Creating safe spaces for Africa’s climate activists

KATE OKORIE, BIRD STORY AGENCY

ON 15 November, somewhere on the planet, the eighth billionth member of the human race was born. It’s a huge population milestone and an opportunity for grim reflection: this child and its peers are beginning their lives on a warming planet ravaged by climate disasters.

But an increasing number of children and young people are not prepared to merely accept a potentially disastrous fate.

Kenyan activist Eric Njuguna is 20 years old. When they were just 15, their school’s water supply was severely affected by drought. This was the starting point of their activism.

“Young people are taking action to secure both our today and our future,” said Njuguna. And it’s not a part-time commitment: “(Young people do this) out of necessity as opposed to a hobby.”

Njuguna’s first step was to organise through Fridays for Future, the youth-led movement established by another activist, Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. They then co-founded the Kenyan Environmental Action Network, also led by young activists.

As was the case for many African activists, Njuguna and the Kenyan arm of Fridays for Futures struggled to obtain participation badges and funding to attend COP27 in Egypt.

“This year, some of the UN-accredited observer organisations received a lower quota, so when we reached out to them to support the activists with badges, we mostly got rejections. Some of the organisations we have been in contact with since last year had a significant drop in the number of badges allocated to them for COP27,” he added.

That’s a worrying trend, given how influential young people can be in shaping policy – the kind of policy that might make the world they are set to inherit an environmentally safer place.

When they are not engaging fellow young activists, you will find Njuguna executing their role as a youth consultant with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

“I work with UNICEF to see how we can engage young people on health and climate issues.”

However, their proudest moment in climate justice activism involves being part of a community of equally passionate activists. That community’s work is bearing fruits. COP27 is the first ever COP to have a pavilion dedicated to children and youth issues. Young activists also came together to create an annual Global Youth Statement and consistently call out governments that are not meeting their renewable energy targets.

“It is aggravating that leaders fail to take action at the scale that is needed, even after we’ve put ourselves out there,” Njuguna said. “That’s what makes community especially important: We are each other’s support system.”






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