Report for Umverteilen Foundation
The Independent Media Centre at the WSF 2007 in Nairobi
Since the convergence based IMC at the polycentric WSF in Bamako in 2006, people within and beyond the IMC in Africa (IMCA) working group have been discussing plans to create a convergence based IMC at the WSF in Nairobi. The actual discussions and planning process started in the early summer 2006 through the connection of the already established IMCA Working group with the Philadelphia, US based community radio project Prometheus. Other than in Bamako the IMCA working group was already networked into Kenya through Kenya IMC that had been established as a result of the Dakar Indymedia conference in 2004. From September 2006 a call out circulated within and beyond the Indymedia network to join the convergence in Nairobi, funding applications were made while the planning process continued mainly through the mailing list and the WIKI of the IMCA working group. The overall plan was to connect as many media activists as possible globally and specially assist the participation of African media activists through the network and funding. As for the local impact the hope was that the convergence would boost the IMC Kenya group, dormant in the last year and to allow Kenya IMC to network further with local media activists. The IMCA was also hoping to enlarge and strengthen its own network by allowing other African delegates to come, especially from the long running IMC in South Africa and Ambazonia/Cameroon and the new IMCs in Mali and Nigeria. The overall aim was to create an outstanding experience for everybody involved, an experience of a horizontal organizing process as much as of active participation in the WSF. Practically a series of discussions and seminars were planned on various media related issues, while hands on workshops were to teach radio construction, silkscreen print, open publishing and video editing.
2) Critical Aspects of the planning process
There are so many things that went wrong in the planning process that it makes sense to start the whole narrative from this angle. These mishaps caused massive financial damage to the project and prevented several people from participating and we need to take the implications of these problems seriously in order to be able to avoid similar problems in the future. The planning process was largely web-based, reflecting the global range and the transnational character of the IMCA and its resources, the funding institutions and donors from all over the world. This reflects the realities of the Indymedia world, but it becomes a problem when there is no equivalent local planning capacity participating in the preparation. The lack of a full time coordinator on the ground in Nairobi from at least one month before the start of the convergence let to various follow up problems. In the African context it is illusionary to assume that local planning of this scale could do sufficiently by volunteers only. The local IMC Kenya volunteer John Bwakali and his on and off three or four collaborators in IMC Kenya were doing an enormous job in supporting the project but they were simply unable to deal with all the necessary local planning in their free time before the IMC started. This lack of local planning led to a series of follow up problems.
2b) African delegates participation and the Visa issue
From early December it became obvious that in the list of African delegates 6 were in need of special Visa Clearance Letters from the Kenyan immigration. Only with these letters various west-African citizens can apply for a Kenyan Visa upon arrival in Kenya. The overall process of dealing with this issue has caused a lot of problems in the course of the project and was a major setback in the efforts to create the IMC during the WSF in Nairobi. Here, a full time coordinator on the ground in Nairobi could have helped to avoid the disaster that was unfolding. While within the IMCA working group the visa issue wasn’t taken seriously enough, at least some attempts were made from mid December to figure out what was needed to obtain these letters. In this process, the organizer dealing with the issue came across the WSF forum website, that was offering help with the visa issue. Basically the WSF organizers offered to produce applications for Visa letters collectively for delegates who were in need and then processed the requests en masse to the Kenyan Immigration, thereby allowing the whole process to be standardised. Although every organization, therefore also Kenya IMC could go and do similar processes individually, it seemed more reasonable to go with the WSF process to fasten the application. It seemed this way but it was a very wrong impression. By the third week of December in trust of a process that would be solved within two weeks at most (according to the information from the WSF) I proceeded to purchase tickets for a whole of four delegates, three Malians from the Mali IMC and one from Nigeria, all in need of the Visa clearance letter. I considered the Visa issue was being dealt with, as it was. Yet many things came into the way. Firstly, by the end of December one of the Malian delegates suddenly backed out without letting anyone in the network know. I learned about it through chatting with a French activist who was in closer touch with the Malian delegate. When I was asking for clarification from him and the Malian delegation and they confirmed that he was not going to attend the