Fridays for Future: Life of a global South climate activist

by 24th Sep 2020
Hilda Nakabuye speaking at the #March4Women rally in London on International Women’s Day 2020 Hilda Nakabuye speaking at the #March4Women rally in London on International Women’s Day 2020

Growing up in Uganda I saw directly the effects of climate change. Temperatures have risen and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and droughts have increased in intensity and frequency.

During a severe drought when I was a child, my family’s garden was devastated, we could not grow the cassava, matoke and potato that we depended on for our livelihoods. Later, I learned that climate change was an underlying factor behind this drought, and I was driven to become a climate justice activist and founder of Fridays for Future Uganda.

Now, as we are also dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are urging governments to listen to the voices of women and youth and not delay in tackling the climate crisis.

Fridays for Future Uganda has grown in strength and numbers since I founded it at the start of 2019. Inspired by school climate strikes in other parts of the world, a small group of us began to miss classes in Kampala every Friday and protest for the climate. At first, not many people noticed or joined us, but we reached out to more students and citizens, to explain the urgency of tackling climate change and the real impact it was having in Uganda, although we as a country have done little to cause it.

We also lead local campaigns and activities to protect the environment, such as lake shore clean ups, planting birthday trees and protesting air pollution. Lake Victoria is becoming increasingly polluted, affecting the local biodiversity and economy. Plastic packaging makes up 95% of the waste we collect from the lake so we campaign to reduce plastic waste.

It’s not every day that girls or students in Uganda stand up and speak up to demand what they want, and it was the first time I was doing this. I was a little scared but that didn't stop me from doing it – I knew I wasn’t doing it for only myself but for the coming generation as well. I believe this earth isn’t given to us by our parents, but loaned to us by our children and the coming generations, so we should guard it very well for them.

The movement grew in numbers until September 2019 when we led more than 5,000 people across Uganda to join global climate strikes. The day was student-led but many others joined us including parents and farmers. It was so inspiring to see.

I was invited to speak in global forums and attended COP25 in Madrid. Although it was positive to be included in the discussions, I often left feeling frustrated that the urgency of climate change, and the real impacts it is already having on people’s lives, are not being taken seriously by governments who are too slow to make change. For example, there are not enough concrete commitments to reduce emissions to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, as agreed nearly five years ago in Paris. There also aren’t sufficient funds to help countries already dealing with climate change to adapt.

It’s particularly unjust since those countries who have done the most to cause climate change now seem the slowest to act.

In March this year, I travelled to London to attend CARE’s #March4Women event on International Women’s Day, and joined the call for urgent action to address the impact climate change has on women and girls in particular. Women and youth voices are often absent from climate discussions, and now from the COVID-19 response. We can’t tackle these crises without the perspective and expertise of those most affected, so this needs to change.

Just like climate change, the pandemic is having the most impact on those already marginalised in our society – on women, youth and rural populations. Since April, I have been running a youth-led COVID-19 emergency fund to support flood victims during the crisis.

This September 25th, we will once again join Global Climate Action day by having a lake shore clean up activity as well as dedicating the strikes to saving Bugoma Forest in Uganda which is on the verge of extinction. We are calling different youth movements and organisations to the cause as the forest is facing serious threats because the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), a government agency entrusted with protecting our natural resources, decided to give away part of the forest for sugarcane growing. We demand that NEMA revokes the Environmental and Social impact Assessment (ESIA) Certificate it issued allowing a company to clear part of the forest.

My hope is for youth to get involved in forest conservation because this could help preserve our forests, sustain efforts on reforestation, and slow down the alarming rate of deforestation and natural resource degradation.

I also hope for youth around the world to have a say in environmental politics, and for them to lead in developing and implementing sustainable solutions.

Thank you to the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting CARE’s climate advocacy work.

Hilda Nakabuye

Hilda Nakabuye is a leading African climate and environmental rights activist. She is a founder and organiser of Fridays For Future Uganda, missing classes every Friday to strike for climate action. She has spoken at international conferences such as COP25 and the C40, and also in schools around the world to mobilise students. Currently she is running a youth-led COVID-19 emergency fund to support vulnerable people during the crisis.