According to a 2018 UN IPCC report, Africa is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and 10 of the countries which are predicted to be most affected by the phenomena are situated in Africa. While Africa is often used as an example of all the things wrong with the environment, not much is said about the efforts of African peoples all over the continent trying their best to change that.
The media has a lot of power to control how people perceive and gather information and when it comes to climate issues, the voices of developing nations and minority groups in the realm of environmental activism are often regarded as non-existent. This fact was perhaps best reflected in the recent media debacle where AP News cropped out Ugandan activist, Vanessa Nakate from a picture taken with her peers.
And so in a typical reflection of the future as our communal heritage, here are some of the African climate activists you rarely see in mainstream media, but we figure you should know about:
We start with Nnimmo Bassey because he is a pioneer of climate activism on the African continent. He is a Nigerian architect, environmental activist, author, poet and an inspirational forerunner of modern climate activism in Africa, having started his activism as far back as the 90s. He co-founded Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a Nigerian advocacy NGO, to deal with environmental human rights issues in Nigeria as far back as 1993, and he was ERA’s Executive Director for two whole decades. Currently, he remains the chair of its Management Board.
Raised in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, Bassey has seen first-hand the damaging effects of oil spillage and so his activism was focused on combating destructive oil and gas extraction activities in the country and beyond. In addition to its work on oil spills, the ERA has actively campaigned against gas flaring and has gone ahead to win a landmark ruling by a Nigerian High Court back in 2005; a ruling that gas flaring is unconstitutional, damages people and the environment, and must stop.
In 2009, Bassey was recognized as one of Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment. In 2010, he was named a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2012 he was awarded the Rafto Prize. He continues the green fight today serving as Director and member of the Advisory Board of environmental advocacy organization Health of Mother Earth Foundation.
Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate justice activist started her activism in late 2018. After becoming concerned about her country’s climbing temperatures in her country, she staged a climate protest in front of her country’s parliament building in 2019. Vanessa has come a long way since then, having founded the Youth for Future Africa, the Africa-based Rise Up Movement and going on to speak at the COP25 gathering in Spain a few months ago.
Early this year, she joined other youth climate activists to publish a letter to participants at the World Economic Forum appealing to companies and governments to immediately stop subsidizing fossil fuels. She was one of five international delegates invited by Arctic Basecamp to camp with them in Davos during the World Economic Forum.
According to Vanessa, she is motivated by the need to ensure the survival of the less privileged in her agricultural-dependent country. She has repeatedly stated that if the world continued with business as usual, African farms might suffer from floods, droughts and other adverse effects of climate change, resulting in lowered food production such that only the most privileged (who are also the world’s biggest emitters) would be able to buy food. People who live in villages and rural communities would suffer more than they already do, all of which would lead to starvation and worsened living conditions.
Vanessa Nakate has been in the news recently owing to an incident where the Associated Press cropped her out of a picture taken alongside white climate activists whilst in Davos for the World Economic Forum and fuelling outrage over the erasure of people of colour in climate change and sustainability news.
Ayakha Melithafa is a South African climate activist on a mission to change the world. Born in a suburb of Cape Town, Ayakha at seventeen is one of the continent’s youngest activists. She pursued climate activism after experiencing first-hand the effects of drought on her mother’s farm in South Africa. After some research, she found out about climate change and how they are susceptible to more prolonged and severe droughts, “I knew from then on that I wanted to educate people about what I had learnt,” she says.
In 2018, Ayakha joined Project 90 by 2030, an environmental organization that strives to bring about significant change to realize a low-carbon future by 2030 from where she got most of her information about climate change. Project 90 led her to African Climate Alliance, which is a youth initiative that peacefully protests against climate inaction and injustices. She was made a spokesperson and a recruitment official for the alliance’s youth wing.
In September 2019, Ayakha was one of 16 teenage petitioners who presented a landmark official complaint to the United Nations to protest the lack of government climate action. She is incredibly passionate about inclusivity in climate activism and believes that, “It’s very important for poor people and people of color to go to these protests and marches because they are feeling the wrath of climate change the most. It’s important for them to have a say, for their voice and their demands to be heard.”
Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti grew up in Nyeri town in the Central Highlands of Kenya renowned for its forest cover. Perhaps this explains Elizabeth’s drive for conservation and climate activism. Born in 1995, Elizabeth planted her first tree at the age of seven and in high school; she formed her very own environmental club.
Elizabeth is the founder of the Green Generation Initiative which nurtures young environmental enthusiasts to build climate resilience and green schools. Since it launch in 2016, Green Generation Initiative has planted 30,000 trees in Kenya, the same year Elizabeth won the Wangari Maathai Scholarship award for her outstanding passion and commitment to environmental conservation. The award is in honor of late Nobel Laureate and her role model, Professor Wangari Maathai and in 2019, Elizabeth was awarded as the Africa Green Person of the Year Award by the Eleven Eleven Twelve Foundation.
She has been named one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans by the Africa Youth Awards. Her video “The Forest is a Part of Me” was featured by the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) as part of a series on Youth Voices in Landscapes. On International Youth Day last year, she was recognized for her good works by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex Queens Commonwealth Trust website, and she has been as source of inspiration to many Africans for these past years.
Ugandan activist Leah Namugerwa is just 15-year-old and has been striking for the climate since 2018. While she says she was inspired by Greta Thunberg, she did not feel the impact of the climate crisis until she watched the news on one of Uganda’s local TV stations, which reported hunger in northern Uganda due to prolonged drought and landslides in Eastern Uganda that claimed many lives. The cause of the landslides was attributed to climate change.
In February 2018, Leah held her first solo climate strike. Since then, she has rallied many young Ugandans to her cause. Like most Africans in the environment, Leah believes in the ability of the African youths to make a difference in the climate struggle.
Kenya’s Kaluki Mutuku grew up in the village and this influenced his love of the environment. Raised by a single mother, Kaluki would witness mothers cover kilometers to fetch water. These personal experiences have been his driving force in his environmental and climate activism.
Kaluki has been active in activism and in conservation since college, where he was a member of an environmental awareness club, and has been a member of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change since 2015.
Kaluki runs the Green Treasures Farms; a social initiative aimed at intensifying environmental sustainability through training and equipping women and youth with skills and methods of water harvesting, tree growing and zero wastage of environmental resources.
Oladosu Adenike grew up in Nigeria, where she is a country ambassador for Fridays for Future, Earth Uprising and African Youth Climate Hub.
Her journey into the environmental movement started when she gained admission to study agricultural economics in university and learned how vulnerable farmers are to climate change. She witnessed bloody fights between Nigerian farmers and herdsmen because their land is becoming more arid. The fights got so intense that her studies were extended for an extra year as a result of the low security level in the area. Whole communities experienced intense flooding and entire farm lands were swept away for the first time in her place of study.
She visits communities, schools, religious places and public places throughout the country to create awareness about the climate crisis and how crucial environmental justice can be for our communities. Campaigning for climate justice and bringing people together to act and speak in Nigeria can be difficult and frustrating. But she soldiers on, glad for the opportunity to be heard by a larger audience whenever possible.
This is by no means a conclusive list of Africa’s climate activists, but these are some of the most inspiring, speaking up about the struggles facing their region and continent and helping people understand and start to prepare for climate change. No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa, but with the assistance provided by the activists on my continent, perhaps we might be better prepared for what is to come.
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