Climate change – an “abstract theory”?: A regular African’s Perspective

20 11 2011

Like the rest of the world, African countries continue to silently-struggle with the impacts of climate change on life every single day. But what is “Climate Change” to majority of the African populations? I talked to a couple of farmers 4 months ago and to them “Climate Change is just a huge abstract theory”. Many people still find it hard to believe that “Climate Change” is real.

In Uganda, over 80 percent of the total population depends on agriculture as the sole source of livelihood. However, the changes in seasons have greatly affected food and crop yields in the country. Prolonged droughts, pests and diseases have made agriculture barely reliable to majority of the peasant/ rural farmers. As a result farmers have resorted to engaging in other economic activities such they don’t have to totally rely on agricultural produce.

The Challenge:

On the African continent majority of the population is illiterate and not aware of impacts of climate change on social and economical development. So, how do you ensure that the communities get ready to take on a challenge that they are not even aware of?

Majority of the Africans live in failed states which means that civil societies have very little/ no influence on government policies. For example, recently the government of Uganda under the influence of President Museveni’s directive tried to give away part of Mabira Forest to Mehta Group an investor who owns the Sugar Cooperation of Uganda Limited. The civil society in Uganda openly challenged this directive and vowed to protect Mabira Forest. Under such circumstances, the smaller communities have very limited room for negotiation with the governments to influence government policy.

Outside Africa:

Javie Ssozi (left), with Teddy Ruge of Connect4Climate at the World Bank in D.C

Two months ago I had the opportunity to meet the Connect4Climate team in Washington D.C – Connect4 Climate is a World Bank project, the goal of C4C is to raise awareness about climate change issues around the world, with an initial focus on Africa. The team is looking to engage the youth through use of new media. Connect4Climate is already engaging the African youth on climate change through social media and a photo/ video competition.

After meeting with the Connect4Climate team, I took the pleasure to meet Dr. Vernon R. Morris, the Director, Principal Investigator at The NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Howard University ( Dr. Morris has conducted various researches on Climate Change across the Sub-Saharan Africa and he agrees that Africa is a very special case when it comes to climate change.

A word with Dr. Morris, the Atmospheric Science expert:

In my conversation with Dr. Morris he pointed out one of the findings of his research from the Sub-Saharan Africa which basically shows that global warming can expose dangerous bacterium which can cause diseases like blindness. He added that the recent research in the western Sub-Saharan African shows that blindness is becoming a common disease in parts of northern Mali. “We followed the track of this bacterium and the findings show that due to the direction of the wind, the bacteria is moving west towards the Atlantic ocean.”

“In Chad, we used the satellite data to analyze the issues of climate change in the region. We found that Lake Chad is shrinking. When we talked to the people who live just along the shores of Lake Chad, they said that they had not noticed any significant changes in the size of the lake!” says Dr. Morris.

What this means is, even though the African communities are willing to understand and make sense out of climate change, there is limited awareness and limited access to aggregated data to help the ordinary people understand issues of climate change better.

A Projection on Africa:

As you already know, most of the countries inside Africa are low developed which means that they have limited access to resources which would come in handy in the efforts of climate change mitigation. And by resources I not only refer to money; I am talking about (skilled) human resource (specifically on climate change issues), research, information facilities/ programs and infrastructure.

I must recognize the role of the various civil society groups and local NGOs in Africa which are activating action on climate change.

While developed countries like the United States, Germany, China and Japan have highly invested in research, training experts, building infrastructure and in raising awareness on global warming and climate change, African countries remain too corrupt and irresponsible to consider the effects of climate change as a major threat to life.

Quick Way forward:

Even though the developing countries have conducted extensive research on climate change in and outside Africa, it’s very important that we (Africans) consider revisiting those almost abandoned banks/ techniques of indigenous knowledge that our ancestors used centuries/ decades ago. Those should be our climbing stones towards finding sustainable solutions to reduce on the effects of climate change on lives.

The developed countries have a huge role to play in terms of giving African countries access to visual data from the research conducted on the African continent and perhaps relate this data to other continents of the world. As such, African countries will have access to information which will help the wider communities digest the meaning, implications and effects of climate change and global warming.

Individual African countries will perhaps find the cost of access to satellite resources very high but forming if African countries through the European Union collectively invest in climate monitoring networks and regional climate models for Africa.

International organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, “African Union” and many others understand their role in influencing government policies in developing countries. They should take advantage of that same influence for the better good to ensure that governments in African integrate issues of “climate” in their policies.

African governments should also understand and recognise the role of civil society, scientists and NGOs in climate change mitigation. From my experience in Uganda, the government of Uganda has oppressed civil society groups like the “Save Mabira Activist”.

Children collecting water at a bore hole in Amuru district, Northern Uganda