As a young climate change activist in Kenya, Eric Njuguna thinks it would be a bad idea for his African peers to replicate the campaigning methods used by their counterparts in the West.
For example, the 21-year-old said the Fridays for Future school strike movement, started by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg in 2018, would be ill-advised across Africa, pointing to low enrollment rates in education and limits on freedom of expression. expression.
“(Fridays for Future) has an inherently Eurocentric dynamic,” the Nairobi-based Njuguna said, adding that missing school is “not a privilege many can afford” on the African continent.
“I would advise (Africans) to start their own,” Njuguna said. “Many of us come from countries with authoritarian governments. The moment you organize civil disobedience as extreme as they do in Europe, the consequences can be serious.”
He is one of a growing number of young climate activists in Africa, striving not only to raise public awareness and hold governments to account, but also to challenge narratives that downplay or omit activists and affected communities from the climate. Global South.
“They can’t wait to see world leaders act and they won’t wait,” said Joan Nyanyuki, executive director of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), a pan-African NGO.
“Their young voices calling attention to threats to their childhood and their future must not be ignored, their stories must be heard and retold,” she added.
Njuguna said her activism began in 2017, while she was still in high school, in response to a severe drought that led to water rationing with an acute impact on youth and children.
“So, I became a climate activist out of necessity rather than just wanting to create change,” said Njuguna, who has since campaigned on issues like rich nations, including the United States, exporting their waste to African countries.
“The people most affected by the climate crisis are often disconnected from the policies that do affect them at the grassroots level,” he added.
Njuguna was speaking ahead of attending the UN COP27 climate talks in Egypt, where he and other activists including Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate are raising issues such as “loss and damage” and calling for funds to help African nations affected by climate change. climate to manage rising costs.
Speaking at a panel at COP27, Njuguna said the summit, which has been dubbed “the African COP,” must be “more than just a change of location” to bring climate justice to Africa.
“We need to go beyond words and realize what climate justice means for African communities,” he said Wednesday. “This is why we must listen to African children and youth who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.”
Leah Namugerwa, an 18-year-old Ugandan activist, said police have arrested her three times since 2019 for taking part in peaceful marches on environmental issues, including trying to save Bugoma Forest from development.
“The government seems to give us (young climate activists) a negative answer,” said Namugerwa, known for her efforts to plant trees and ban plastic bags.
He said when he started campaigning in 2019 he knew there could be dangers in organizing protests in his country, where rights advocates denounce a tightly controlled system overseen by President Yoweri Museveni since 1986.
Namugerwa decided to become a climate activist at the age of 14 after hearing about the devastating effects of a landslide in Uganda on the news. He was inspired to join the Fridays for Future movement on Friday after hearing about Thunberg and his campaign.
The activist said she was still frustrated by a failed legal battle against the Ugandan government to prevent the clearing of part of the Bugoma forest for a sugar cane plantation.
“My country does not have an environmental court, so we did not have support. I am planning to become an environmental lawyer,” Namugerwa said by phone from her boarding school in Kampala.
At COP27, Namugerwa delivered a speech in which he said the world “must face some real truths” to achieve the right results.
“Africa contributes less than 4% of carbon emissions, but we are the ones who suffer the most,” he said at the beginning of the summit. “The future is at stake, mainly (for) young children. We are not sure if they listen to us when we speak or if they just ignore us.”
In September, Namugerwa and Njuguna, along with Guileda Shafeekath Ashanti, 15, from Benin, were praised by Mozambican politician and humanitarian Graça Machel while addressing an ACPF conference on climate change and children’s rights.
“These three are taking responsibility,” Machel, Nelson Mandela’s widow, said at the event in Ethiopia after inviting them onstage. “They are leading, they are driving, they have a vision of where this continent of ours should go.”
Questioning Western narratives
In Nigeria, Lekwa Hope Anya’s version of climate activism is more behind the scenes and mostly done sitting in front of a computer screen.
Having been inspired to pursue climate justice in 2017 by a university course on global development, the 22-year-old now works for SUSTYVIBES, a youth-led group developing sustainability projects in communities across Nigeria.
“There is a lot of work to be done on climate change communication,” said Anya, a researcher who leads a team seeking to make it simple and fun to communicate on the topic, whether through Instagram Live sessions or podcasts.
For example, he said he had recently been explaining to Twitter users how the impacts of climate change, from lack of water to land, were fueling insecurity in northern Nigeria.
Anya is also part of the Loss and Damage Coalition, a group of 530 young people from over 40 countries, demanding action to address loss and damage caused by climate change.
Climate negotiators agreed at COP27 on Sunday to start discussions on a “loss and damage” financing plan to help poorer countries recover from losses.
“While money goes into adaptation, it is loss and damage that is often neglected, particularly most regions of the Global South have a peculiar case in that it is so often overlooked,” Anya said.
Regarding the summit itself, Anya said that “it is not enough for us to have a meeting on climate change once a year”.
“It’s something we should take seriously all year,” he said.
Ahead of COP27, Kenya’s Njuguna said she believed Africa is suffering from two different kinds of climate injustice.
The continent is being disproportionately affected by the polluting activities, and climate inaction, of Western countries, while the stories of environmental activists in Africa focus on white narratives, Njuguna said.
“We need the stories of the people in the Global South who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, the ones on the front lines, because their stories represent the reality of what the climate crisis really is,” he said.