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20 January

What World Social Forum Aims At

[World Social Forum] 

(Nairobi 20 January 2007) . The opening ceremony of WSF 2007 starts today at  14 pm in the Uhuru Park of Nairobi. This morning, the  Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation printed my article (below), in which I shortly describe the project I am involved in here, and give some views about the social forum process.




What is the World Social Forum aiming at?
The World Social Forum is not only the world’s biggest jamboree, which occurs each or every second year in Porto Alegre, Mumbai, Nairobi, or another center of the Global South. The social forum is a form of intellectual and political activity, which resembles that of the educational institutions and the libraries. These are supposed to be, and sometimes they actually are, ‘open spaces’.

Thus one of the nine thematic terrains chosen for the Nairobi WSF 20-25 January is: “Building a world of peace, justice, ethics and respect for diverse spiritualities”. This could also be the explicit goal of a university or a library. 

The social forum is going on at many levels: local, national, regional, and “world”. It is a process, but it is not yet an institution. Should the social forum strive to establish itself as one of society’s lasting institutions?

The answer must be yes. The social forums aim at building a global society that could not materialize earlier, because the conditions for its existence were lacking. World social forums are not possible without world communications. The Internet, yet another ‘open space’ at our disposal, is the ultimate proof, but also a prime condition, of the on-going globalization of human society.

But we are not yet living in the global society. Imperialism and war are still the words of the day, as we can see in Iraq. Not to speak about the lack of respect for diverse spiritualities.  A hundred thousand WSF participants, or a million people in the various social forums around the world, might be impressive numbers, but they are far from sufficient. How to make the social forums grow and extend? What should the Nairobi WSF, for instance, be aiming at?

The openness of the ‘open space’ is informational. It means a capacity to receive and to deliver the social information, which contains the truths and the solutions arrived at together. The social truths and solutions must always be questioned and discussed; they are indeed always questionable and disputable. To guarantee the continuity of the form the social forum was given is, as Chico Whitaker (one of its founders) has said, perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of the WSF.

Yet more is needed: the social forum must achieve new mergers with those other ‘open spaces’ which were already mentioned above: the educational institutions, the libraries and the Internet. A much broader engagement of the researchers, the librarians and the teachers than what we have seen so far is needed if the social forums are to succeed in their aim to build global society. The journalists, too, must become part of the embryonic global society of which the social forum is the bearer.

Other key professional groups in the vast field of ‘information’, such as the developers of free and open software for computers, should also be mentioned.

One example of what is already being done in order to put this theory into practice is the pilot project of the East African Librarians.

Since a first 3-days ‘training the trainers’ workshop in Nairobi 2006, East African librarians are preparing for participation in the WSF, both as citizens and as information specialists. They want to start a documenting of the information that the hundreds of conferences and workshops of the social forum are producing, in order  to preserve it and present it in their libraries. And then the librarians intend to repackage and disseminate all this information for the use of different groups, including the marginalized and the information-poor.

Kenya Library Association has set up a webserver at the Kenya Educational Network (Kenet) to become the database of this pilot project. Like the Wikipedia, the server allows the readers to edit and amend the existing information and to create new pages. The WSF participants themselves, individuals as well as organizations, are invited to write about themselves, their projects, and their daily agendas during the Nairobi WSF. The webserver is found at www.wsflibrary.org.

This ‘information activism’ on the part of the librarians can also be understood as mobilization against the prevailing trends in the world economy and politics, which threaten the public library with extinction. The library is a public service, but according to the present power-holders, the public services should be privatized, that is, grabbed by capitalists. The library delivers as much information as possible to as many as possible without delay, and at an affordable fee, or gratis, yet current doctrine on ‘intellectual property’ prescribes that all information should be owned and sold on ‘the information market’. These neo-liberal (actually monopolistic) tenets form the essence of the general agreement on trade in services (GATS) and the agreement on tradable intellectual property rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The WSF aims at exposing and burying imperialism and market fundamentalism and to lay the foundations of world public finances for world public services, including the world’s public library. Mikael Book

Mr. Book, 59, lives in Finland and is a member of the Network Institute for Global Democratization (NIGD), a group of researchers, which is active in the World Social Forum. During January 2007 he works in Nairobi as a resource person in the pilot project on “Documenting of the WSF” of the East African Librarians. More information on the project is found via www.wsflibrary.org.





































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