BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russel has announced the appointment of 25-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate as a global goodwill ambassador for the organization.
Like the proverbial prophets who are not highly regarded in their villages, the locally little-known Nakate is one of the world’s highest regarded climate activists and last week touched hearts globally when she went to Kenya’s Turkana land (next to Karamoja in her country) to witness how climate change has devastated children’s lives. The region has been hunger stricken following prolonged drought and the ravages of cattle rustling.
“As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, it will be my first responsibility to bring the voices of children and marginalized people into conversations where they were previously excluded,” Nakate said on accepting the appointment. “This role with UNICEF will provide me with more opportunities to meet children and young people in the places most affected by climate change and an expanded platform to advocate on their behalf. In Kenya, the people I met told me about the impact of climate change and drought on their lives, with four consecutive failed rainy seasons depriving children of their most basic rights. One community had not received any rainfall for over two years. This is more than a food and nutrition crisis, it is yet another dimension of our worsening climate crisis.”
According to the statement announcing Nakate’s appointment, she began her activism in January 2019 with a protest with her siblings and cousins on the streets of Kampala, inspired by Greta Thunberg. She continued to protest every week, becoming a well-known face in a movement of young people “striking” for the climate around the world.
In 2020 she came to further global prominence when she was cropped out of a news photo by Associated Press she appeared in alongside Thunberg and other white climate activists. Nakate’s response to the incident, in which she said the news outlet “didn’t just erase a photo, you erased a continent”, made international headlines. The racist action was seen as habitual because the same agency had earlier referred to South African President Cyril Ramaphonsa as “an unidentified leader” in a caption to a photo.
Nakate further said: “As a young African woman, I have had to fight to be heard by the media and decision makers. While I am fortunate to have a platform now, I intend to continue fighting for others. The children on the frontlines of the climate crisis, like those I just met in Turkana, Kenya, are the people for whom I will fight in my new role with UNICEF.”
Nakate has addressed world leaders at the COP25 and COP26 climate summits and appeared on the cover of TIME magazine.
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