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Dear African climate champions, do not shame us in Egypt with a green pity party

Saturday November 12 2022
Climate activists protest at COP27 summit

Climate activists stage a protest during the COP27 summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 11, 2022. Africa is making its case for climate justice at this year's UN climate summit. PHOTO | FAYEZ NURELDINE | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Africa is making its case for climate justice at this year's UN climate summit, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. African presidents are in the house, looking sharp.

The continent has been wronged. Africa accounts for 15 percent of the world's population but is responsible for only 3.8 percent of global carbon emissions — the lowest of any region. But even that is a little misleading; 48 sub-Saharan African countries, excluding South Africa, are responsible for a miserly 0.55 percent of cumulative CO2 emissions.

Despite polluting the world's environment the least, it suffers the worst of the climate change consequences. It is battered most by food insecurity, population displacement and water scarcity, and the data shows that more than half of African countries are likely to experience climate-related conflicts. The industrialised polluters of the West agreed to pay some kind of green reparations to the developing nations, but, typically, the cheques haven't come.

Climate financing

In Sharm el-Sheikh, African leaders are pressing them to fulfil their pledge of financing worth $100 billion a year to the developing world to combat the climate crisis. Africa's top moneyman, Akinwunmi Adesina, president of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), says that $100 billion is chump change. That Africa needs up to $1.6 trillion during this decade to implement the continent's commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

For all the climate sins against the continent, it is crucial that it does not fall into the familiar victim pattern. For starters, even if Africa got the $1.6 trillion, Dr Adesina says it needs to fight the climate crisis; it might not bring change for the better, except in half a dozen countries.

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As has happened with money to deal with health problems from the Global Fund and, more recently, to combat Covid-19, most of the money will be stolen by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and wasted by incompetence and bad policy.

There are paths to freedom from deprivation and suffering caused by climate change. Last year, there was a story out of Cameroon that should have been big but wasn't because it had no lipstick, masculine cologne, or Instragamable elements.

Refugee camp in a desert

It was about refugees in Minawao, Cameroon, who fled the violence of the extremist group Boko Haram in neighbouring Nigeria. The camp was established in a desert, the kind of place where people are starving to death in Ethiopia, Somalia, and northern Kenya as drought ravages their lands.

The people got to work with a bit of help from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Using "cocoon technology," where doughnut-shaped water tanks made from recycled cartons are buried, thus surrounding the plant's roots and feeding, they turned nearly 250 acres of the desert around the camp into a lush, green forest.

In four years, they created as good a life for themselves as they could. One of the proud volunteers said they had lots of shade from the sun, the soil had improved, and the trees had attracted water.

Two weeks ago, there was another story in The EastAfrican, toward the end of the book, as the journalists put it. It told the story of smallholder farmer Ethel Victor on the outskirts of Balaka Town in east Malawi. Ethel grows crops using little sprinkles from a small stream that flows through her village.

"Despite the hot weather and droughts that are common here, my field is always damp because I use manure that traps more moisture. It has also helped me treble my family's yield," she boasted.

Surplus food for sale

In the past, there were times when her family didn't have enough to eat. Today, they have surplus food for sale.

"This is the first time this is happening. In the past, our family was perennially hit by hunger," Ethel said.

The stream and wells from which they fetch water for their crops used to quickly dry up after the rainy season, due to overuse.

Today, less than a quarter of the water that used to go into the gardens is being drawn because the villagers in Balaka use a local manuere called Mbeya, which they concocted. It helps retain moisture and, in the process, lengthens the time the crops can stay without being irrigated.

How is Mbeya made? By mixing 20 kilogrammes of ashes, 10 kilogrammes of cow dung, and 10 kilogrammes of maise bran with five litres of water. The process is completed with either 10 kilogrammes of urea or nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) fertiliser.

No rain for decades

There are once-desert parts of Latin America where there has been no rain for decades, and the people don't realise it because they live in green towns and go to bed with full bellies. They get their water through "fog catching". Giant nets are put high up all over the place. They trap moisture from the air, turning fog into drinking and irrigation water.

Set in a dry, mountainous area, the world's largest functioning fog collection project is in Africa – in the Aït Baâmrane region in Morocco. The mountainous and hilly areas of drought-troubled Kenya and Ethiopia are even better suited to fog catching than Morocco and as good as the ones in Chile.

If Minawao, Balaka Town and Aït Baâmrane teach us anything, it is that governance reform, creative policy, and more democratic engagement with citizens are as important as money in Africa's climate change battle.


Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". [email protected]

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