Wednesday, 3 November 2010

THE CLIMATE JOURNEY

A few months ago, i was sharing with JDB where AYICC came from and where we were heading, a few days upon request, he sent me this article that i thought, now its worth sharing with a wider audience!

My right hand remained clasped around the long, slender glass that was now empty after I had gulped the orange juice in it in one long gulp. The weather in Accra was so hot. I needed a refill. ‘Excuse me!’ I shouted to the gentle waitress at the next table. ‘Another glass of orange juice please.’ She nodded and smiled as she took off to the counter.

‘David!’ I heard a happy voice behind me shout. It was Sena Alouka from Togo. He was dressed in one of those multi‐colored canvas‐like tops that can only be found in Togo. Together with him was James Hallowell from Sierra Leone, Daniel Edah from Benin and Emmanuel Edudzie from Ghana. They joined me at the table and proceeded to order their drinks and meals.

It was our third day in Accra where we had gathered for a week‐long regional youth meeting convened by UNEP’s Africa Environment Outlook for Youth, a project that I was then leading. This particular meeting had brought together youth environmental leaders from thirteen West African countries. For these young leaders, environmental work was a mission that they were immensely passionate about. As I looked around at the four who had just joined me at the table, I couldn’t help but feel greatly inspired by their incredible energy and enthusiasm.

I wanted to learn from what they were doing so that youth action across the continent could benefit from all these rich experiences. Sena was the Director of Togo’s Young Volunteers for the Environment. In between his characteristic loud bursts of laughter and mouthfuls of rice and chicken, he told me about a youth climate initiative that was in the process of being formed.

Several days later, after a week of vigorous debates and presentations from the youth leaders, I packed my stuffy black bag and bid emotional farewells to the young green army. We had exchanged emails and vowed to keep in touch. Africa was counting on us, we had whispered into each other’s ears during the farewell hugs.

Two years later in 2005, I saw Sena’s familiar email in my inbox. It was late afternoon and I was eager to call it a day and dash off to a tea date with a lady I had recently met in an environmental forum. But I decided to click on the mail and peruse through it hurriedly.

It was the first of many emails that I would receive and send in relation to the climate youth initiative. This communication was catalyzed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting that was due to be held in Nairobi later that November and December. This meeting would be the second Conference of Parties (COP2) and we had decided to use it to officially launch the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change. There was only one problem to this grand plan – we had no money. For the launch to be truly reflective of the African and youthful nature of this initiative, it was important for youth leaders across the continent to be fully involved from the very beginning.

This realization that collective effort was needed informed a concerted effort from us to contact as many youth activists as possible, telling them about the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change and the upcoming launch of the same.

We also decided that although the initiative was African, it could not and must not exist in isolation to other youth movements globally. After all, climate change is a global issue that doesn’t need visas to move across borders.

We therefore engaged and involved as many global youth activists as we could think of. Consequently, the Canadian youth began playing a pivotal role in these efforts. Together, we decided to also organize the second Conference of Youth on Climate (COY2) to also coincide with COP2 and the AYICC launch. This way, we would launch AYICC in the global youth conference and also at COP2.

As November drew closer, our anxiety rose higher. It was even worse for us in Kenya because on our shoulders had fallen the huge task of hosting youth from across the world. But in our midst were strong shoulders ready and raring to go. Steve Itela the Director of Youth for Conservation was one such person.

I ambushed Steve in his office one afternoon in August 2005. I had escaped from my own workplace almost two hours before Close of Business so that I could get Steve before he left for the day. For almost three hours, we brainstormed with Steve and Waiganjo, a colleague of his, about the AYICC launch, COP2 and COY2.

In less than three months, we needed to find accommodation, organize for the meeting venue plus a host of other related logistical and substantive issues. We also had to fundraise. And fundraise, fundraise, fundraise.

In the spirit of collective efforts and ownership, that late afternoon meeting resolved to form a working group comprising of youth drawn from the Youth Environment Network (YEN), Kenya. The first meeting of this working group would take place the following Sunday at my house.

This became the routine for many Sundays afterwards. Youth leaders from YEN Kenya would converge either at my house or at the Youth for Conservation offices to brainstorm, plan, debate, discuss and decide. Prominent in these meetings was Kenyatta University’s Environment Club and other members of the Inter‐Varsity Environment Network, which we had founded one year earlier. Maurice Odera, the then UNEP Tunza Youth Advisor also played a key role these preparatory activities.

When November came, these young leaders from Kenya joined hands with other leaders from across Africa and all over the world at Six‐Eighty Hotel in Nairobi. Together, they officially launched the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change. As we raised our hands in solidarity, I was standing next to Grace Mwaura, a diligent leader from Kenyatta University who had embraced the course with amazing vigor and passion. I also liked the fact that she was a fellow writer. I kept telling her that Africa’s climate story needed to be written by people like her.

On the last day of the Conference of Youth, eight of us were elected to spearhead the coordination of AYICC at the sub‐regional and regional levels. Later that week, we went on to launch AYICC at a UNFCCC event that we had organized. The ball had now been set rolling and it was up to us to keep it rolling. A week later, we exchanged emails, hugs and vowed to indeed keep the climate ball rolling.

We are the ones who need to change, not the climate! I reminded everyone. The time is now! Sena thundered. We must take action! Kogi and Ingrid from South Africa urged us. We must spearhead sustainable adaptation! Excellence Uso from Nigeria insisted. He had also been present in that Accra meeting and was one of the youth leaders whose efforts were truly tireless.

The year after AYICC’s launch was followed by an avalanche of enthusiasm but a trickle of coordinated action. It became the classic case of enthusiasm superseding strategy. Sustaining the initiative proved to be much harder than starting it. The harder it became to take coherent and coordinated action, the easier it was to lay the blame elsewhere and forget that such action had to begin with oneself.

And so at the regional level, nothing much happened that year and the year after. But the seed had been sown and maybe others needed to take up the mantle and take AYICC to the next level. Others needed to take up the responsibility even as we also took responsibility for what we had achieved. Or failed to achieve.

For me, what matters is that the journey began and is still continuing. It does not matter that we are no longer in the driver’s seat. What matters is that they journey is on. We must all play our part to ensure that this journey will leave Africa in a better place.

DJ Bwakali

www.bwakali.com

PS – To those who did take up the mantle and the accompanying responsibility, ‘thank you and I wish you well!’

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