‘We, too, want to be heard,’ young African climate champions cry out

Tuesday March 10 2020

'Fridays for Future' coordinator Hilda Flavia Nakabuye holds a sign during the global 'School Strike for Climate' in Kampala, Uganda on May 24, 2019. PHOTO | THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION


For a long time, the climate change conversation has been dominated by scientists and technocrats who use concepts and language that are easily ignored by ordinary folks going about their lives.

Youths across the globe have now changed the language, and 2019 was a pivotal year in that sense. The Fridays for Future movement, pioneered by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, sparked climate concern, interest and youth activism around the world, including in African states. Their voices are putting emotional pressure on policymakers and world leaders to take climate action seriously if they care for future generations.

Eighty per cent of African youth are today anxious about climate change, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); 86 per cent worry about water shortages, while 79 per cent are concerned about plastic waste; and 53 per cent believe that ecological preservation is more important than increasing farm harvest.

Many youths across the African continent are refusing to worry in polite passivity. They are getting involved in actively leading the global climate agenda in their own countries and in their own ways.

Take, for example, Fatou Jeng from the Gambia. She has single-handedly secured high level political support and is currently organising a National Youth Conference on Climate Change in the Gambia with backing from the Minister of Environment.

There is also Deon Shekuza (Namibia) who continues to use his voice as a youth environmental advocate to champion climate action and sustainable development in Africa.


In East Africa, Gisore Nyabuti (Kenya), the founder of the Kibera-based initiative, Slum Going Green and Clean (SGGC) together with his peers inspire slum communities to take climate change seriously. They collect household waste at a fee, and recycle the waste by creating art pieces including newspaper bags, decorated bottles, post cards, among others.

There is also Chiagozie Udeh (Nigeria) who took up an incredible task as the Global South Focal Point, leading the youth constituency at the UNFCCC (YOUNGO) in 2019. He ensured that youth from the global south and north worked together during the climate negotiations (COP25) in Madrid last year.

Then there are the pioneers of climate petitions and climate marches from the All in for Climate Action Movement and the Fridays for Future Movement in Eastern Africa: Jay Ralitera (Madagascar), Hilda Nakabuye (Uganda) Miriam Van Den Berg (Kenya), Ghaamid Abdulbasat (Tanzania) just to mention a few.

They have all dared to follow the example of their European peers by organising Friday afternoon school strikes or publishing online petitions for climate adaptation.

Vanessa Nakate (Uganda) is the founder of the Rise Up Movement Africa. She stood up against exclusion and lack of diversity in the coverage of young climate activists from Africa, after she had been cropped from a picture published in an article by AP News.

African youth involvement in climate action comes with its unique challenges. Youth-led climate actions such as marches, initiatives and innovations have mainly been covered by international, but not local, media. Climate stories from youth in vulnerable communities are rarely recognised.
More politically, most of the youth negotiators during climate negotiations were from the global north.

Although Nigeria had a youth negotiator during COP25 for the very first time, only the Seychelles government mentored their young climate champions and gave them party badges with access to the climate negotiations during COP25 in Madrid. Other African governments should now follow suit.

More broadly, youth climate activism is a growing practical movement. They are recycling and upcycling, creating green spaces and planting trees, while raising awareness where they live.

Importantly, these sustainable practices are also generating income for many unemployed youths. Their actions are influencing the older generation, including their parents and their governments. They are taking advantage of international and regional summits.

The Africa Climate Week scheduled for April, in Kampala, offers a perfect opportunity for an intergenerational dialogue on combating climate change in Africa.
What if 2020 was our last real chance to tackle the problem?

As recent extreme weather shows, climate change is not just a change in weather patterns; it is an immediate crisis harming human life and the health of the planet as seen in the African locust invasion linked to climate change.

Climate action now helps us adapt and avoid an even more devastating future. Africa may be a minor contributor to global carbon emissions, yet the continent is among the most affected by climate change. That is why all of us need to tackle the causes and consequences of climate change.

African youth want to be an active part of the solutions. We see the suffering already coming from climate change.

African children and youth should not have to suffer from the same effects. As described in the Youth All in for Climate Action Call online petition, the climate is at a tipping point. Today’s actions will determine tomorrow’s future.

Amayo Passy is a programme officer, leading the Sustainable Energy Futures Programme at the Society for International Development. Twitter: @p_amayoO | e-mail: [email protected]