Defend Truth


Finding one’s humanity where little else remains


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

For millennia far-flung villages and towns survived in a world that seemed too big to fail. Now rapacious globalisation and the inexorable depletion of non-renewable resources has shrunk our planet – and climate change is undeniable. It is not too late to realise the verity of being our brothers’ keepers – and our planet is now but one slowly dying global village.

I met Maria Akingol and many of the village elders on my trip to the north of Kenya. She is no older than me. She lives with her children in a little village called Nanipi along Lake Turkana in the north of Kenya. It means “water” in the local dialect, but the water has long dried up because of a prolonged drought in this whole region.

Lake Turkana, a large salt water lake which stretches into Ethiopia, is drying up and fish stocks are depleting at a rapid rate as the lake heats up and the salinity increases. We see the impact of climate change dramatically here.  People are dependent on NGO’s like the one we work with, Feed the Children. In many cases it is the main supply of food they receive once a month. The soil has degraded, the animals die in numbers because the rains are not coming as regularly as before and there is  no grazing. The infrastructure here is minimal. The 700km trip by road from Nairobi takes two days. In areas along the way they need an armed escort to prevent raiding by bandits. Climate change, bad governance and no leadership are a toxic mix that strangles hope in this part of the world.

I imagine what we could do here to give people a sense that their lives matter. In discussions with the village elders they hope that government can drill boreholes to access water for planting crops and to improve the education system so that children can have skills to work in the cities and send money back to the villages.

Ultimately we see the damage the developed world has wrought on the continent of Africa. These communities have produced no CO? emissions. There are no fridges and air conditioners here. No extravagant boats on the lake. For generations these communities eked out a living as pastoralists and fishermen. The rich and powerful they have never seen stole their livelihoods and these communities are dying as a result. 

It is no accident that 13 million people are at risk in the Horn of Africa. Many resources are diverted to that crisis, but Kenyan tribes also live a precarious existence with chronic levels of malnutrition. The heightened food insecurity affects  millions. These are the realities that must be brought to centre stage at COP17. It makes me furious that the debate about climate change is dominated by bureaucrats and elites who are so disconnected from its ravages  on the poor, especially women whose  incomes have plummeted increasing  the poverty and inequality.

But I have a sort of desperate optimism. The people I met are decent upright human beings. They laugh, they cry and you can see the harshness of life etched on their faces. But they remain calm. No chaotic rush for the food supplies. A disciplined and dignified wait for help. I wish those damned elites who rush from meeting to meeting in their air-conditioned limousines as the merchant class of poverty can spend a week in a village like this. Maybe they will rediscover their humanity again. DM


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