Uganda’s Young Climate Activists Are Going on Strike

Uganda’s Young Climate Activists Are Going on Strike

Uganda’s Young Climate Activists Are Going on Strike

And they’re bringing a message: though Africa contributes the least to fossil-fuel emissions, it is one of the most vulnerable continents.


Vanessa Nakate, a 22-year-old recent university graduate from Uganda, often posts photos of herself holding a sign on Twitter. Sometimes she’s outside sitting, other times she’s standing. In most of them, the sign reads: “Green Love, Green Peace; Beat Plastic, Polythene, Pollution; Climate Strike Now.”

The Kampala based post-grad is part of a chain of youth-led global climate strikes urgently calling for lower carbon emissions, climate equity, and renewable energy to mitigate climate disaster.

Last year, Nakate became aware of the Fridays for Future climate strikes after seeing online posts of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg refusing to go to school over the lack of action to mitigate climate disaster. Seeing the huge number of European students protesting on social media, Nakate began to look for activists in Africa.

She couldn’t find any.

“I really look for activists in Africa,” she said in a recent interview for Climate Kids. “I’ve really been looking.”

Nakate decided to get started herself.

“At first, it was my siblings for my very first climate strike,”she told StudentNation in an e-mail. “ I do [the strikes] alone for now except for the Sunday strike, a friend of mine always joins me.”

Nakate also decided to strike after learning from her uncle how rain patterns have changed in the last 20 years. Farmers in Uganda used to look forward to January rains to water their crops, but, Nakate says, that’s not the case anymore.

Nakate says she’s afraid for the future of her country. Several countries in Africa, including Uganda, are at risk of desertification, a process where previously fertile agriculture land slowly becomes a desert. Desertification is often a result of droughts, elevated temperatures, and deforestation—all of which are connected to climate change.

Developing nations like Uganda contribute the least to the fossil-fuel emissions that are spurring climate change but are having to deal with its consequences. Several countries across Africa have already seen widespread loss of farmland, dead livestock, and mass starvation. Desperate communities that are grappling with these changes are also being thrust into conflicts over land use and dwindling resources.

“We have experienced immense heat in the month of January, and also February is very hot,” she said. “These also lead to food insecurity [because] agriculture is affected when there is too much heat.”

Nakate says she hopes to garner enough attention to eventually hold larger protests and climate events in Uganda. Right now, she says, too many people she knows don’t know enough about climate change.

“They are shocked to know that current situations are a result of climate change,” she said. “Some are supporting [her strike] though I wish they could join us in striking,”

In a recent interview with Climate Kids, Nakate noted how most of the Friday for Future marches and climate coverage have come out of Europe. They were small at first, focused around Thunberg and students protesting coal usage at COP24 in Poland. Now they’re drawing huge crowds of students who are shutting down streets, holding signs, chanting, and demanding that politicians protect their future.

Nakate is excited to see that energy spreading in Africa. She still strikes on her own most days—but she’s starting to feel less alone

In the last few weeks, Natake has seen photos of other students in her area protesting together. Activists have even started their own Ugandan chapter of Fridays for Future. Since January, they’ve posted photos on Twitter of students holding signs and striking from their schools, And many young Ugandan activists are also using the #FridaysForFuture and #KeepMamaAfricaGreen hashtags. Some young activists have used Twitter to encourage other students to become activists. And a growing number of students have also recently announced that they’ll be participating in the upcoming global protest.

On March 15, students in Jinja, Uganda will protest alongside other student activists around the world for climate justice. So far, over 500 events are planned worldwide. And though the majority of the events are in Europe and the United States, there are now events scheduled in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Nakate says she likes to think that her persistence has inspired fellow young Ugandans to hit the streets like their European counterparts. And though there aren’t thousands of students blocking roads in Africa—as was the case recently with students in Brussels —their numbers are rapidly growing.

“Climate change is dangerous for us all,” she said.“Its final blow will be unknown if we do not do something about it.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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