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Home World Ugandan Climate Activist Vanessa Nakate Is Back in the Picture

Ugandan Climate Activist Vanessa Nakate Is Back in the Picture

She chanced upon environmental activism in 2018 after graduating with a business degree from Makerere University. With no job lined up, Ms. Nakate volunteered with the Rotary Club organization, where she was researching the biggest challenges facing local areas and how she could help. That was when she realized that climate change was not some distant threat, but a problem that at that very moment was eating away at communities and destroying livelihoods.

She also found out about Fridays for Future, the movement that Ms. Thunberg started to pressure policymakers to listen to scientists and act.

Though eager to take action herself, Ms. Nakate said she was initially afraid of taking to Kampala’s streets to protest alone. So on a warm Sunday morning in January 2019, she enlisted her two sisters, Clare and Joan, and two brothers, Paul and Trevor, to help make placards and join her.

As passers-by and drivers stared, the siblings protested at various intersections in the capital, holding signs that read “Nature is life,” “Climate Strike Now” and “When you plant a tree, you plant a forest.”

“There was the feeling of ‘I have taken so long without doing this, and yet people are suffering,’” Ms. Nakate said. At that moment, she said, she determined “to add my voice to the climate movement and demand for climate justice.”

When her siblings returned to school several weeks later, she continued alone, organizing climate strikes in schools and standing outside government offices with signs bearing messages like “Are you fracking kidding me?” She urged lawmakers to divest from coal and oil companies and to deal with rising water levels in Lake Victoria and high air pollution levels in cities like Kampala.

By the end of the year, Ms. Nakate’s work was attracting attention worldwide, making her a fixture in global conferences and on television. In December 2019, she was one of a few young activists who were invited to speak at the United Nations climate talks in Spain.


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