Cape Town — AllAfrica’s Jerry ChifambaWith Cynthia KinyeraA young Ugandan man who was one of few who defended Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from harsh tweets after Nakate claimed that Ugandans are dying due to the climate crisis in East Africa.
Please explain how has climate change affected Uganda.
Uganda has been severely affected due to the climate crisis. We have seen an alarming increase in extreme weather events such as floods and landslides over the past few years which has resulted in thousands of people being displaced. We also see a shift in the seasons, which has resulted in food shortages. This is because it affects both farming and the livelihoods of farmers. The climate crisis is responsible for most of these events. There are many more examples, but these are the ones that come to my mind.
What’s Vanessa Nakate’s popularity in Uganda, and what’s her work?
Because she is a new mainstream public figure, her popularity is still very low. Although she has received media coverage before, most Ugandans only heard about her after she appeared on the cover TIME magazine two weeks ago. Prior to that, she was mainly known within the circles of people interested in environmentalalism. I believe that a lot of the feedback she has received recently has been positive, as she represents us on international platforms that very few Ugandans can reach. In 2019, she was the first Fridays For Future branch to be established in Uganda. It is an international group founded by Greta Thunberg to protest the global climate crisis. She was also the founder of the Rise Up Movement and has done a lot in activism here and abroad.
Why do ordinary Ugandans reject her efforts? Is she getting support locally?
It is mostly ignorance and a little bit of a skepticism that someone might misrepresent facts to get fame or money. But, there have been cases where this has happened before.
Most Ugandans are not aware of the climate crisis. It is also a mystery to them why someone would get so much attention for something they do not understand. Climate issues are rarely discussed in schools and very few people discuss them in the media.
People are aware of the effects of the climate crisis, but they aren’t aware. They see houses and roads being swept away by floods, they notice food shortages, and they notice that no one can tell which season it is anymore. Because they don’t have the education to make sense of this, they can’t connect two and two to see that all these things have a common cause.
Some people believe in an adulterated version of nationalism, in which they don’t want Ugandans saying anything negative about Uganda publicly. They conclude that Vanessa is making the country look bad to foreigners when she criticizes the government’s handling of the climate crisis. This is a very negative way to think about any type of progress.
Although I believe she has received support, I am unable to speak for her exact amount. I don’t know her personally, and she has only recently become a prominent public figure. She must have received significant support to reach these large platforms or international conferences, so it makes sense. Because climate activism is so difficult to reach an audience for, I’m certain she received significant pushback.
How much is it able to act on the climate crisis and spread awareness?
Very little. There have been many government environmental campaigns and projects over the years. However, most of them have been poorly planned or simply done for the sake. It is shocking to see how little awareness there is about climate change in Uganda.
What message would you like to share with young people about climate change?
I’m many things. I’m a woman, a writer and someone who cares about the environment. But in this context, I’m a Ugandan. My advice to you is: Take responsibility. The climate crisis is real. It is not in the distant future. It is here, right at this moment. It is already happening in Uganda right now, if you take the time to research the facts or visit the local communities to talk to people. Vanessa did not exaggerate. Yes, people have lost their livelihoods and died as a result. And if society doesn’t make drastic changes immediately, there will be more deaths. It affects everyone to some extent, even those who don’t realize it. Some of the effects may not be reversed soon. Climate activists are often told not be alarmist but sometimes the truth is alarming. These facts are not meant to scare anyone. They are meant to inform them about the reality. There is still some hope. The crisis can be avoided if we put in the effort.
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Why did you choose Vanessa Nakate to defend?
In all honesty, I was angry. Those comments really upset me and I debated whether to tweet at all. I was annoyed that people tried to discredit someone, who had spent years fighting for a cause that affected all of us. Their tweets were a waste of time that could have been spent searching for Vanessa and her work.
Climate activism is a challenging task that can drain a person. When I first became aware of the climate crisis, it was a difficult topic to understand. I spent a lot time researching it and tried to spread awareness online. I was met with overwhelming disinterest. It is shocking to see how little people care about the climate crisis, which is the only problem that affects all human beings on Earth.
I lost my steam eventually, but I always hoped to do more. This is why Vanessa Nakate inspires me. She has the strength, perseverance, and determination to work for the greater good.