WSF. His email is here The ticket I purchased for him, worth roughly 1100 Euros was not needed, the flight had to be cancelled. Although it were matters beyond his control that made it impossible for him to go, the fact that he did not communicate this with the IMCA working group was a mayor setback not only in regards of the cooperation with IMC Mali as a group, but also in the planning process. There loss of money, amounting to 250 Euros in cancellation fees and the amount of work put into the realisation of getting the funds and the actual ticket put a first big question mark to the process of choosing and approving of delegates whose attendance is funded. As Indymedia in the north works in the sphere of volunteer work there is no experience and therefore not learned structured practise of letting people in who will benefit from Indymedia in any financial way. Usually in the north there is nothing to give away and people who attend are always invited as long as they realize that their attendance happens of their own behalf and costs. In the context of IMCA there is, since its initial conference in Dakar an established practise of funding African participants in order to allow their participation. As a result the IMCA conferences and convergences were organized a lot more along the line of classical NGO work. Though it would expand the scope of this report to look into the practise of choosing delegates in different globally working NGOs, i.e. of choosing people who benefit from the funds raised, it seems appropriate to assume that there are structural measures in place in most of the NGOs that define the process. The IMCA group hasn’t developed any of this, partly because any process of choosing delegates is not in accordance with the principles of open participation. Yet these principles were developed in the north against a backdrop of a large volunteer force of political activists. In the African context this is very different, a volunteer force, ready to spent time and money to participate in social movements is much smaller if exiting at all. In a different situation IMCA needs to think about whether it is necessary to change the principles and limit the funded participation by certain criteria. Certainly the fact that one of the delegates just dropped out without notice to the group, thereby irresponsibly wasting resources of a collective project poses a problem that any larger project needs to be dealing with structurally. The question we need to ask is, whether the chances are smaller of something like this happening if there is some sort of process of choosing and qualifying involved in finding funded delegates. And what democratic and horizontal ways of doing this can we think of?
But the problem that occurred here in regard of one of the Malian delegates was only a short distraction of the larger problem coming up in regards of the Visas. By the end of December the volunteer who had been dealing with the Visa issue from abroad asked me to take over because of personal problems. At the time the Visa Issues seemed pressing yet none the less solvable. At the time I took over, the WSF office in Nairobi was also changing the person on the case. Until then all the email and phone conversation had been with one of the main organizers of the WSF, chairman of the Sodnet NGO Prof. Edward Oyugi. He replied to my first email through his college Mr. Matunga. Since I have been dealing with the affair, but was still in Europe, I need to rely on John Bwakali from IMC Kenya to also help in the process. Despite limited time he visited the organizing office several times in the first week of January, while I was in contact with him, sending him money to pay for the visa letters and repeating the urgency of the matter to him and also to Mr. Matunga. The three remaining delegates were scheduled to fly on the 7th of January, a Sunday, so we needed the Visa Letters by Friday the fifth. It shouldn’t happen. In fact, no successful communication was possible between Mr Matunga and John Bwakali to clarify the urgency. Only on Friday, despite emails he received days before that did Mr. Matunga understand that there was not enough time left to deal with the issue and only on Saturday, thanks to a mere good luck that the travel agent was available, I was able to cancel the flights. In this situation due to the way we were financed and the way refunds of cancellations work, we also needed to make another decision. It was possible to either change the flight dates for a fee of 700 Euros for all three delegates, or to cancel the flights and loose the seats in a time were flights to Nairobi were getting scarce. But it was not clear at the time whether we would actually succeed and get the Visa Letters. In the same morning, on Saturday the 6th I had to make a decision with John Bwakali on whether to completely cancel the 3 delegates flights and try to get new ones only after we had the Visa letters or to change the flight time and bet on getting the Visa in time. Still In Europe I relied on John’s understanding, that it surely was possible to get the Visas in the following week. He relied on Mr. Matunga from the WSF who had assured him, that this was going to be working. So we changed the tickets by one week. The following week, me being in Nairobi from Monday night and wanting to solve the issue brought so many more problems and setbacks. I have described the whole process somewhere else and I would like to refer there now.
