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Uncovering Africa’s Climate Action

Uncovering Africa's climate action [Graphics: Hope Mukami]

A coalition of young and old, professional and ordinary Africans is ratcheting up action to combat the global climate crisis, especially where it matters most to them, in Africa.

Seth Onyango, bird story agency

On June 26, 2019, Kenya was forced to halt the construction of its first-ever coal-fired power plant near the coastal town of Lamu after spirited protests from climate activists.

In a major victory for activists, a tribunal revoked a license issued to Amu Power Company to set up a 2 billion US dollar plant at a site in the pristine Lamu archipelago.

On the other side of the continent, young activists are taking up the fight to restore the Niger Delta, a region that is widely regarded as one of the most polluted on the planet.

They are engaging with communities in the most polluted areas and encouraging them to seek and work towards the restoration of land that in some instances has been soaked in toxic oil for close to six decades.

In South Africa, young activists like Sera Farista, 17, from Johannesburg are part of a youth-led, intersectional organisation called the Collective Movement which pushes for climate justice through social justice.

In Uganda, Vanessa Nakate 25 epitomises climate activism in Africa on a global stage and has become the continent’s most vocal climate crusader.

She and others are following in the footsteps of the late Nobel Peace Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai, who despite her demise on 26 Sept 2011, continues to inspire a generation of African climate activists.

In the latest Africa, No Filter (ANF) report dubbed, “Climate Change in Africa: Are Africans sleepwalking to disaster?” Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg emerged as the continent’s leading voice of advocacy— even among African activists.

African climate activism

But there is a caveat. African climate activism focuses more, and rightfully so, on influencing the continent and achieving results that often don’t get international media limelight.

According to the ANF analysis, local climate change events are more dominant than international events in climate news in Africa.

“Although previous studies have shown that media coverage of climate change increases around big global climate change events, this study found that increased media coverage of climate change in Africa was associated more with local events, which indicates that African climate change events are garnering media attention,” the report reads in part.

It further shows that Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and Madagascar featured prominently in Twitter conversations and mainstream African news sources.

It is a connection that ANF says points to the ongoing role of mainstream media in defining the African narrative.

On April 21, 2022, climate Activist Elizabeth Wathuti from Kenya made keynote remarks at the Dharamsala #DialogueForOurFuture event in India.

Her impassioned speech at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 caught the world’s attention.

“I believe an open heart is where the seed of true action lies within each of us. I believe in our ability to do what is right if we let ourselves feel it in our hearts,” she remarked.

While Thunberg’s protest has inspired a global movement of youth climate activism, African activists like Nakate are making their voice heard, despite what appears to be a subordinate treatment of climate crusaders from the continent by international media outlets and organisations.

In 2020, Nakate made global headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons when she was cropped out of a photo featuring prominent climate activists including Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson.

“Why did you remove me from the photo? I was part of the group”, she decried on Twitter.

“We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis… “You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything.”

Nakate’s experience is representative of the challenges Africa faces in its bid to mitigate climate change-related catastrophes like flooding and famine.

Africa’s climate impact

It is worth noting that Africa only contributed just 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2017, despite constituting 17 per cent of the world’s population – making it by far the least polluting continent. At the same time, with some of the world’s most important environmental systems – the world’s second-largest tropical forest, some of the biggest and longest rivers, with six great lakes including the world’s largest tropical lake, with 26 deserts and a huge landmass surrounded by five seas – and with hugely favourable sun and wind conditions and most of the minerals needed for green systems, the continent has the potential to significantly help mitigate – and even reverse – global warming.

With COP27 Egypt in November fast approaching, African activists and the media have the opportunity to drive narratives that show Africa taking climate action instead of simply showing it as the continent hit hardest by something beyond its control.

bird story agency

Also Read: Not on Our Watch: A Women’s Movement for Change That Is Sweeping Across the African Continent


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