Sun, Oct 20, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Climate activists in Africa are struggling to be heard

CHALLENGES:Those in countries such as Tonga, where the government has cracked down on rallies, have to look at different ways to raise awareness about climate change


Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a climate strike at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta, on Friday. The bold tactics employed by young demonstrators in the West do not readily translate to the rigid hierarchies of societies in Africa, where challenging elders is often a taboo.

Photo: Reuters

As Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion inspire climate protesters across the globe, young African activists say they still struggle to make themselves heard.

“No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa,” the UN Environment Program said as it warned of increased flooding, widespread food insecurity and major economic losses.

However, awareness remains low and a study from research institute Afrobarometer in August said that four in 10 Africans have never heard of climate change.

At the Climate Chance Summit Africa conference in Ghana’s capital, Accra, from Wednesday through Friday, hundreds of campaigners, local government officials and businesspeople from across the continent sought a way forward.

Togolese activist Kevin Ossah, 22, led a mock UN debate that pitched participants playing the role of major polluters such as the US against those set to bear the biggest burden of the crisis.

He said he admires the huge crowds taking to the streets from Sydney to Stockholm, but in his West African homeland — ruled by an authoritarian regime that has cracked down on protests — that is not really an option.

“As youth, we can’t be putting our lives in insecurity by entering roads and doing something that Greta is doing,” Ossah said.

Instead, he plans to focus on more practical steps, such as planting trees, educating rural communities and writing to leaders calling for action.

“I think the thing we can do is use communication and digital communications skills,” he said. “We have to share information and let other people know about us and share the efforts that we are doing.”

Africa produces only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the fight against climate change is often seen as an issue more for people living in the developed economies of Europe, North America and Asia.

However, those attending the conference insisted awareness could grow if local officials and activists focus on the problems Africans confront every day.

Akwannuasah Gyimah, municipal chief executive of Asokwa in central Ghana, said he was committed to increasing education about climate change to his constituents.

As a starting point he wants to target the poorly maintained vehicles that belch acrid black fumes into the faces of passersby in his region.

“It is difficult to deal with this situation because the people don’t even understand what it means,” he said in reference to the environmental effect.

Former Beninese minister of the environment, housing and urban planning Luc Gnacadja said that one problem is the lack of access to information and education on the issue.

Young people need localized data about the effect that climate change is having on populations and the economy to help lead the fight, he said.

Crowds have taken to the streets in some African cities as part of the global protest movement — but their numbers have been tiny compared with elsewhere.

The bold tactics employed by young demonstrators in the West do not readily translate to the rigid hierarchies of societies where challenging elders is often a taboo, Gnacadja said.

“They can’t just go ahead and speak like Greta Thunberg, of course, the youth in Africa will have difficultly to say ‘how dare you,’” he said.

Those challenges do not seem to faze Patience Alifo, 23, from Ghana.

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