By Aggrey Nyondwa Kikobera
On Tuesday, November 2nd, the orientalist, western media was at it again when Sky News cropped Ugandan Climate Change activist Vanessa Nakate from a photo that featured Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg.
The cropped image was tweeted by former British MP and educationist, Thelma walker.
She deleted it later when it attracted outrage. This follows other similar regrettable displays of blatant racial representation, misrepresentation, and non representation of black Africans by the Western press.
In January 2020, social media was furious when AP cropped Vanessa out of a picture in which she appeared (or disappeared) alongside four fellow climate change activists: Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson.
As Ugandans are still celebrating Vanessa’s recent appearance on the cover of Times magazine, the media’s coverage of her in the UK at the ongoing Climate Summit takes us a thousand steps back. It is appalling, to say the least.
The three women (Vanessa, Nicola, and Greta) have enjoyed a great deal of media coverage at the conference, but one of them continues to be portrayed as “the other”, and that is only if they notice her anyway, because there have been instances where she has been completely ignored.
An article in the Scottish Sun captioned a picture that prominently featured the three women; “The Swedish climate activist,18, received a personal welcome from the Scottish First Minister as the climate change summit enters its second day.”
Another shocking one is where Nicola is having a conversation with Vanessa while Greta looks on, and guess what the caption was … “Greta Thunberg challenges Nicola Sturgeon on what more Scotland can do on climate change.”
Wow! This was in Glasgow Times. Those who bothered to make an effort only managed to state Vanessa’s name in the articles, and perhaps her age.
No mention of who she is or what she does or where she is from. In the past, she has been misrepresented as a Zimbabwean activist by Reuters.
Why this is such a big deal? In Uganda, and Africa at large you don’t often get so many courageous young women to take up the world stage and challenge on such global issues like climate change.
This is because we have been made to believe that perhaps we are not good enough to challenge matters at such a scale. That we should wait for some western saviour to rescue the situation.
Vanessa’s rise to this stage is resistance towards the power monopoly orchestrated by the “first world” It is a great reversal of the status quo, from a ‘third world’ perspective and we have to be proud of her and protect her.
However, it is important to know that there is going to be a lot of pushback and fight from a society that is so orientalist and Eurocentric. The west has rightly been criticised over the years for shoving white saviourism down our throats and they have found such a great tool in media and art to achieve this.
They are now forcing the world to believe that Vanessa is less an activist because is she African, a classic example of how racist representation is taking centre stage in contemporary media and particularly in global debates like the climate change. It is no secret that Africa has suffered the most in this climate change mess, despite having contributed the least to the problem.
Therefore, it is so important that Africa, and the global South have a say in this debate. It is no surprise that in such matters, the west usually want to stand tall and save the day, and this is why there is some sort of deliberate attempt to erase the other part of the world from this conversation.
As crazy and chaotic as the world is right now, with the pandemic, a climate, hunger, and migration crisis, the last thing we need is such racial gimmicks especially aimed at the world’s most affected places.
“It’s quite obvious I get a certain kind of media attention. If I say something, it turns into a headline. Of course, that is not the case for pretty much all other climate activists, especially from the global south, unfortunately,” Greta noted at a press conference in 2020 while responding to the continued discriminatory media coverage.
The author is a social activist