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“The moment you realize that communities’ water for drinking is dirtier and more contaminated than your toilet water– that is when you realize that this is a crisis.”
“If rains don’t come, then none of us survives.”
“We need to get to the point of zero hunger. You can do something wherever you are. Use your platforms.”
Some leaders capture their audiences with their outright confidence and impassioned speeches. Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate’s tremendous effect comes from an affect quite the quiet opposite, where unadorned and softly spoken statements – above expressed at a Global Landscapes Forum event in 2020 – are worth leaning in to hear.
And what great effect her voice has. When she was cut out of a photo published by the Associated Press of young climate activists at the World Economic Forum in 2020, including Greta Thunberg and three other young white activists, her few words on Twitter speaking up on racism in the climate movement caused such a maelstrom that the AP’s executive editor apologized on the media company’s behalf. Since then, the UN selected her as one of its Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals, the BBC selected her as one of its 100 Women of 2020, and Time selected her as one of its 2021 Time100 Next influencers.
But, while this might have launched her into global fame, it is far from her real legacy, particularly across the African continent. She began Uganda’s Fridays for Future movement as well as two other autonomous climate activist groups, Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement. She launched a fundraising campaign to save the Congo’s rainforest from its ongoing deforestation and is helping transition schools in her home country to sustainable energy through her Green Schools Project initiative. And this coming fall, Nakate is releasing her first book, A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, about her own empowerment journey.
Nakate is 24 years old.