It seemed strange that amongst the hundreds of organisations’ stalls ringing the inner circle of the World Social Forum stadium in Nairobi there were only two that served food. At eye-watering prices. All the other officially-registered, slightly more reasonably-priced food vendors, who’d paid to be there, had been firmly placed outside the gates in the so-called ‘food court’ which I didn’t even find til the second day, given the total lack of anything resembling signs.
Then the protests started – Kenyan activists staged demonstrations outside the ‘Windsor’ food stall, accusing them of capitalist exploitation at a Forum which was supposed to be a space to discuss and practice alternatives to capitalism, and at which the poor were encouraged to participate.
Then yesterday, things came to a head. It turned out that the rather exclusive Windsor food stall had come from the 5 star Windsor Hotel complex down the road, which happens to be owned by none other than John Michuki, the Minister for Internal Security. The Minster, known as ‘Kimeendero’ (the Crusher), is roundly despised. This is partly in reaction to his current heavy-handed policies - he recently ordered a raid on one of Kenya’s major national newspapers, ‘The Standard’. His explanation? ‘If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it.’
But what perhaps angers Kenyans more is that in the old colonial days he used to be a District Officer under the British, and was allegedly responsible for torturing Mau Mau freedom fighters. Some of the very same revered Mau Mau veterans had been participating in the World Social Forum. Clearly, something had to be done.
So a group of Kenyan activists decided to ‘nationalise’ the stall. They took it over en masse, and in the words of one demonstrator, ‘gave the children of Kenya a free lunch.’ A large group of slum children, and some adults, cleaned out the kitchens entirely, then the stall was dismantled, to the delight, I would imagine, of all the participants at the entire event.
So now it’s over. My body aches and my eyelids are drooping, but I’m still buzzing with the thrill of witnessing real people-power in action. And not just through symbolic demonstrations and rousing speeches. The people from the Nairobi slums have taken on injustice and exploitation wherever they have seen it over the past few days, with commitment, solidarity and determination. And they’ve won. It’s felt like another Kenya has been becoming possible before our very eyes.