Before a parked conference hall in the Spanish capital of Madrid, Swedish climate activist Gretta Thunberg wagged a finger as she shook with fury.
The object of her anger was the mere mention of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“It is all talk and no action,” Ms Thunberg retorted as she delivered a bare-knuckle attack on Trump and other world leaders for their inaction on global warming.
Seated at the west wing of Feria de Madrid, the venue of the Conference of Parties (COP25) in December 2019, I keenly followed Thunberg’s tearful defence of the Global South. Her passion for the climate agenda was authentic and convincing.
Joined by her Ugandan counterpart Hilda Nakabuye, they tore into the ‘big boys’ while decrying Africa’s tribulations seen in recurrent droughts, floods, hunger, conflict and disease. Nakabuye went further to liken global warming to ‘a new era of colonialism.’
She claimed failure to combat global warming felt like apartheid, adding: “Our hearts are heavy and bleeding. Developed countries who should clean up their mess don’t care. Africa emits almost nothing, but suffers more.”
Interestingly, the ‘colonialism’ and ‘apartheid’ inferences were this week made by President William Ruto during the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi. The President said Africa has been profiled and “we are going to write our own narrative.”
As Africa hopes for inclusion through the Nairobi Declaration, President Ruto feels the global financial system doesn’t treat everyone equally. He says African nations pay for loans five times higher despite their huge investment potential, and some stressed countries have been condemned as high-debt risk.
Ruto, who is seen to be the new ‘voice of reason’ in pushing Africa’s interests, rightly believes three things are needed in effective financing - speed, skill and affordability. His rallying call is for the industrialised world to honour their financial pledges.
The President, like his peers, is also demanding a conversation around carbon trade. He says the continent will go the full hog in fighting climate vagaries. To drive his point home, he revisited an age-old philosophy that it’s better to die of debt rather than poverty.
While it’s true that African nations face disproportionate burdens, the finance debate has been characterised by rudeness and bravado. Ruto was on point that Africa deserves fair treatment, only that he avoided why any global power would cast off an emergent continent. It’s all about the conundrum of corruption.
Populism and playing victimhood may appeal to African leaders’ base, but charity begins at home. Our long history of impunity and graft must be openly discussed before anything else. Like climate change, these vices are a stab in the back for African hustlers.
In betting big on external funding, our leaders must first demonstrate the ability and willingness to spend prudently. Yes, it must be tempered with a renewed commitment to good governance. Using climate change to mask greed and misplaced priorities in food production, job creation, pollution management or urban planning ruins corrective efforts.
Blaming every problem – be it disease, unemployment or insecurity – on climate change shouldn’t be the case. Care is necessary in policy formation and everyday decision-making. For instance, how would Kenya abate greenhouse gasses by 32 per cent by 2030 when logging bans are lifted without public sensitisation?
The African Union should open up the continent for ideas and technology transfer. If Africa’s constricted political space, sham elections, rights abuses, punitive taxes and bullying of critics aren’t addressed, the billions in climate finance will go down the drain.
While we need funds, let’s ramp up efforts to make good use of what we have and bring everyone on board away from glamorous forums like the Nairobi summit. Ruto’s calls for inclusivity is as important as reforms in our modus operandi. We expect better.
-The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter:@markoloo