Globalizing Solidarity: Report Back from the World Social Forum in Nairobi

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This January, Urbana IMC members Jason Turner and I
traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to join dozens of independent
journalists from Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya,
and Germany and the Prometheus Radio Project from
Philadelphia. We built two radio stations from scratch –
soldering the transmitters and cables by hand. The group
built a dozen mini-transmitters that were taken home to
broadcast in neighborhoods throughout Africa. We also
built a printing press, made Indymedia Africa t-shirts, and
left the press for future projects.
Since 1999, over two hundred Independent Media
Centers have formed a network throughout the world,
producing stories by people directly connected with grassroots
social justice struggles. But in Africa, government
repression and lack of access to technology have formed a
barrier between vibrant social movements, grassroots
media makers, and the largely online network of Independent
Media Centers. African independent journalists
called for an Indymedia gathering to coincide with the
World Social Forum, to grow Indymedia in Africa.
The World Social Forum is an annual gathering of participants
in social movements for global justice, timed to
coincide with the World Economic Forum. The World
Economic Forum is a meeting of business and political
leaders in Davos, Switzerland. The city is converted into a
military security zone during the meeting, making demonstrations
and coverage by independent journalists nearly
Rallying around the call of “Another World Is Possible,”
the World Social Forum has placed social justice, gender
equality, peace, and defense of the environment on the
agenda of the world’s peoples. World Social Forums have
collectively expanded the democratic spaces of those seeking
concrete, progressive alternatives to corporate
exploitation and military land grabs. Regional social
forums have begun to spring up – the first US Social
Forum is June 27 through July 1st in Atlanta, Georgia. (See
Our Indymedia delegation was given a small room at
the World Social Forum where we broadcast live as Radio-
Huru 107.9 FM, interviewing a steady stream of people
from grassroots struggles, and providing hands on media
production training. With photos and stories from the
World Social Forum, we produced and distributed a
The World Social Forum was a festival of over 100,000
participants conducting forums on every major social
issue, with music and dancing throughout. Colorful
demonstrations circled the forums, calling for an end to
the Indian caste system and supporting grassroots women
fighting HIV/AIDs. Our newly trained radio producers
interviewed Nigerians about the ongoing Ogoni struggle
against Shell oil, a Somalian women’s group about their
efforts to promote sustainable energy sources and minimize
the destructive use of charcoal, and gay and lesbian
Kenyans in their struggle against discrimination. The
Forum buzzed with the excitement of people meeting
across continents and connecting their local experiences
with global movements.
The World Social Forum was also a gated community
inside a sports stadium. Mainstream NGOs acted as gatekeepers,
hand-picking grassroots activists. Many Kenyans
we met were not able to attend the World Social Forum,
hosted in their back yard, because of cost. The only restaurant
located within site of the events was owned by a government
official. When attendees found this out, they
stormed the restaurant “liberating” the food to give to
Kenyan children. South Africans and Kenyans led protests
which succeeded in allowing Kenyans into the forum for
free, after pulling one entrance gate off its hinges.
Right outside the gates of the World Social Forum were
some of the worst slums in the world. Within days of
arriving in Nairobi, we decided against staying within the
confines of those gates. Through our Kenya Indymedia
friends, we worked with community organizers in the
slums, sharing stories and planning future collaborations.
“We are still being considered squatters … how can you
be a squatter in your own country?” asked Geoff from
Korogocho, a slum with a population of a half million. In
Nairobi, sixty-five percent of the population lives on five
percent of the land in slums where houses are cobbled out
of tin and garbage. There is no electricity, water, or sewers.
One third of residents in the slums are HIV positive. About
four million people live under these conditions, a result of
the de-industrialization of rural areas, causing people to
move to Nairobi in search of work.
The ironic thing is that the government holds in its
hands a fairly straightforward remedy – one that was
voiced clearly by residents: “Give us deeds to the land we
live on and access to loans. Build city infrastructure like
you do in middle class Nairobi. We can do the rest.” Currently,
residents pay between $100-300 per month for one
room shacks built on public land. The government stands
by as politically connected people force residents to pay
them rent. “And what if you don’t pay?” I asked one school
teacher as she showed us her home. She pointed to a new
piece of tin on her roof “They start taking parts off your
house until you pay.”
I struggled with how to tell the story of my trip to Africa. It
starts with a predictable gesture similar to the mainstream
media. Africa is poor, corrupt, and full of AIDS. But there
is another side to this story – one that the mainstream
media neglects.
Inside the “most dangerous” slum of Nairobi one finds
Koch FM, the first community radio station in the slums.
On a dirt clearing used for gatherings and sports, sits a
recycled shipping container. Inside is a deluxe community
space lovingly lined with sound proofing and red fabric,
separated into two swank broadcast studios and an office.
A generator provides the power. Air conditioning units
keep the temperature controlled inside, eighty miles from
the equator.
When we arrived in Nairobi, Koch FM was poised to go
back on the air. They began broadcasting as an unlicensed
station last Spring, but media attention brought government
attention and within a month they were shut down.
They went through the application process but were
repeatedly stalled – until they sat down in the Communications
Commissions office and refused to leave. They got
their license.
When we arrived, they were struggling with a broken
transmitter. We worked together to fix it. On February
8th, they went on the air. “Koch FM is a tool to address the
issues of the community,” said Geoff, one of the organizers.
“The listeners of Koch FM do not want to know about traffic
jams in Nairobi … they want to hear things related to
HIV/AIDS, the environment, and land reform – that’s what
affects them. We are trying to bring the community together
so we can have somewhere to share our community’s
problems and be a center point for change … We will bring
the government ministers down here to the station, and
they will have to answer our questions.“
The organizers of Koch FM are largely Hip Hop musicians
in an environment that has, so far, escaped corporate
co-optation of this political art form. In fact, the night
before we met with Koch FM, their meeting was raided by
the police. One of the members explained: “I spent last
night in jail … the police were fishing for suspects in our
neighborhood as usual … They interrupted our radio station
meeting and said ‘you’re one of those hip hop artists’
and grabbed me.” To hear the music that sent Koch FM
members to jail, go to:
Most important was the building of solidarity across borders
in the long term effort to grow a global independent
media network. We have built strong relationships with
plans for future collaborations. We worked closely with a
group called Pro-Active Youth in the slum of Kangemi.
Their projects span from removing the piles of street
garbage to educating youth about their constitutional
rights in a neighborhood familiar with police sweeps. They
have built a network of thirty-two groups and meet in a
tiny shack, set in the yard of an abandoned police station.
They plan to develop a Community Media Center with a
radio station, resource center, and meeting space.
Grassroots, independent communication is at the foundation
of every social movement. It is the beginning of
change by and for Nairobi residents. The Kangemi Community
Media Canter is fundamentally an empowerment
project, not a charity project. The Urbana-Champaign
IMC has decided to support the creation this Center—
assisting with the acquisition of a recycled shipping container
and radio equipment at the sum total of $10,000.
We have raised $1,000 to date.
To find out more, contact To offer a
tax deductible donation visit www.ucimc.

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