Last week, I participated in the Youth and Climate Change meeting on the margins of the African Union Summit in Niamey, Niger. It is work which granted me an invitation by the United Nations (UN) to join other African Youth Leaders on Climate Change discussion during the AU Summit.
It was an incredible privilege to join this group of young African thinkers and doers, and I go as a representative of the young people of Uganda, who are passionate about making a difference and finding solutions to climate change.
This meeting was organised under the theme: “A Greener Africa; Activating the perspectives of youth, government, the private sector, civil society, and academia in Africa and the African Diaspora, to address climate change on the continent,” a continental initiative leading into the UN Climate Summit.
The objectives of the event were to facilitate the exploration of different stakeholders on climate change, to identify and activate actionable plans to combat the negative effects of climate change and improve the climate.
Highlight the important role of women and youth, and to develop effective partnerships and collaboration between stakeholders. Further also the adoption of the Niamey Youth Declaration on Climate Change, which will feed into the Youth Climate Summit later in September during the UN General Assembly.
My interest and passion in the global climate change discourse has made me pause to reflect on what it means to be a young global leader today. Slowly, I can see that the corridors of power peppered with isolated corner offices, drab suits and corporate lingo are on their way out. Nowadays, leaders come in all shapes, sizes and from all walks of life. They are among us, not above us. We are witnessing a new era of leadership, and we have much to celebrate. I strongly believe all future leaders must set out the role they choose to play in creating a sustainable future.
Uganda needs to nourish and focus on how to prepare a generation of climate change leaders who will make a difference in the climate change discourse. There are complex and overlapping reasons the climate negotiations in 2009 failed, but I think it all boils down to empathy or rather, the lack of it. Uganda needs to have empathetic leaders who are authentic, honest and visionary that truly cares about what they do.
There is also the need for bottom-up leadership. What if I told you that we already have the solution to climate change? Well, the truth is, we do.
Every year, I am filled with hope whenever I see the range of empowering innovations from all over the country and the world as many climate change innovators bring together the best available and scalable sustainable solutions. These are people who are tired of waiting for answers and are taking solutions into their own hands.
Activists such as Wangari Muta Maathai, a famous Kenyan social, environmental and political activist started the “Green Belt Movement” with a mission to restore degraded watersheds in Kenya. Bilikiss, who was sick of the chronic problem with trash in her home city of Lagos, Nigeria and started Wecyclers; Gayatri, who realised how dirty floors made families in Rwanda very ill, and helped start EarthEnable; people such as Eduardo, who saw how poorly our rooftops were maximising solar potential, and created Mapdwell.
The leadership pyramid has been inverted, and it is time to follow the inspiring lead of those at the bottom who are shaping our future for the better.
We are now in the era of sustainable leadership, where leaders collaborate and facilitate rather than dictate and decide. There is a world filled with young global leaders that truly care, that lead from bottom up, that believe in collaborations as a path to problem-solving, and that are bold enough to disrupt existing systems and structures.
I can’t wait to start working with them all. In Uganda, when it comes to climate change, there is no equivalent attention to the crisis. For some, there is no crisis at all. Our government and corporations are trapped in a feedback loop of “common sense” and mutual self-preservation that is little more than a modified form of pessimism.
I am of the passionate belief that we can and will prepare a strong climate change leadership. But to do this, we will need to first put our house in order and fast. It is time to make sharp demands of our representatives, time to remove those who refuse to act in our common interest, time to elect people with courage, ingenuity and discipline, people who will sacrifice pride, privilege and even perks for the sake of something sacred.
It is the soil under our feet, the water we drink, the air we breathe. Life is worth the fight.
But, with God, let us give our grief and fury some shape and purpose and reclaim our future together. Enough cowardice, Enough talking. Time for action is now!
Mr Bakaira is the CEO & Founder,
Youth Go Green Uganda.