On the Campaign Trail: the New Generation of Powerful African Women Stepping Up to Save the Planet

On the Campaign Trail: the New Generation of Powerful African Women Stepping Up to Save the Planet

Everyone’s heard of Greta, but less familiar are the names of a new generation of powerful African women stepping up to the plate and making it their business to protect some of their continent’s most threatened environments. Here’s one pioneer you should know about.

one of a new generation of forward-looking African
eco-campaigners who are making it their mission to protect their
threatened continent.

Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate began her activism back in 2019, staging
a solo climate protest at the gates of the Ugandan parliament. One
of the young climate activists chosen to speak at the COP25
gathering in Spain, and one of 20 climate champions who penned a
letter addressed to the participants of the World Economic Forum in
Davos, calling on them to stop subsidising fossil fuels, she is a
powerful reminder that we all have an effect on the future of our
planet – and that positive change is possible if we act now.

Vanessa Nakate

Climate activist, Uganda

“We can’t solve a problem if we don’t know that it exists,” says
25-year-old Ugandan eco-activist Vanessa Nakate, a COP veteran who
has made it her mission to bring Africa’s environmental crisis to
the world stage. “By leading climate action initiatives,” she says,
“I am helping bring them into the limelight.”

Nakate grew up in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, which borders Lake Victoria. It is a
city whose financial district – all glassy skyscrapers and buzzy
international commerce – gives way to rolling hills dotted with
red-roofed villas and ancient acacia trees. Prior to graduating
from Makerere University Business School, Nakate started looking at
the problems faced by Uganda, finding that in the north,
communities were suffering with long dry spells; in the east, with
landslides and floods. She concluded that climate change was the
biggest threat facing humanity, and, also, that it was women who
were bearing the brunt of its effects.

Interviewed in 2020 by Angelina Jolie for Time magazine, Nakate
explained: “In my country, they never allowed girls to climb trees,
mainly because it would take their dignity and values, as we were
told. But then, during a flood, the fastest way to survive, if you
cannot swim or if you cannot escape, is by climbing a tree until
help comes.”

If we don’t address the issue of racial justice, we won’t be able to get climate justice

Nakate was Uganda’s first Fridays for Future activist,
protesting for several months outside the gates of the Ugandan
parliament, and went on to found the Rise up Climate movement,
which aims to amplify the voices of African activists. She is also
the driving force behind Save Congo Rainforest, a major campaign to
protect the land from catastrophic deforestation.

Home to thousands of unique species, including elephants,
chimpanzees and rhinos, and ecosystems including savannah, coastal,
lowland and swamp forests, Congo holds around 8 per cent of the
world’s forest-based carbon. Nakate argues that the countries and
corporations largely responsible for greenhouse emissions should
compensate African countries for the loss and damage they are

Currently working on a project to install solar energy and
stoves in Uganda’s schools, she’s also passionate about creating
self-empowerment in a system blighted by a history of white

“If we don’t address the issue of racial justice, we won’t be
able to get climate justice,” she says. “So, every climate activist
should be advocating for racial justice because if your climate
justice does not involve the most affected communities, then it is
not justice at all.”

Oladosu Adenike

Eco-Feminist, Nigeria

Having studied at Nigeria’s University of Agriculture, where she
earned a first-class degree in agricultural economics, Oladosu
Adenike, who’s now 27, was well placed to comprehend the negative
impact of climate change on her country – a land renowned for its
wildlife reserves, waterfalls, rainforest, savannah and rare
primate habitats.

In 2014, while Adenike was still a student, 270 girls were
kidnapped from their schools in the Nigerian town of Chibok,
sparking the Bring Back Our Girls movement. “I started to do some
research on what had happened and found out that the depletion of
Lake Chad was a major factor,” she explains. “There was so much
insecurity as a result of all the displacements and crises going
on… I started educating people who were seeing these issues as
political or tribal, making sure they know that the underlying
problem is climate change.”

Spurred on, Adenike became the initiator of Nigeria’s Fridays
for Future movement, and was soon advocating action on climate
change in schools and communities. But it was her address at
Madrid’s COP25, about how the climate crisis is affecting lives in
Africa, that brought her into the spotlight.

Adenike calls herself “the eco-feminist”, having realised – as
did Vanessa Nakate – how climate change disproportionately affects
women and girls. Globally, 80 per cent of those displaced due to
climate-related factors are female. “Despite having the lowest
carbon footprint, women experience land poverty, food poverty, time
poverty and energy poverty,” she says. “Women need to be
change-makers and voices in their communities. The more we involve
women in issues of local and national importance, the bigger [the]
change we will see.”

Adenike is also the founder of I Lead Climate, a youth-led
movement raising awareness about climate change-induced problems.
Its main goal is to campaign for the restoration of Lake Chad –
which has shrunk by 90 pent as a result of climate change – and
stress the importance of implementing green politics in democratic
institutions Africa-wide.

“If Africa is not safe, nowhere in the world is safe,” says
Adenike. “We need everyone on deck, regardless of our differences,
because climate change needs global action. Everybody is needed at
this moment in the fight for climate justice, regardless of who you
are, where you are from or what you do.”

Elizabeth Wathuti

Environmentalist, Kenya

Conservation campaigner Elizabeth Wathuti grew up in Kenya’s
Nyeri County, an area known for having the highest forest cover in
the country. She planted her first tree aged just seven, thanks to
a scheme set up by her local MP, Wangari Maathai – the first
African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – and went on to
establish an environmental association in her secondary school.

Wathuti founded the Green Generation Initiative in 2016 as a
means of addressing the challenges that she has identified with
since childhood, namely deforestation, climate change and
pollution. Its focus is on nurturing young eco-enthusiasts,
greening schools, reducing food insecurity through the planting of
fruit trees and promoting forestation via an adopt-a-tree

Now 26, Wathuti has become a powerful voice in the international
environmental movement. Last year, she addressed delegates at the
COP26 conference in Glasgow on the challenges her country faces –
including the fact that, in the midst of an ongoing drought, the UN
expects 2.4 million Kenyans to struggle to find food this year – up
from 1.4 million a year ago.

Alongside her work on the Green Generation Initiative, Wathuti
is head of campaigns at the non-profit Wangari Maathai Foundation,
where she runs the Daima coalition for the protection of urban
green spaces. Her priority is in teaching her fellow Kenyans about
the connections between climate change, poverty, education and
employment. “It’s about leaving no one behind,” she says.

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