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World Social Forum focuses on Africa's economic struggles

A march across Nairobi, with some participants carrying signs describing President Bush as the "World's Number One Terrorist," was the opening event at yesterday's World Social Forum, reportedly attended by more than 80,000 people protesting economic globalization policies. (Karel Prinsloo/associated press)

NAIROBI -- More than 80,000 people gathered for an annual anticapitalism conference yesterday in Kenya's capital and marched on Nairobi's largest slum to protest globalization policies they say hurt the poor.

The seventh World Social Forum will be a chance to showcase "Africa and her unbroken history of struggle against foreign domination, colonialism and neocolonialism," according to a statement on the event's website,

To begin the forum, thousands of protesters marched from Kenya's sprawling Kibera slum to downtown Nairobi. At least 700,000 people, about a third of Nairobi's population, is crammed into a single square mile in Kibera, with little access to running water and other basic services.

The slum stands in sharp contrast to Nairobi's many elegant homes and hotels. Kibera residents are mostly squatters, with no legal claim on the land even though many families have lived there for generations.

A former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, told the crowd, "We must fight poverty together."

Demonstrators waved placards, many with a portrait of President Bush and the words, "World's Number One Terrorist." Other signs read, "Another world is possible, even for slum dwellers" and "Women are not property."

There also were reminders of Nairobi's serious social problems; dozens of children were sniffing glue on the streets and beggars were asking for money and food.

"I think it's important to show the world that there is a very dynamic world movement that has players in Africa," said Paul Van Wyke, who works for a British-based charity, Oxfam.

Among the participants in the march was Philip Kimani, an 18-year-old homeless man.

"I was working at a car wash and I was told to come here today, I was told I would learn something," he said, wearing a new World Social Forum T-shirt and a New York Yankees cap.

The World Social Forum was first held in Brazil in 2001 and coincides each year with the market-friendly World Economic Forum, a gathering of political and business leaders held in Switzerland.