The new faces of the climate fight in Africa

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From Senegal to South Africa via Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya, The World Africa met five activists who are mobilizing locally, on the ground, within movements rooted on the continent. Portraits.

Ayakha Melithafa, South Africa

In search of a “social pact”

Ayakha Melithafa, in Davos (Switzerland), January 20, 2020.

At 19, Ayakha Melithafa is the South African counterpart of Greta Thunberg. In September 2019, alongside the Swedish activist, she was one of sixteen young people who filed a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for climate inaction against five states (France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey) .

Ayakha, however, did not follow Greta’s call to skip school. “It’s not ethical”, she explains to the New York Times, to encourage children to skip school when their parents are bleeding to pay school fees.

In this fight, the South African wants to be the voice of people of few, people of color, small farmers. Those who are the first affected by climate change but we never hear.

The young woman became aware of the problem in 2017, when the threat of a water shortage in Cape Town, where she lives, made headlines around the world. A year later, her mother, who owns a small farm in the Eastern Cape Province, struggles with the drought as white farmers a short distance away dig boreholes on their large farms.

In December 2020, she became the youngest member of the Presidential Climate Commission intended to build a “social pact” around a “just climate transition” in South Africa, 12e greenhouse gas emitter in the world, more than 80% of which depends on coal for energy.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The lawyer of “mother nature”

Congolese lawyer and activist Irène Wabiwa Betoko.

In some villages of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the edge of forests, small “Irene” grow up. They were named in honor of “Mama Irene”, when she defended the inhabitants threatened with famine by deforestation. At the time, Irène Wabiwa Betoko was one of the few to survey these remote communities which “See foreigners cutting down their forests”. We are hardly used to seeing women speak there. For many, “Mama Irene” becomes a hope. “My greatest pride”, dit Irène Wabiwa Betoko.

In 2008, the lawyer participated in the creation of Codelt, one of the first Congolese associations to defend the rights of communities affected by logging. It gives a voice to villages rarely consulted by industrialists, in defiance of the law. At best, some offer “Ten bags of salt, a bicycle and a box of soap”, she laments, instead of appropriate infrastructure.

Read also The Congo Basin, the world’s second carbon sink, between preservation and exploitation

Since then, his fight has evolved from the defense of the law to that of “Nature as mother”. In 2010, she joined Greenpeace, where she led the fight against deforestation in the Congo Basin, the planet’s second lung after the Amazon, whose peatlands alone contain 30 billion tonnes of CO.2. The cuts are accelerating under the effect of development policies, in particular. Logging, agriculture, mining and now the oil industry threaten these nearly 300 million hectares of rainforest spanning six countries.

Elizabeth Wathuti, Kenya

In the footsteps of Wangari Maathai

Elizabeth Wathuti, during the Youth4Climate conference which preceded the COP26, in Milan, on September 28.

You can be 26 years old, be a new face of environmental activism in Africa and claim your elders first. Such is the case of 26-year-old Kenyan Elizabeth Wathuti. The young woman has always claimed to be inspired by the biologist and veterinarian Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), Nobel Peace Prize 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development and democracy, and to want to perpetuate the work of this founder. the Green Belt Movement, which has inspired thousands of women to plant trees in Kenya since the late 1970s.

Elizabeth Wathuti grew up in Nyeri County (center), the most forested region in the country. A place that nourished its “Connection with nature”, as she readily points out, recalling that she planted her first tree at 7 years old. In this country severely damaged by deforestation, in 2016 she created the Green Generation Initiative. Objective: to green schools and provide environmental education to children to bring out the activists of tomorrow. With around 40 volunteers, his organization is proud to have already planted more than 30,000 trees.

Winner of various awards, Elizabeth Wathuti is now a regular guest of international climate raids. At the pre-COP in Milan in early October, his portrait was displayed in large format in the conference hall, accompanied by a quote in the form of a manifesto: “I grew up knowing that I needed nature for my survival, health and well-being. ”

Djiby Niang, Senegal

Agroecology to make Dakar green again

Djiby Niang, director of the Senegalese branch of the association Young volunteers for the environment.

For Senegalese Djiby Niang, it all started when he had to move to Dakar for his studies. “I went from the nature of Casamance, where I grew up, to a big city dominated by concrete. I decided to participate in greening the capital ”, explains the 34-year-old activist, who in 2013 took over as head of the Senegalese branch of the association Young volunteers for the environment.

Read also African youth on the climate front

Created in Togo, this movement supports young people to take ownership of the challenges of climate change. In Senegal, “In the face of deforestation, we have carried out reforestation and agroecology actions”, explains Djiby Niang. Another area of ​​action is waste management. The association fought for a law against plastic to be passed in 2020, and is now mobilizing against galloping coastal urbanization.

Activist considers COP26 to be a decisive moment “Where the decisions taken must involve all countries, North and South”. He also insists on the need to include young people in the negotiations, who will be the first victims of climate change. He also notes that their commitment has grown for ten years, with the proliferation of associations for the defense of the environment. “We will be the decision-makers of tomorrow who will have to solve these problems, now is the time to take the lead”, he claims.

Adenike Oladosu, Nigeria

An ecofeminist battle

Adenike Oladosu, founder of the I Lead Climate eco-feminist campaign.

One certainty structures Adenike Oladosu’s action: there can be no ecology without feminism since women are, according to her, almost always the first victims of climate change. This Nigerian 27-year-old recalls that desertification and the disappearance of natural resources inevitably generate instability and violence. With intimate consequences on the lives of the most vulnerable, like these Sahelian women forced to walk for miles to find water.

Adenike Oladosu founded the I Lead Climate campaign to bring the voice of young Africans to international bodies. The “Activist for climate justice” advocates in particular for the restoration of the resources of Lake Chad, whose surface area has decreased by 90% since the 1960s. Some 30 million people live in the basin of this Lake Chad, and an estimated 2.4 million the number of residents who have already been forced to leave their lands and homes. It is also in this region plagued by violence from jihadist groups that 276 high school girls were captured in 2014 in Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria, by the Boko Haram group. “I see this as a consequence of the climate crisis facing Nigeria. It is this disruption that creates the conditions for such horrors ”, considers Adenike Oladosu, proudly claiming to be the “Africa’s first ecofeminist”.

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The new faces of the climate fight in Africa