On Friday last week, Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist sparked off an outrage on social media towards Associated Press (AP), which is a news agency in the United States.
Nakate accused the AP of cropping her out of a photo with famous climate activists including 17 year old Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson.
The five activists had just addressed the press in Swiss resort where they held a press conference following their participation in this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) whose agenda focused on environmental issues.
Born in 1996, Nakate attended Mivule Primary School where she her Primary Leaving Examinations, she joined Our Lady of Good Counsel senior secondary school in Gayaza for her O’level and attended her A’level at Trinity College, Nabbingo.
She then joined Makerere University Business School and graduated in January 2019 with a Bachelors of Business Administration (majoring in Marketing).
She told me that growing up, she was this introvert child who never used to speak up.
Vanessa told me that when she completed her course at the university and awaiting graduation, she tried to do something that would impact lives of people and that is how she learnt about climate change.
“When I finished my course in 2018 before graduation, I wanted to use that period to do something that can cause change in the lives of the people in my country and therefore I carried out research looking for problems faced by people. I found out a number of them but I was struck by climate change because it is taught in schools of course but it is not taught as a reality of today. It is taught as something that either happened in the past or that will happen in the future so I tried to read more about it and I tried to understand its causes and impact. That was the beginning of my activism. I started creating awareness every week through Friday climate strikes,” Vanessa said.
Asked if this is something that she had ever thought of doing after school, Nakate said no, it was never her dream.
In a span of one year, Nakate says she has a number of achievements she has attained and thankful for this far.
“As an activist, I have learnt about science and how it relates with climate change, I have learnt that what happens in the arctic ends up affecting us all, I have met quite a number of people and my speech, confidence have also improved so much. It has been a nice experience doing all these things to save the future and I am glad to be part of this movement.”
“I have been invited to a number of conferences, I was invited to the UN Climate Summit in New York where I had an opportunity to speak at some of the side events, I was given a special recognition in Nigeria for my activism, I was invited to Spain where I addressed the press and my latest invitation to Davos, Switzerland where I also addressed the press about climate change.”
Speaking about your latest invitation to Davos, you were cropped out of a photo which caused an outrage, how did this make you feel?
“Being cropped out of the photo was one of the most shocking things that I have experienced in my activism. It’s a challenge, not just to me but also to the rest of the activists in Africa who have always been complaining about not being given a chance to tell their stories. This is a challenge for all African activism. The media chooses to silence our voices.”
Vanessa said that ‘it has been hard for her to convince people to join climate activism as most of them fear that they will be punished by police.
“It has been a challenge to convince them that these are peaceful strikes,” she said.
I would agree with them because this is not something popular in Africa, where do you get inspiration and needs to be done to popularize climate change activism in Uganda and Africa?
“Like I said before, I wanted to do something that could cause change in people’s lives and that was my inspiration. Climate change is not popular in Africa because Africa has other problems that people focus on without realizing that some of them are caused by climate change. The media needs to help out to try and popularize climate change and present solutions to people,” she said.
How did your family feel about you being an activist?
Did they support you on this?
“My family is very supportive and they have been with me. They have encouraged me and motivated me to keep going. My father is a Rotarian and they do some of these things like planting trees and others. They have been supportive as family.”
Apart from being an activist, what else do we need to know about Nakate?
“Apart from being an activist, I am a good sales person as well and a very friendly person at that and according to what people say, I am down to earth and approachable.
“In ten years, I hope to see some of the things that we are fighting for being implemented. I hope to see reduction in floods, fires and all climate related atrocities. I also plan to have a family of my own. All I do is for the future.