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Growing Youth Activism for Environmental Protection in Africa

Yusuf KanoteHuka has worked as miner for the last 30 years, in Mungama ridge, Taita-Taveta County. The majority of artisanal miners in Kenya use rudimentary tools which make the process laborious, dangerous and time-consuming. Yusuf was one of the 100 county artisanal and small-scale miners who participated in environment management & environmental protection trainings offered in 2018 and 2019 under the Environmental Governance Programme for Sustainable Natural Resource Management (EGP), supported by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, UNDP and Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). Credit: UNDP Kenya/Allan Gichigi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 6 2020 (IPS) - The mining sector in Africa is facing radical change as youth activists take action against the environmental degradation caused by mining industries. Tensions between activists and the mining industry have raised, however, concerns over human rights abuses.

Kenya’s National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders reported, for instance, cases of harassment and intimidation “against at least 35 environmental activists” in 2018. There are also legal maneuvers that still limit activists’ right to protest.

As conflict grows, some municipal governments are trying to enforce ambiguous legal measures, like unjustified arrests, to prevent demonstrations.

Undeterred, young activists are finding a way to make their voices heard all over Africa, including Kenya. An organization called Youth County Projects Kenya, led by social entrepreneur Mbiti, has been using surveys to collect data from over 100,000 young Kenyans on their biggest social concerns ranging from healthcare to corruption.

This provides young people with a safe platform to make their voices heard. They are able to hold people to account and put pressure on policy makers to address their concerns.

Similarly, Kaluki Paul Mutuku, a young Kenyan activist who is passionate about environmental justice, has been working with a global group called

Their current campaign, “DeCoalonize”, pushes for more investment in renewable resources and away from the fossil fuel industry:“We do this by organizing community action, where we work with marginalized and local groups to create awareness and hear what they want in the communities and how they want it to improve their livelihoods as opposed to it being a more mainstreamed and government project”, says Mutuku.

Inspired by growing up near the Ukambani zone in Eastern Kenya, he was shocked at the destruction of the natural landscape caused by the mining industry. He shares the ideals of many young activists in Kenya, believing that people should work towards a better, cleaner world and the only way to achieve this is to push for change from current practices.

Many young activists are working towards the same goal: having their voices heard and their needs addressed. Through their determination and collaborative work, real strides are being made towards positive change.

Kaluki Paul Mutuku from Kenya joins AumeerRookayah from Mauritius in a press interview in Stockholm on June 2018, as part of the Stockholm Dialogue on Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability and Conflict Prevention, hosted by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency/Naturvårdsverket and the United Nations. Credit: UNDP/Francisco Filho

The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) is another youth-led network trying to raise awareness of environmental issues. Zelda Kerubo from AYICC explains that raising awareness among youths about the impact of mining is an important task but one that comes with challenges: people often discredit the young voices based simply on their age and young people are also forced to confront powerful individuals and large organizations.

But as she explains, they remain undeterred: “AYICC will continue raising awareness, continue reaching out to these communities, not only in Lamu and Kitui but also the society in general for us to be able to weigh in the benefits and the negatives of mining and so that we can be able to make an informed and a better decision that would be beneficial to all of us.”

She also believes one of the most important things is to create “a mental shift in all of us to understand that everyone can do something”.

Kaluki Paul Mutuku seems to speak for many other activists in Kenya when he said he believes that: “The youth in Africa are indeed comprising a huge fraction in their population, so it’s high time that we invest in them and try to give them the best years that they need in order to lead their country, be it in the mining sector or any other kind of an industry. We need to support youth inclusion and proper youth inclusion should be a focal point that everyone should consider as we develop as a nation.”

These organizations and their actions have all obtained extensive media coverage and initiated important discussions on the effects of the mining sector. Thanks to restless organizations, youths and other activists, the mining industry in Kenya is now under pressure to address its impact on the environment and on human rights.

While more work needs to be done to ensure that youth organizations can work without fear of intimidation and punishment, young activists have demonstrated that their voices can carry Kenya towards a more sustainable and just society.

*The Kenya team of Young Environmental Journalists comprises AkinyiChemutai; Charity Migwi; Patience James Adaka; Purity Nzioka; Hillary Kibet; Rachael Gachui; Fredrick Kamencu; MehnazShafquat; Sami el Geneidy; and Tun Pa Pa Kyaw. They are based in Nairobi, Kenya; Atlanta, United States; Bangkok, Thailand; Helsinki, Finland; Lagos, Nigeria

The Young Environmental Journalist pilot initiative is aimed at raising awareness and fostering youth engagement in environmental and human rights protection in the mining sector in four resource-rich countries: Colombia, Kenya, Mongolia and Mozambique. This initiative was organized by the joint Swedish Environmental Protection Agency – UNDP Environmental Governance Programme (EGP) in collaboration with the United Nations Volunteers’ online volunteering service.

The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP or the UN Member States.

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