Game changers: Vanessa Nakate, a voice for the climate

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Game Changers

By Julie Gonnet
Posted on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 11:09, updated on Friday, 31 December 2021 00:14

From Ugandan schools to the podium of COP26, this young activist warns us about the effects of climate change in Africa, and she does not hesitate to hold world leaders to account.

This is part 8 of an 8-part series

In 2020, Africa warmed up faster than the global average, though the continent is only responsible for 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. From flooding in the DRC; plagues of locusts spreading from Ethiopia to Uganda; fires in Algeria; to rising sea levels from Benin to Senegal, extreme weather events have multiplied. To make matters worse, the target of $100bn a year – accorded by the countries of the north (the main polluters) to those of the south (a quarter of which is for Africa) to enable them to adapt to climate change – has not been met.

At the COP26 podium on 12 November, 24-year-old Vanessa Nakate took it upon herself to remind them (countries of the north) of this 2009 promise and cast serious doubt on their 2021 commitments. “We don’t believe you anymore. Please prove us wrong, and if you fail, God help us,” she said.

Museveni and Biden

Eloquent and energetic on social networks, this young Ugandan activist is now at every international conference, yet it was only three years ago that she turned her attention to environmental issues. Realising the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, she began organising events and awareness-raising activities in schools. In 2019, she launched her own movement, Rise Up, before writing a manifesto, ‘An Ecology Without Borders’ (ed. Harper Collins, 2021).

When they erase me, they erase a continent.

She also wrote to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as well as his US counterpart Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, urging them to act. There was no response. Still, Vanessa Nakate has met with other activists. In January 2020, at the Davos forum, she was ‘cut out’ of a photo of the AP press agency where she was posing next to Greta Thunberg. This incident caused a stir, but it did not prevent her name from being regularly ‘omitted’ from the media coverage of COP26 in Glasgow. “When they erase me, they erase a continent,” says the young woman, for whom there is no climate justice without social and racial justice.

‘We are erasing a continent’

She rejects the label of ‘voice of Africa’ that is sometimes given to her, believing that it would erase the struggles of her African comrades – Kenyan Elizabeth Wathuti, Nigerian Adenike Titilope Oladosu, Zambian Veronica Mulenga or Togolese Kaossara Sani. However, in early October, on the cover and in the columns of the prestigious American magazine Time, she was indeed the face of the continent.

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