Despite all the confirmations from the WSF and Mr. Matunga, we weren’t able to get the Visa Letter for the second flight date either. The unfortunate result of the Visa issue is that we weren’t able to get 5 African (Two Malian, one Nigerian and two Cameroonians) delegates into the convergence although they were funded and willing to come. At the same time we lost about 1500 Euros in changing and cancellation fees for plane ticket. The fact that IMCA activists dealing with the issues were confronted for the first time with the potential problems of the Visa explains parts of the problem. With more experience we would have not relied on the WSF to sort out letters for us, and we would have not bought tickets without having the Visas. A second internal problem was the fact that we didn’t have a full time local organizer in place before 8th of January to deal with the Visa Issue in Nairobi. I mentioned this problem before. But beyond this the whole blame for this fiasco has to go to the organizing committee of the WSF who was offering help that wasn’t delivered. The problems occurring with this were enormous not only for us but for several groups in the WSF. There is no clarity of how many African delegates to the WSF were affected but the insight I got into the way this issues was dealt with by the WSF left me without a doubt, that it wasn’t even of the slightest importance for the organizers to allow West African delegates to attend. We need an inquiry into this and I hope in light of the massive critique of the WSF organization, these processes are in place already.
Another delegate from Mauritius stepped back from participation because of his condition after an attack on him and a further costly cancellation had to be made. For the unfortunate process in this case see the email conversations we had.
The total amount of money that was lost due to cancellations amounts to 2100 Euros, of which 250 Euros were spent on the withdrawal of one Malian delegate, 330 on the unfortunate withdrawal of the delegate from Mauritius and 1520 on Visa related changing fees and cancellations largely to blame on the WSF organizers.
A total of 7 African activists from outside Kenya were missing in the convergence, of which 2 had personal reasons and five were prevented from coming because of the Visa issue. Without these 7 activists the number of Africans in the convergence was much smaller than it was expected and hoped for. Yet thanks to the participation of around 15 Kenyans the overall number of African in the convergence (Max: 24) still outnumbered the northern participants. (Max: 18).
2c) Other problems on the ground
Housing the convergence seemed easy at the beginning. The first information regarding this issue was that there was a large guesthouse available at the price of 1300 US a month that we could use for the convergence. This information came from the local organizer John Bwakali and went into the funding proposal. After the funding for housing was secured through the Umverteilen funds, it took us too much time to secure this offer. By the time we had the money at our hands, John got back to the list with the information that the guesthouse had raised the prices in expectance of the coming WSF and also was in the process of renting out to the WSF itself. We had lost our accommodation and John was left with the quest to find a new house in mid December. Again, a full time co-ordinator could have secured the first place easier at an early stage and would have had the time to find more places to choose from. The options we had to decide from by this time were more expensive and less convenient. The best option as it occurred around late December was a house in Karen, a Nairobi neighbourhood far from the city centre and well off, almost secluded from the city stress, poverty and speed. The location served its purpose of comfortably housing more than 40 Media activists who partly also stayed in tents in the large garden and was a good base for the initial phase of the project, when our work was based there. Yet especially during the WSF the distance to the city centre and the fact that the WSF was on the other side of town, itself in quite a distance, caused high transport and coordination efforts and costs us too much time. Some people in the group also criticised the location in such a better off and suburban neighbourhood as counterproductive to the aim of community relations of the convergence. Furthermore, from a budgetary perspective, the house at Karen was simply too expensive. It was rented to us for 185.000 Shillings (that is a monthly rate), which equals more than 2000 Euros, more than double the amount of money that was allocated to housing in the initial budget.
Internet It was impossible for the whole time of the convergence to get a working Internet connection in the house. For the way Indymedia convergences usually work, this comes close to a nightmare. In fact, most of the activists found it really hard to cope with. The reason for the problems with the Internet in the convergence can be explained partly by the distance to the city centre, where a wireless ISP service is available, partly by the fact that the house had no landline and thirdly by the weakness of the internet strength in Kenya in general. This last problem also led to the semi-permanent breakdown of the Internet at the WSF press centre where the IMC established a base during the WSF. This at least partly explains the small amount of reporting about the WSF on Kenya IMC. For the organizing, the reporting and the learning in the IMC convergence the lack of Internet caused major problems. Ironically this was very similar in Dakar’s first conference, when the working group rented an Internet café for a week that then was offline for half of the time. In another way, many people in the convergence insisted that this was a reality check for the northern activist to understand southern conditions. The net-based approach of independent media as practised in the north can hardly be the only way forward in the south in face of these obstacles. Hence the almost natural focus in the converegence on media, that are not depending on the internet, e.g. the radio, the newsletter and the silkscreen.
