Growing youth activism for environmental protection in Africa

07Apr 2020
Nairobi
The Guardian
Growing youth activism for environmental protection in Africa

THE mining sector in Africa is facing radical change as youth activists take action against the environmental degradation caused by mining industries. Tensions between activists and the mining industry have raised, however, concerns over human rights abuses.

Yusuf KanoteHuka has worked as miner for the last 30 years, in Mungama ridge, Taita-Taveta County in Kenya

Kenya’s National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders reported, for instance, cases of harassment and intimidation “against at least 35 environmental activists” in 2018. There are also legal maneuvers that still limit activists’ right to protest.

As conflict grows, some municipal governments are trying to enforce ambiguous legal measures, like unjustified arrests, to prevent demonstrations.

Undeterred, young activists are finding a way to make their voices heard all over Africa, including Kenya. An organization called Youth County Projects Kenya, led by social entrepreneur Mbiti, has been using surveys to collect data from over 100,000 young Kenyans on their biggest social concerns ranging from healthcare to corruption.

This provides young people with a safe platform to make their voices heard. They are able to hold people to account and put pressure on policy makers to address their concerns.

Similarly, Kaliki Paul Mukutu, a young Kenyan activist who is passionate about environmental justice, has been working with a global group called 350.org.

Their current campaign, “DeCoalonize”, pushes for more investment in renewable resources and away from the fossil fuel industry:“We do this by organizing community action, where we work with marginalized and local groups to create awareness and hear what they want in the communities and how they want it to improve their livelihoods as opposed to it being a more mainstreamed and government project”, says Mukutu.

Inspired by growing up near the Ukambani zone in Eastern Kenya, he was shocked at the destruction of the natural landscape caused by the mining industry. He shares the ideals of many young activists in Kenya, believing that people should work towards a better, cleaner world and the only way to achieve this is to push for change from current practices.

Many young activists are working towards the same goal: having their voices heard and their needs addressed. Through their determination and collaborative work, real strides are being made towards positive change.

The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) is another youth-led network trying to raise awareness of environmental issues. Zelda Kerubo from AYICC explains that raising awareness among youths about the impact of mining is an important task but one that comes with challenges: people often discredit the young voices based simply on their age and young people are also forced to confront powerful individuals and large organizations.

But as she explains, they remain undeterred: “AYICC will continue raising awareness, continue reaching out to these communities, not only in Lamu and Kitui but also the society in general for us to be able to weigh in the benefits and the negatives of mining and so that we can be able to make an informed and a better decision that would be beneficial to all of us.”

She also believes one of the most important things is to create “a mental shift in all of us to understand that everyone can do something”.

Kaliki Paul Mukutu seems to speak for many other activists in Kenya when he said he believes that: “The youth in Africa are indeed comprising a huge fraction in their population, so it’s high time that we invest in them and try to give them the best years that they need in order to lead their country, be it in the mining sector or any other kind of an industry. We need to support youth inclusion and proper youth inclusion should be a focal point that everyone should consider as we develop as a nation.”

These organizations and their actions have all obtained extensive media coverage and initiated important discussions on the effects of the mining sector. Thanks to restless organizations, youths and other activists, the mining industry in Kenya is now under pressure to address its impact on the environment and on human rights.

While more work needs to be done to ensure that youth organizations can work without fear of intimidation and punishment, young activists have demonstrated that their voices can carry Kenya towards a more sustainable and just society.

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