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Cycling for climate justice in Africa

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 23:03 GMT

African climate activists cycle through Nairobi as part of a multi-country trip before the UN climate talks begin in Paris. TRF/Sophie Mbugua

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The road to Paris passes through Nairobi for a group of climate activists on two wheels

It’s a wet Saturday morning at Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Despite the grey weather, screams of jubilation rent the air as 21 cyclists arrive. A mammoth crowd dressed up in white t-shirts branded Act Now for Climate and carrying placards bearing messages such as Climate Justice is Food Justice and Don’t Cook Us, Act on Climate!  is here to receive them.

They have been cycling through Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda before reaching Kenya, part of a global Act Now for Climate Justice push to collect signatures demanding a just, equitable climate agreement in Paris.

I catch up with Kelvin Kagiri of Kenya, one of the cyclists who have together collected over 600,000 signatures since 31 August, when the event got underway in Maputo. He says a bicycle is a zero emissions means of transport, and an easy way of reaching rural communities.

Along the way, “we stopped in major towns to collect litter, which helped sensitize people on human activities harming the environment,” he said.

Among the people waiting to greet the cyclists is Margaret Masudio, a farmer from Uganda. Her voice breaks as she laments how drought and floods have added to her domestic challenges.

“I have experienced civil war and domestic violence for so many years. Now, again, God is sending us a lot of rain that is washing our plants away, a lot of sunshine that is drying our crops! Where do we go with our children?” she asked.

Her plight is one facing many of the women who work in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. She joined the gathering in Nairobi hopeful that a solution will be found soon.

“We want appropriate technologies specifically for rural women famers to help us adapt to the changing climate appropriately,” she said.

The sentiments are shared by fellow Ugandan, 71-year-old Apiyo Polly.

“I have seen changes in seasons but not in the magnitude that it’s happening now. Look at me. I am a frail woman, with not so many days to live. I would like to leave a country that is food secure for my children, then I can die peacefully,” she said.

She said she also expects the UN climate talks to ensure that help from richer countries to “find solutions to our common problem” comes in the form of grants rather than loans.

The event is crowned by a music concert, after those gathered take part in an hour’s walk around Nairobi. Artists including Kenya’s Atemi Oyungu and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudtzi entertain the jubilant crowd.

The hope in the crowd is palpable. As the older and new generations dance to the music, there’s optimism that COP21 will address the issues they’ve raised and bring good tidings on Africa.

As the curtains come down and the music fades, Mithika Mwenda, secretary-general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, calls on developed nations to take responsibility for their climate-changing emissions by providing money and technology to help Africa adapt and grow more cleanly.

"We as Africa can only do so much, since our emission is minimal. We need a just, legally binding deal that, while not curtailing the African growth, ensures developed nations reduce their emissions without passing on the burden to the poor,” he said.

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