comprises an amalgamation of organizations, big and small, international and local, pertaining to very different ideologies; social movements, base communities, trade unions, and many dissenting groups. All are searching for concrete solutions to the challenges facing the building of another world based on the principles of justice, equity and respect of human rights, where, thanks to a more humane globalization, the economy will be at the service of people.

Undoubtedly, from its first meeting, the Forum exceeded all expectations as to the number of participants and its geographical expansion. As Sami Nair, an Egyptian intellectual and one of the leaders of the Forum of Alternatives, points out: “The World Social Forum has played an important role, but it is a system that is beginning to wear out.”
There is an intensive debate going on between those who consider that the Forum, given the huge diversity of the organisations that attend it, should be an encounter and space for dialogue, and those who want it to take unique stands, issue joint documents and carry out collective actions. (Valeria Mendez de Vigo, Entreculturas, Spain)

Any Lessons for us in Japan?
Japanese presence in the WSF was minimal, a natural fact due to distances and lack of interest in African issues. Nevertheless, anybody attending the Forum in Nairobi could realize that most of the issues discussed or exposed at the WSF are “global” and affect our lives and major decisions. Just to select priorities of the Jesuits present in Nairobi: migrant workers and refugees, trade and developments patterns, debt, depletion of natural resources, peace and arm conflicts, networking, Ignatian spirituality and involvement in world affairs are a few examples.

The Forum, through the major participating organizations, presented many concrete programs to try to define and build another possible human world and the methods taken and attitudes exposed could be of great help to us in Japan. Social transformation could only be attained by organizations that are able to do network together. It is also very important to put aside preconceived ideas about people and communities and go to listen to people and to the real stories they may have. A priority to change systems is, first of all, to respect people and their human dignity. All discrimination is wrong and must be corrected. Information is a very important asset in daily life. In many third world countries people are not given information on what is going on and all over the world true facts are hidden. Search of the truth and strict analysis tools will help much our work in Japan. In other words, study and research are a must for social transformation.

We have to convince ourselves and those in contact with us that “another Japan is possible,” “another Japanese Jesuit Society is possible.” We have enough spiritual motivation and the collaboration of many lay-coworkers dedicated as ourselves to spread Gospel values of faith, justice and peace.

It has been difficult for me to pick up the highlights of the WSF Nairobi 2007. You can find a fuller picture in Jesuit HEADLINES published by the Social Justice Secretariat

www.sjweb.info/sjs

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s