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Kenyan youth tackles climate change

Kenyan Youth Groups

Recent cases of devastating floods and droughts are some of the major impacts of climate change in Africa that continue to negatively affect most Kenyans, especially those in rural and informal urban settlements. It is against this backdrop that the Kenyan youth seek to bring powerful change and communicate the necessity with which climate change must be addressed.

Again and again, youngsters feel marginalized and excluded on decision-making or policies that affect their lives through crucial industries – such as biodiversity, water, agriculture and tourism, among others. The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) is one of the platforms they have used to articulate concerns and contributions. This youth network with headquarters in Ghana comprises of more than 200 organizations, university students, schools, rural youth groups and like-minded individuals, since it was launched in Kenya in 2006. The launch happened after the second International conference on youth preceding the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), COP 12. Kenyans felt that they have been left suffering in problems that they did not create, but which generations to come will pay dearly for. Hence their demand for climate justice.

One of the core reasons behind the formation of the AYICC network was the need for inclusion and active participation of youthful voices from the Global South, especially Africa, in international climate change negotiations. A bulk of the population in Kenya is made up of young people; concurrently, a survey by Kenya Vision 2030 states that the youth make up 72 percent of the unemployed – the most affected by climate change impacts.

National youth climate change conferences or Kenyan Conference of Parties – as referred to by Brian Okoth, AYICC East African coordinator – have acted as forums used to participate in climate change policies and advocacy work from the grassroots to global levels. The first such conference was organized in 2008 by the Norwegian Church Aid – a development organization operating in Kenya since 1984 – which works around climate justice; both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Together with other similar youth organizations, AYICC Kenya joined the partnership in 2009. In the subsequent years they grew bigger and better and even formed branches in some of the 47 counties in Kenya.

A conference held in 2010 in Nairobi led to the birth of Kenya Youth Climate Network (KYCN) which also brings together youth organizations and networks who are committed on working on climate change, environment and governance issues from that specific demographic perspective. According to Julius Karanja, a member of KYCN, the group “is a hub of guys who think big and expand”. The group trains, mobilizes and supports youth countrywide to learn and create projects in their communities that deal with climate change. They also run advocacy projects at the national and county levels. Currently, the youth groups no longer hold national conferences but regional conferences due to a devolved system.

Among the greatest achievements of these groups is the organization of a successful caravan from Nairobi to Durban during the 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The two week drive, in a convoy of about 150 youth, was received by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations officials and African artists in a huge interfaith rally in Durban.

Under the theme We Have Faith: Act now for Climate Justice, the caravan held a series of rallies and concerts in all the countries they passed through on their way to Durban- South Africa. These were Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana. They also collected thousands of petitions from local youth organizations in each country to be presented during the climate change negotiations and also sensitized youth to act on climate change.

Despite facing challenges the determined youth did not let anything get in their way in the fight for climate justice. With no stable source of funding, acquiring visas through all the countries that the convoy passed though, coordination with other youth organizations in different countries, arriving in particular destinations on time, they conquered most odds and made it to Durban.

There hasn’t been a similar climate caravan before. It will be challenging, tiring, time- consuming, even strenuous but most significantly, it will be enlightening, impactful and world changing; and just maybe it’s the difference we’ve all been wanting to make……WE HAVE FAITH! – participant quoted in News from Africa, an online media agency.

Following this huge success, Kenyan youth groups seek to do something more powerful in preparation for COP 21 meeting in Paris, later this year. Through the Road to Paris campaign, the agenda is to bring together organizations, citizens and corporations worldwide with a global agreement on limiting greenhouse gases. Kenyan youth group organizations are also part of this bandwagon. They intend to make their voices heard though a cycling awareness campaign from Maputo in Mozambique to Nairobi- Kenya- which will be held in August this year. Their choice of cycling is because it will align itself with the cutting down on green house gases emissions as opposed to use of vehicles which emit carbon dioxide.

The cycling will begin internally, from Busia county in Kenya, through Nairobi then to the Kenya – Tanzania border in Namanga, where other young professional cyclists will join in as they proceed to Nairobi for a big concert. Similar to the previous Durban caravan, they will also collect petitions, hold huge shows and rallies as they cycle through the various counties and countries. Through this concerts they aim to raise awareness among communities on matters of climate change as well as learn from other youth organizations on what steps they are taking to combat climate change. Most importantly they will send out strong messages to the world that they are taking action. Julius Karanja, a member of the Kenya Youth Climate Network, says ” they are cycling to tell the world that it can be done.” Besides they will also engage in tree planting under the adopt a tree program. Though they have already rolled out this program among high schools, churches and some corporate organizations in Kenya, they are still far from their target of planting 50,000 trees and meeting one of their goals of rehabilitating hot spot areas, areas that have had trees felled, reforestation.

Other successful events that the youth groups have participated in include tree planting in parks within Nairobi city. Among the major tree planting occasions was one held in Yatta District at the Mully Children’s Family grounds . Known as ” Back to Eden” it was organized by the Kenya Youth Climate Network, the Norwegian Church Aid in partnership with the now defunct office of the Prime Minister. This was another chance for the youth to sensitize the community members and the public on the significance of planting and cherishing trees.

Rauka ama hauta survive campaign (Arise or you won’t survive) is another milestone for these youth. The aim was to educate the Kenyan youth on climate change and make their voices be heard by policy makers. The event was held in Nairobi’s largest dumpsite Dandora. Climate change was considered a foreign concept by a majority of those who attended this concert. Anne Wanjiru quoted in oxfam blog said

Climate change is about the weather changes, like now we experience hotter sunny conditions than we did three or four years ago. The world superpowers like America and Britain need to do something or we will all perish

However, at the end of the concert most youth were enlightened and they signed an environmental charter detailing their commitment on how they will improve their environment. They presented it to the area member of parliament in a bid of acquiring support for a cleaner environment.

The Kenyan youth involved in climate groups remain committed with a strong drive for climate justice. Hence their motto “kwa mazingira tuko imara” (we are established for the environment) says Lumumba Kimathi, AYICC Nairobi Coordinator.

Words by Maren Okoth

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