3) The convergence
Overview: 4 Phases
For the purpose of structuring the report but also because the group worked with this structuring idea through the convergence, the following report of the convergence will be spilt into four periods.
The first period extends from the 8th of January to the 15th, the first week of the convergence in which there was a lot of preparation work going on the ground. Initially this week was meant to also serve as a phase to create a working structure of the group, firstly theoretically by introducing participants to the models of horizontal organizing. The second step was to actually form the working groups and structures that would help to facilitate horizontally the convergence over the next three weeks. Yet the process faced difficulties, as 3 African delegates who were meant to arrive in this first week didn’t because of Visa problems already mentioned. So the group in the first week consisted of less people than expected and was also very disparate. While the Malian delegates and the Nigerian delegate who were supposed to be coming had a very big knowledge of Indymedia and had already formed local groups in their respective countries, the Ugandan delegation of five that actually arrived in the first week was absolutely new to Indymedia and its ways of organizing, even its history or purpose. For them therefore the whole background of the convergence had still to be illuminated. Other arriving northern activists like Andy from Prometheus and me were very busy in the first week to assist local organizers in sorting out organizational issues like the Visa questions and the Internet access, both of which took a lot of time and were finally unsuccessful. With CT Butler at least a prominent trainer in matters of horizontal group organizing was already there in the first week to do consensus training. This training, some introduction to Indymedia history and the first group meetings resulted in the creation of a set of working groups and a general meeting structure and schedule that should remain in place throughout the convergence. In the working groups issues like finances, food, schedule and accommodation were dealt with. The meeting structure was based around a daily set of two general meetings, a morning and an evening one to address shared issues, the working group meetings once a day and several slots for workshops. With this structure in place the group was working Ok, yet several issues remained problematic. The fact that the Ugandan delegation was new to Indymedia and came with largely different expectations than the Kenyan or Northern delegates led to some frustration on their side. While everybody else seemed to very busy with sorting out organisational issues, members of the Ugandan delegation often felt bored and expressed this in the meetings. Their participation in organizational issues was limited because a part from one member of the group all of them hadn’t been involved in the email conversations about the convergence. Other than the local Kenyan activists they were also lacking local knowledge that could help organizers. While some introduction in horizontal structures was given and some information about Indymedia could be shared, there was not really big emphasis on content-based workshops in the first week. Again this problem takes us to the question of participation. How for example could it be that a group of 5 people came to join the convergence, yet their relation and knowledge about what the convergence was about was very little? A process of choosing and selecting the funded participants again could help to prevent a situation like this. A bigger problem was that despite the attempt to create horizontal structures of organizing the convergence, the organizing itself remained undemocratically for most of the time. Already in the preparation it had become obvious that the overall planning lied in the hands of Northern activists who were assisted by Kenyans. This largely continued in the convergence despite the structural efforts that were made to render the organizing more democratic. While there was for example an attempt to share financial responsibility in the finance-working group, technical purchases were left out from the beginning and were left in the responsibility of respective Northerners dealing with it. The enormous difference in knowledge between an activist from the north like me, being involved in the figures of the convergence from an early stage of the planning and an Ugandan activist who was looking at it during the convergence for the first time, led to an imbalance in power in the working group of finance and respectively in the whole planning process. Over the weeks that we had to deal with this issue we did come up with some improvements, as I will point out later. Yet in general this imbalance remained in place throughout the convergence. Other working groups like house keeping and food, but also logistics and transport worked better from the start, as they didn’t depend so much on early involvement.
