Keep populism out of William Ruto's climate ideas

President William Ruto during the Pan-African Parliament Summit on Climate Policy and Equity in South Africa. [PCS]

President William Ruto this week offered weighty ideas during the African parliamentarians' summit on climate policy and equity held in South Africa.

While extoling Africa's commitment to fight global warming, he was emphatic that the continent could kick out 300 million tonnes of CO2 yearly with nature-based solutions.

According to the president, "Africa has between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of minerals on which the much-sought green energy transition largely depends."

He says Africa has clean energy potential and what's chiefly required is a 'win-win' push between the continent and the world in this adaptation and mitigation phase.

Ruto poured his heart out on what may have led to limited successes in the climate change front. He mentioned lack of goodwill from the west, a patronising attitude towards Africa and overreliance on fickle supply chains.

He now wants Africa to have more say at the UN, investors to move industries here to strengthen the balance of trade and the African Union (AU) to rethink its role by being more assertive in managing conflicts on the land.

Listening to Ruto's powerful suggestions, observers within and outside Africa could not help but notice his passion for change. However, it might be imperative, at this point in time, for Ruto and his fellow African leaders to lay out solid implementable strategies.

Many will agree that great ideas from Africans of high standing have ended up being lost in the din of blame game targeting the US and Europe. The so-called powerful countries have historically been the punching bag and hate subject whenever African leaders fail on their targets.

Like those who came before him, Ruto has strongly accused the west of blackmail, saying African leaders are often invited to meeting that have no meaningful outcomes. He also alluded to 'mistreatment' of African leaders abroad and the tendency of being talked down upon in fora such as Africa-Turkey, Africa-US, Africa-Europe, Africa-Japan and Africa-Russia summits.

There's an eminent danger here - that of his vision ending up sounding like populism. For the record, there are many African politicians who believe Africa's problems need African solutions. In their ideal world, Africa must be allowed its space even if it soils itself.

Whenever faced with grumpy matters, they brand as colonial and imperial, foreign institutions and countries at will. At the tail end of his presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed an International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict on a protracted Kenya-Somalia Indian Ocean maritime row. He was emphatic it won't be resolved by a 'colonial' court.

The late Robert Mugabe was a champ for this school of thought when he battled sanctions. Paul Kagame bewails neocolonialism yet he says Rwanda was cast aside by the global community during the 1994 genocide. Salva Kiir often says the west is only interested in South Sudan's mineral resources. It's a badge of infamy that Uganda's strongman Yoweri Museveni plays the same card whenever gay rights are discussed.

But these leaders' harsh stance is muffled when the subject of corruption and human rights is broached and when they seek hefty loans. No colonialist tags come up when they apply for visas, seeking medical care abroad, watch the EPL and take their children to foreign schools.

With climate vagaries threatening our very existence, it will be least helpful for any country to pay the heavy price of economic and diplomatic exclusion. Africa must prove its seriousness to fight global warming and other endemic challenges through the quality of its ideas, not blame.

Ruto is spot on. Global forums on climate must be agenda-driven. We can't take part merely because we are required to do. It is like savouring two desirable but mutually opposing choices. International cooperation is foundational to human development and must be made to work.

The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo