Nairobi — Africa's young people are at the forefront by climate change action sweeping the world as climate change activists take charge where global leadership has failed. Makenna Muigai, the 17-year-old Kenyan climate activist and student at the Aga Khan Academy in Kenya, spoke with allAfrica's David Njagi about the locust invasion in East Africa, what African leaders need to do and how the climate crisis affects the peace agenda on the continent.
What sparked your climate activism?
I started lobbying about climate change about a year ago after a personal school project. Each student had to pick an original topic of interest. I chose the area of climate change. I conducted research from different organizations, websites, and books, to get information on the causes, effects and mitigation measures that young people we could take towards tackling the issue.
I contacted many organizations here in Kenya like the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace Africa, for my research. The biggest difficulty I experienced was being patient and waiting for responses. Sometimes I was disappointed because some organizations did not answer me back. I did not take that personally because they were probably really busy. But in the end I was able to get responses from WWF and Greenpeace Africa. From details I gathered, I realized I could not wait, but join the rest of the world in taking action against climate change.
What were your thoughts after completing the project?
After doing the project I became more aware that the small things I do have a big impact at the end of the day. For instance, I stopped eating beef because the beef industry is a large contributor towards greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation in some areas in the world.
What has changed since you became a climate change activist?
My mindset has changed a lot because I have become more aware of the impacts of the small things I do and things around me.
Like in school, I came to realize we actually don't have a bus transportation system, which means that every single parent drives their children to school in and out every day, twice a day. That is not really good for the environment.
As a school, the management should be taking action towards raising awareness about climate change and the environmental impacts.
How can raising awareness on climate change help in stabilizing vulnerable communities in Africa?
It is important for people, especially those people living in rural areas, to understand they are probably going to be the most affected by climate change itself.
If they were educated about this, I believe they would be more aware of what they are doing and would probably stop using charcoal more often. They would probably move to using clean energy such as solar power and wind energy.
But then again there is the issue of poverty and not everyone is able to afford renewable energy sources. It is a really hard issue to tackle here.
Also, raising awareness will increase the chances of more people to actually take action and take care of the issue of climate change.
How can integrating climate change issues into the school curriculum help people understand it?
Before I joined the Agha Khan Academy in Nairobi, I was studying at a school that was guided by the 8-4-4 system of education.
While in my previous school, I never heard of the terms climate change and global warming within the curriculum itself.
I feel that here in Kenya we are really lacking knowledge on the issue of global warming and climate change.
I believe the many students and pupils in Kenya who are enrolled under the 8-4-4 curriculum deserve to understand what is also happening globally.
This is because what is happening globally could at the end of the day impact what is happening in their own communities.
How would you like to be supported as a young climate activist in Africa?
I will be honest. I just recently got into the whole taking action towards climate change call and so it is hard for me to take as big of steps compared to someone like Greta Thunberg.
This is because she has the freedom to not go to school and is able to be heard by many politicians around the world. Here, I have so far only produced a video.
But I think everything starts small. First of all, I already have the support of my family.
Then I would like my school to support me by changing some policies within the school to become more ecofriendly.
Then from there who knows where this could go?
In countries like Kenya we face setbacks like corruption. People might not care about how climate change issues will affect a lot of young people in the future.
People care a lot about money instead of what the future generation is going to have.
How does your family support you?
After I participated in a January skype press conference last year, my parents became more aware how important the issue of climate change is.
During the press conference journalists from all over the world asked questions to climate activists here in Africa.
It seemed as if cutting her out the whole African continent of was being cut off. Like saying, we are not facing the issue as well.
After that press conference my parents came to understand that this is an actual issue and what I am doing is important.
How did you react to Vanessa Nakate being cropped out of the picture?
I think people in developed countries should not expect the same efforts that they are taking against climate change to be reflected here in Africa.
This is because we are also facing our own problems such as poverty, corruption, and xenophobia.
It is hard for us to take action when we have so many problems to tackle within our own countries.
But that should not be an excuse not to take action. Developed countries should be more understanding towards the fact that it is also hard for us.
Here in Africa we are at the forefront of the negative impacts of climate change. It will greatly impact the whole continent at large.
We probably need help from a lot of western countries that have money to fund organizations to bring more renewable sources of energy here, to help those that are not able to afford an ecofriendly lifestyle.
How do issues like corruption and climate change undermine peace in Africa?
On corruption, a lot of money will not go where it is supposed to go and therefore many people will be suffering while others are enjoying their lives. That will create great tension.
But even climate change itself can cause great tension here in Africa from maybe the voices of climate activists not being heard. That could create a divide within the society.
Also if people are not made to understand that this is an actual issue by politicians committing in their campaigns that they will take action towards the fight against climate change, then environmental conflicts that could arise.
For instance, there are a lot of protests by climate change activists because governments in the Congo Basin want to cut down trees in the Congo forest. That is also a big conflict we are facing.
Then there is the ethical conflicts that could arise because it is not right that we are ruining our planet.
We are slowly ending it and many peoples' lives will possibly become worse due to higher rates of death, higher chances of getting ill and stuff like that.
There are many conflicts that could arise from climate change causing food insecurity.
For instance, the recent locust invasion in eastern Africa could possibly cause food insecurity and destabilize farmers' incomes. This could bring more conflicts.
Would it have been possible to avoid the locust invasion?
Climate change has been an issue that has sparked conversations for some time now.
If people had taken action maybe 10 years ago we probably wouldn't be in the same situation that we are in now.
The locust invasion could have been prevented if we had followed their migration patterns. No one can really control them unless through scientific means.
How can everyone participate in the peacebuilding process on the continent?
I think everyone should understand that not everyone will be able to take as big as steps as other people towards tackling the conflict. So we should understand that even little efforts collectively could create a big change.
What else do you do when you are not a climate change activist?
School is everything for me right now because I am about to do my finals and so everything is focused towards that.
Your friends are supportive of your new passion?
I think they care about the environment and climate change but then again a lot of people do not really take action towards the things they care about.
There are many reasons as to why they may not be able to take action. Maybe it could be due to family influence or not knowing much about the topic.
In my friends' circle I seem to be the only one that has actually taken action. Maybe some of them have gone to plant trees somewhere.
I would want young people to crave the knowledge, wanting to know more about the issue and from there maybe they will understand that this will greatly impact our future.