The first week ended with the arrival of several more delegates around the 15th of January. The second phase was meant to focus on content-based workshops with a working structure in place and all serious organisation problems solved. The people arriving in the second week were mainly the three southern African delegates (Two from SA and one from Zimbabwe) and the larger part of the Prometheus radio project delegation. The second enlargement process also involved an increasing outreach into Nairobi communities, specifically the Korogocho based radio initiative radio Koch FM and the Kangemi community group ProActive Youth. The links to both groups were opened by IMC Kenya activists and initiated by visits to the respective communities. The second week didn’t bring the delegation of students and some lecturers from Maseno university. This group of 10 was expected to participate from the second week yet they didn’t arrive before the first day of the forum, the beginning of the third phase. Furthermore after failing to get Visa letters in the first phase and all overall crisis with the WSF organising committee in regards of this issue, the arrival of the five delegates in the need of Visa letters was made impossible and finally had to be given up on in the course of the second phase. Our last attempt to retain the Visa letters from the WSF organizing committee in the second phase around the 17th of January were answered by complete non-cooperation from the WSF side. Calls were not answered and text messages ignored. I believe our applications were never processed to the Kenyan Immigration. Unless the WSF organizers are willing to open their files and allow a transparent investigation into the enormous organizational failures that affected not only Indymedia, but also several other groups and not the least the whole organizing process of the WSF itself, I have to assume that the money we spent on the Visas was effectively stolen by the responsible WSF organizer. The second week in the IMC was also characterized by an outbreak of a flu that tied the majority of people in the convergence for at least 2 days each. With several people being ill, a lot of the structures in place could not be taken proper advantage of by new arrivals and some of the work done in this respect had to be repeated. In organizational matter some of the fresh delegates took over the business of dealing with the WSF organizing committee to allow the Indymedia radio to have a place in the forum, a process that proofed to be complicated but finally successful, so that by the end of the second phase there was a space for the Indymedia radio at the forum. Because of illness of many, there was a significant lack of people who were able to give and attend workshops. In a way this dominated the second week so much, that the remaining time was spent focussing of radio technologies and reaching out the two Nairobi community groups mentioned mainly. The outreach to Koch FM and Kangemi community group ProActive Youth was very successful. Several members of these groups got involved in the Indymedia project and also participated in the WSF as part of the IMC. Important workshops happening in the second week included training on radio interview technologies, enabling lot of the delegates to work as radio journalists in the WSF. Little emphasis was given in the whole week on other media technologies. There were no writing workshops and open posting training was impossible due to a lack of internet connectivity. The whole convergence had not coherent video workshop. The only other medium we worked on constantly was a silkscreen facility, with the idea to allow to print posters and t-shirts during the WSF. In this project progress was made, yet slowly. As the second phase came to an end with the open-ceremony of the WSF approaching the mood in the project was very diverse. People expressed a lot of frustration about ongoing long group discussions and the working groups that were only partly functional. A lot of these organizational issues were to be blamed on the fact that large parts of the groups were falling ill. But this only added to structural problems that remained in place from the beginning. They also become more poignant as time was running short. The dual aim to organise a successful convergence and do this in a horizontal and democratic fashion increasingly caused a tension and in this tension the spontaneous choice was made to go for achieving results in practise rather than in process. This resulted in an even stronger role of Northern participants in the overall organizing, workshop-teaching and decision-making in the convergence. At least, in the second phase, no one was bored anymore and all participants found their spaces and projects to work on.
The third phase started with the opening of the WSF on the 20th January and the arrival in the convergence of the last lot of delegates mainly from Maseno University in western Kenya. As expected the convergence reached its full operation mode, yet also moved from the house in Karen to spend most of the time in the WSF location in Kasarani. The open ceremony took place after a large demonstration leading from the slums of Kibera to downtown Nairobi and the Uhuru park. IMC delegates were busy attending, interviewing and observing the opening in what was for most of them the first ever attendance. At the same time, the radio experts from Prometheus radio were setting up the radio station in Kasarani, where the WSF was to begin the following day. Unfortunately the silkscreen print workshop couldn’t finish the press to this time, so that the process of finishing the press was delayed into the forum. But the radio was operational by the end of the first day of the WSF in Kasarani, Sunday the 21st and Monday despite some further technical problems saw a whole day of radio reporting from the WSF. At the same time a group of activists prepared the IMC newsletter that was to be distributed on the WSF from Tuesday afternoon after it had gone into print as late as Monday night. The newsletter can be found here Monday night should also be the time of the mayor setback of the radio project when the radio station was robbed at gunpoint and several technical tools were stolen in the evening time. For the IMC this caused an interruption of activities on Tuesday. The day was spent in the attempt to address the WSF office and the police in the matter, who finally could be brought into support of IMC in the matter. From Tuesday afternoon the WSF newsletter was distributed, carrying headline news about the protests that began to dominate the Forum, protests against the organizing committee. By Tuesday evening the collective in the IMC decided to go back to transmit radio news on Wednesday. The silkscreen print was operational on Wednesday, producing around 100 T-Shirts that were mainly left with the participants as a souvenir. The Silkscreen is still operational and is now in the hands of IMC Kenya to be used for their purposes. In the meantime the stress of the WSF had produced a strong focus in the group on action and less focus on internal process. The working groups were hardly operational during the WSF, yet just before that also some good developments could be observed. In the finance group more members participated actively by handling money and allowances than initially thereby democratising the process. Also the facilitation of the group meetings towards the end of the second week and throughout the fewer meeting during the WSF rotated between more and different delegates and didn’t depend largely on the northern delegates anymore. These were good developments, which could only be achieved thanks to a process that was started from the beginning and followed on through to the end. On the other hand, the group process especially during the forum lacked the emphasis and concentration and unforeseen problems like the robbery were obstacles for a stronger implementation of horizontal organizing. Some of the shortcomings of the process became clearly visible towards the end of the third phase just after the forum, when most of the delegates prepared for their return home. Instead of an evaluation of sorts, the final discussions were focused around financial issues and the distribution of left over resources in which many of the initial problems between southern and northern activists resurfaced. It seemed to many that these final discussions proofed any overall learning to be an illusion. This point needs further examination that is being attempted in the course of the next 6 weeks and will be made available to Umverteilen. However in the end the group decided to use some of the leftover funds to support a fourth phase of the convergence. As initially planned a second radio station should be build in the course of the project in Maseno, a small town near Kisumu in the west of the country. Some students and lecturers of the University of Maseno, the media department had already joined the convergence. Instead of just bringing the northern experts, the Prometheus radio project to Maseno to build the station as it was originally planned, the group decided to facilitate the participation of IMC Kenya activists and people from the recently networked radio and community groups in Nairobi in the radio building in Maseno. The remaining funds were largely the result of saved money for the 7 African delegates who couldn’t make it to the convergence for either Visa or personal reasons.
The fourth phase saw the group moving to Kisumu on Sunday 28th January and staying for 4 nights until Thursday morning there with the project to build a local radio station and the capacity to run it as a community radio in Maseno. At the same time the event was supposed to foster the links of IMC Kenya with both the Nairobi based groups Koch FM and Kangemi Community group and the Maseno collective. After four days of radio building and training the group left Maseno listening to Equator Radio, as the students had baptised the newly created station back to Nairobi. The IMC convergence came to an end.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a proper on the spot evaluation and the comments and reflections that appeared as a follow up on the mailing list were excluding the ones less connected as much as in the planning process. There will be an evaluation based on observations and interviews that I will work on over the next six weeks. In any case neither of these can replace a process of evaluation that is done with the group on the spot. The convergence produced two working radio stations, a newsletter and a silkscreen print; it produced radio programmes and certainly a lot of radio enthusiasts between Kenyan and other attending delegates. The radio emissions and the newsletter featured protests and breaking news on the WSF and the newsletter was even mentioned in various post-WSF reflections. It was the first medium to publish the news that the Kenyan police minister owned one of the restaurants on the WSF. The two other main publications on the forum, the African Flame and TerraViva had people from the WSF organizing committee in their editorial board and downplayed the protests from the beginning. The Independent Media Newsletter was truly the only independent paper that was spread on the