Africa is Living the Climate Crisis


“We have to sit down and think about the root cause and attack these problems at the root. This is why movements are important. It is why protesting is important and we must continue to protest. We have to build our narrative, the future that we want, a future driven by our humanity and our relationship with Nature. We cannot just think of ourselves or today the way transnational corporations do. Or else there is no hope for the future.” – Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth

On the 22nd of August, the world (at least social media) was rocked by the news story that the “lungs of the planet” are burning. Thousands of fires are raging across the Amazon rainforest, with more than 74,000 fires recorded this year alone—nearly double 2018’s total of approximately 40,000 fires—and we are only just passed the halfway mark of 2019. All around the world, the news for the environment is dire. Just a few months ago, the world watched the reports ominous warning play out in real-time as Cyclone Idai rampaged through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving thousands dead, infrastructure destroyed, vast tracts of farm lands—the source of livelihoods for the majority of the peasant and rural populations in those areas—obliterated and close to 3 million people affected across the three countries.

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Last year, the director-general of the World Health Organisation put it succinctly in the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report: “The findings are clear and the stakes could not be higher. We cannot delay action on climate change. We cannot sleepwalk through this health emergency any longer.” The report lays out the impacts of global warming in unambiguous terms. “A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air,” it said.

In the face of this global catastrophe, WoMin gathered over 100 activists from across South Africa and around the continent at the Women’s Jail, on Constitution Hill, to grapple with the state of the continent in the face of a rapidly worsening climate crisis. The event speakers included, renowned Nigerian activist, Nnimmo Bassey of Health of Mother Earth Foundation; Flaida Macheze, a feminist organizer from the Mozambican National Farmers Union (UNAC - União Nacional de Camponeses, a member of La Via Campesina) in Mozambique and Rural Women’s Assembly; and Khadija Roba from Kenyan organization, Save Lamu.

Highlights from the dialogue

The panel event was an important moment to bring together activists that represent African communities resisting fossil fuels, agribusiness, large scale development projects, deforestation and more. They are pushing back against a development agenda that is destroying lives, lands and livelihoods for the sake of profit.

“Our politicians are selling our lives, selling our water, our land, our fish, out timber, our forests and they are enslaving rural communities.”– Flaida Macheze, UNAC

Macheze spoke to the need to support living alternatives, such as saving indigenous seeds and resisting industrial farming. Roba shared the inspiring story of Save Lamu’s recent victory against the encroachment of a Chinese-backed coal-fired power plant on the Lamu island archipelago along Kenya’s coast. Bassey emphasised the need for strong movements to counter the dominant development narrative that governments and corporations have imposed on the continent and its people. The discussion was followed by a special advance screening of Women Hold Up the Sky, which explores the impacts of dirty energy on women in Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through documenting their powerful stories of resistance and development visions.

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The urgency of the times in which we live cannot be underestimated. Now, more than ever, it is clear we must find ways to further harness the energy of resistance and struggle across the continent into a powerful African movement for climate justice. We also must deepen an African climate justice agenda that puts women’s voices at the centre and transitions away from destructive development while supporting communities to recover and build meaningful alternatives needed to survive the climate crisis.