When it comes to climate change, what are the challenges and opportunities of the African continent? Food for thought comes from the Ugandan activist Rose Kobusinge, who explains how the climate crisis is affecting local communities. Her message, however, also aims to raise awareness on an own African development and social justice. The online interview was conducted with the purpose of understanding the point of view of a young Ugandan activist studying and living in the UK.
By: Alessandra Bonanomi
According to Rose Kobusinge, a 27 years-old Ugandan climate activist, there is not enough conversation about climate change in Africa. Both media and political leaders rarely talk about it either unless there is a catastrophic extreme weather event. Although most people in different parts of the continent are experiencing the consequences of the climate crisis, the majority of people are not aware of the concept of climate change or perceive it as far from their reality. “When I was growing up, my grandma would tell you the day in which it would start raining. I used to think she was magic. But right now she cannot predict the weather. She thinks it’s because God is punishing us for our sins”, Kobusinge said. Like Rose's grandmother, so many other Ugandans believe this.
Rose herself, who grew up in an agricultural family and community, experienced firsthand changes in the climate such as increasing droughts and floods without initially understanding why. It was only during her University education at Makerere University when she first heard about climate change which intrigued her to study for a masters’ in environmental change and management at the University of Oxford. “It's clearer than ever that my family and community in Uganda were (and are still) suffering the consequences of climate change. What makes me angry is the fact that a community like mine has very little to do with this climate crisis but the so-called wealthy nations are responsible for this existential threat.”
Moreover, because of the temperature rise, malaria, food insecurity and droughts got worse, and the ecosystem is damaged by new pests, weeds and insects. If in the so-called Global North people talk about cutting emissions, in the Global South (Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania) emissions are a distant concept. According to a 2021 survey promoted by the European Commission, 93% of people interviewed among the EU's twenty-seven member states consider climate change a serious problem and 78% consider it very serious. In the Global South, it’s a matter of life, survival, safety, human and child rights, water and food security, loss and damage. Hence, there is a gap between the Global North ambitions and the urgent need to limit climate change and build adaptive capacity and resilience.
Being able to raise awareness about climate change among Africans is very important for the continent, highlights Kobusinge. “To achieve this goal, political leaders, religious institutions (Christian churches and Islamic mosques), tribal kings and rural community leaders need to start talking about the climate crisis in their speeches and mainstream climate action in their operations. Although in recent years African climate activists have begun to talk about the issue, climate education in schools could teach these notions even to the youngest ones. Furthermore, the challenge of climate change can be seen as an opportunity in the creation of new professions for mitigation and innovation,” she adds.
Models of development
Uganda, like other African countries, also has problems related to energy production. In fact, less than 40% of Ugandans have access to electricity. In a country where energy is needed for the development of the economy and the improvement of the population’s condition, is it right to ask for emissions reduction? Kobusinge thinks leaders of many developing nations aspire to become like Europe and the United States, “following the same model of growth based on fossil fuels”. Africans themselves think that there is a link between well-being and fossil fuels, she explained, but not everyone thinks the same. "For African countries there is an opportunity to forge our own development path. Not following the extractive ways that colonialists used to develop their economies. We can create something in line with African values, protect our identity and our culture. Fossil fuels is a very colonialist thing and it keeps reinforcing the colonialist power”, says Kobusinge.
Africans have long been engaged in capitalism, but the type of capitalism introduced by colonialists has not always been aligned with African needs because it is driven by programs established outside the continent. These strategists see Africa primarily as a market for exploitation and are obsessed with the profits that come out of it. We can see all of that in some strategists of the multinationals operating in Africa. In fact, they promote the idea of corporate success and performance based on individualism and not on collective interests.
A successful case among African countries, highlights Rose, is that of The Gambia, the smallest country within mainland Africa, committed to increasing renewable energy and achieving the objectives set during the Paris agreement, an international treaty regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and finance. If The Gambia shows that it can embark on a new path for development, then other African countries will also follow the example, expects Kobusinge.
Rose considers that when it comes to new development models, it is also necessary to look at the evolution of society, trying to empower everyone, even the most marginalized groups. “Coming from my background, we see very concrete gender roles, so socially constructed. It’s the women who do the cooking. They bring food from the garden to the kitchen and to the table. Any disruption in agriculture that can influence the food system has consequences on women”, said Kobusinge.
This is why climate justice, the link between development and human rights to achieve a human-centered approach to addressing climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly, is an opportunity to change the system. “People say it’s system change not climate change because I do not think we are able to achieve anything if we continue working with the unfair system we have”, continues Kobusinge.
“We do not have any rights as people to mess up this world for the next generations. We do not have the right to destroy nature just because animals cannot talk. It’s our time to take this in our hands, demanding for climate justice, innovating for adapting to climate change, raising awareness both at local and international level and demanding our leaders to work on climate actions”, declared Rose. She then added: “It’s either a green future or green future. That’s what we want.”