Sunday, January 21, 2007

Africa: Land, Displacement and Human Rights

from Nairobi, Kenya
by Colin Rajah

Yesterday, the World Social Forum (WSF) arrived on the African continent and Nairobi, Kenya for the first time. Shaking the Western media image of a basket case of a continent, is a challenge. Inevitably, the question about the AIDS epidemic has arose in our delegation more than once. Pharmaceutical companies have waged an extremely successful and profitable campaign to ensure that we get our “shots”.

That’s a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy cycle: if the media says it enough, people start to believe and talk about it, and the media reports that. And so the WSF has challenges even before it began.

But for the 60+ of us who are a part of the Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) delegation from the U.S., being primarily people of color, working class, African-American and immigrants, we already understand needing to contend with oppression reinforced by public miseducation.

So when we began our WSF 2007 with a couple of site visits to the Korogocho slums and the Rukubi village, it was already recognizable. In spite of being the largest collection of slums – or more accurately, “people’s settlements” – in Nairobi, Korogocho has a growing network of community organizations that not only contend with the extreme poverty, but with public stigma of them as criminals (does having to turn to sex work or petty theft just to be able to put food on the table make one a criminal?)

It boasts a community-run radio station, a number of cultural performance groups, a youth sports association that also doubles as a handicraft collective etc. And at the same time, they have to contend with the attempts by private companies who are attempting to “land grab” pieces of their land to gentrify. When land grabbing has happened, overnight communities have been displaced and forced into even more poverty.

In another stark example, John Ayila from the Friends of Yala Swamp explained to us how their rural community that includes a lake has been leased to Oklahoma-based Dominion Farms to harvest products that are sold to the U.S. In spite of Yala Swamp’s appeals and pleas to the government and international organizations like Greenpeace etc., Dominion Farms continues to take over the land they have lived in for generations. For our part, we pledged to launch a solidarity campaign against Dominion Farms upon our return to the U.S.

The village of Rukubi on the other hand, showed how the “Daughters of Mumbi” develop sustainable agriculture projects, build a multipurpose hall, and setup a community clinic.

Africa isn’t a basket case at all. She is still fighting racism and colonialism often times in the form of corporate land grabbing and gentrification. But in spite of the enormity of her challenges, she continues to smile and welcome us --“Karibu!” And we are privileged to enjoy her hospitality -- “Assante.”


sdddd22 said...
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