African youth voices rising in environmental discourse

Wednesday August 12 2020

Today, August 12, marks the United Nations (UN) designated International Youth Day whose theme is: ‘Youth engagement for Global Action.’
As the world contends with not only the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, it is equally dealing with a climate one. The impacts of the latter have been felt even more extensively across the African continent, affecting mostly women, children and youth.

Many parts of Africa have suffered from extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, which in turn disrupt lives and livelihoods.
Per the UN demographics, the African Youth in 2019 already accounted for 60 per cent of the African population – making Africa a youthful continent.
It is no wonder that foundations such as the Nnabageraka Development Foundation in Uganda (started by the Nnabagereka herself), focuses on empowering youth and children alike for them to have a voice.

Founded exactly 20 years ago in 2000, the Foundation champions core values around the philosophy of Obuntubulamu (similar to Ubuntu). In a world that has led many young people to individualism, Obuntubulamu empowers young people around the power of community, equipping them with life-long skills towards societal engagement on social, environmental and economic issues – all pillars of sustainable development.

It is this kind of philosophy that attracted several UN agencies, including UNEP and other development partners, to work with the Nnabagereka Development Foundation. The UN acknowledges the relevance and importance of non-State actors as change agents within their communities for the benefit of mankind.

As the UN turns 75 years old later this year and with just under four months to 2021 for the final decade of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the moment for Africa to amplify its youth voice is now and mobilise towards meaningful action.

In fact, some of the most incredible and useful innovations have emerged from African Youth with many positively disrupting the norm as we know it.


In the last few years, the world has seen the rise in African youth voices, particularly in multilateral processes, especially around the climate change discourse.

Environmental degradation has been a complicating factor adding to impacts of climate change and as such the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) comes into effect January 2021 and African Youth were consulted extensively, adding their voices to this momentous decade. By 2030, many of these youth will be part of the decision-making processes within their respective countries and beyond, and by then, they will account for 75 per cent of Africa’s population.

It is on the heels of this decade that UN Environment’s multi-partner Network of African Women Environmentalists (NAWE) launched its Guardians4Earth and Landscape Guardian’s Campaign on April 22(Earth Day).

The campaign brings together both female and male Landscape Guardians from across the continent to work within their respective landscapes, support and undertake restoration and monitor this over the next decade (2021-2030).
The element of intergenerational learning is a critical one and as such, NAWE pairs a Landscape Mentor (someone with extensive technical experience) with a Landscape Guardian as part of a support system.

One such Landscape Guardian is the climate change activist and Ugandan Youth – Vanessa Nakate. Vanessa has added her voice to the global climate champions advocating not only for her community in Uganda, but also pertinent environmental issues across the Congo Basin, a region supporting over 40 million Africans.

Like many of her peers, she refuses to be peripheral and has been a part of this important discourse.
In looking forward to what will be the beginning a critical decade for the SDGs, the authors offer the following action points not just for Africa Youth, but also the leadership at all levels:

Be engaged: Both sides of the camp need to be engaged at the community level where most action is needed. For the African youth, you can no longer afford to be spectators of your own futures.
Be present: A lot of times, both leaders and youth, have felt that someone else needs to be the one involved in their issues. All need to be present and understand that even with issues such as climate change – we are all affected directly or indirectly.

Listen: Listening is a skill that needs to be practiced on both sides and something important for community cohesion and action, especially as it relates to restoration.

Our Actions matter: In many ways, Africa as a recipient of aid has suffered from the “saviour” syndrome. The pandemic in many ways has taught Africa lessons that action on the ground is truly dependent on the Africans themselves. And so we have to act based on the knowledge that has been passed on over the generations and, of course, scientifically sound.

Green Jobs are doable: Many across have seen the environment as a space that we just use and has nothing to do with job creation. But that is changing and thankfully, many youth are getting involved in issues such as circular economy and also restoration. Policies to support youth around green jobs will need to be relevant and inclusive.
In the wisdom of a Queen – The Nnabagereka – she has many a time said, “When we lose the very core of who we are through the loss of sincerity, kindness and humanity – we cannot be giving and caring of the Earth”.

We need to remember these core values and certainly how we instil them in the younger generation. At the end of it all, they matter for the conservation and restoration of our environment – that our very existence totally depends on. And as such, both the youth and older generation, need to remember this going forward.

We all know too well from the lockdown and experience from Covid-19, that going forward – how we take care of our common home matters for Global Action.

The Nnabagereka (Queen) of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda, Buganda Kingdom, Uganda. The article was co-authored by Dr Musonda Mumba, head of Terrestrial Unit, UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya, and Ms Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan Climate Change activist, Uganda.