WSF. All these are very important successes and they should be not forgotten even in the light of large-scale problems of the project. There were also several links created between different activists within Kenya, within Africa and globally. Yet the main critical points need to be reinstated: The imbalance of power, responsibility and knowledge in the project from the start to the end is reflecting the structures of global injustice we came to change. The irony of this situation is bitter and painful, yet not entirely unexpected, especially after the experiences in Dakar and in Bamako. The fact that the problems reoccurred in Nairobi shows how deeply rooted they are but it also points out the need of a working group like IMCA to learn and improve more coherently from its problems and failures. Basically we had a lack of local organizational participation, which is mainly due to the web-based transnational planning process that discriminated against local participants in Africa, who don’t work so much on the Internet because it isn’t as readily available and omnipresent. Also human resources, the volunteers that project like Indymedia are based upon in the north don’t exists in a similar way in Africa, because the overall economic situation is much more tense. Activism is largely issue focused and spontaneous or it is straightforwardly a career or a job, like it is known in the north in the realm of NGOs. The idea that work for social change can be done without payment must be considered northern luxury in the light of the African situation. In other words if nothing is changed in the process of organizing to adjust this imbalance than there will always be a northern dominance in IMCA organizing. One way to insure a strong stand of African organizing responsibility could be to allow payment for work in such projects, e.g. to allow in the budget for local organizers to engage in full time in planning. This would also address some of the other organizational issues mentioned. Yet the professionalization of local structures in order to enable large scale mobilizations implies problems. How one could ask, would Indymedia insure to be not just another northern movement who is expanding its "brand" through material incentives to pretend globality. Another way would be to only mobilize for large scale meetings in Africa if the local volonteer structure allows a local volonteer based planning process. Where and when this local team is not strong enough there shouldn't be large global events. In this case events like the WSF IMC would just not happen anymore, unless there is a strong local network node able to host it. Yet a focus could be placed on inner-african exchanges and smaller gatherings, easier to plan. The global virtual indymedia work would play a supportive rather than an active and initializing role. Diverting from Indymedia patterns of organizing IMCA already put in place the positive discrimination of African delegates by funding their participation but as we have seen, this can cause problems as well. There is the issue of who is coming and how to make sure that the assistance offered is regarded as valuable. There is also the issue of involvement in the process. In the case of the Ugandan delegation four of the five participants didn’t and don’t to this day participate in the mailing list. The fact that one member is participating proofs that it is technically possible to do so. Yet the non-participation of the others meant that they arrived with expectations in Nairobi that still had to be completely adjusted with what other people expected. In the cases where web-based communication is possible it should also be used and its use encouraged. So another suggestion is to put in place a more rigid system of choosing new funded delegates to IMC convergences. And any active involvement into the preparatory process should be the least condition to qualify for actual funding and support. While the timeframe of the gathering was good, the overall time was rather too short than too long because many delegates stayed much shorter than the overall time. For the next time, a planning process has to make sure that all delegates are arriving with some advance time and generally organizers should be more rigid on making sure that people are coming in and staying roughly the same time. If IMCA is able to develop such measures in a democratic and horizontal way it could improve global networking and organizing tremendously. The enormous quest is to move beyond structures that merely reproduce global inequalities and overcome them while they are still in place. Without doubt more thinking of potential ways to improve IMCA work has to been done.
Outlook Kenya IMC has certainly received a large push through the activities in the three weeks of the IMC convergence and it remains to hope that this will allow IMC Kenya to work on the expansion of Independent Media and also in support of surrounding countries. The inner-African networking process has to be fostered by an increasing focus on inner African project managed and initiated by the formed IMCs in Africa themselves. IMCs like in Mali and in Kenya who were created as a result of large and global co-operations hopefully strive in the future. Certainly the role of northern activists in the IMC Africa process in any future project should be reduced. Channels of communication have been opened in the course of the 4 years between the western funding institutions like Umverteilen, the IMC network and the local media activists who have been networked as a result of the efforts. These channels can and should be used in the future to allow for more and deeper networking between different African Media Activists. Independent Media stays an enormous challenge for Africa as does the idea of activism and volunteer based work, as it is know in the North. As laboratories of global co-operation are further needed, the global networking of Indymedia should go on to include its newly won African comrades. Yet they also have to define and refine their approaches to activism individually and locally as they continue to do and feed these experiences into the global networking process. The last words are left to one of the key local organizers from IMC Kenya, John Bwakali who in the light of all the problems we had said, that it is the problems and the conflicts that make an experience real and that only through the mishaps we are torn out of the slumber that the mundane imposes on us and can make real progress.
Fabian Frenzel, Leeds 17.2.2007