These days, whenever Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears in public, he removes his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, grabs a shovel and gets to planting a tree.
Abiy is leading by example as Ethiopia plans to plant a mind-boggling four billion trees by October, as part of a global movement to restore forests to help fight climate change and protect resources.
The country says it has planted nearly three billion trees already since May.
On Monday, state employees were given the day off as Abiy sought to get the rest of the country involved, and the government claimed a “record-breaking” 350 million trees were planted in only one day.
“I think we demonstrated the capacity for people to come together collectively and deliver on a shared vision,” Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s press secretary, told reporters.
The figure has attracted scepticism about the sheer number of volunteers this would require, and the logistics involved.
“I personally don’t believe that we planted this much,” said Zelalem Worqagegnehu, a spokesman for the opposition Ezema party.
“It might be impossible to plant this many trees within a day.”
Yet, Zelalem also noted that hundreds of members of his party planted trees of their own on Monday, and suggested the actual total was beside the point.
“We took this as a good opportunity to show solidarity with the citizens,” he said. “Our concern is the green legacy, making Ethiopia green.”
Planting, only first step –
Ethiopia’s forest cover declined from around 40 per cent half a century ago to around 15 per cent today, said Abiyot Berhanu, Director of the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute.
“Deforestation has become very grave in many parts of Ethiopia,” he said.
The recent tree-planting drive has targeted areas that have been stripped of their trees over the years, Billene said.
The types of new trees planted have varied from region to region.
“A lot of nurseries have been working on producing more saplings over the past couple months,” Billene said, while some of the saplings and seedlings had come from abroad.
Reforestation is a major component of global initiatives to recapture carbon emissions. It can also purify water, produce oxygen and bolster farmers’ incomes, said Tim Christophersen, Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration.
But Christophersen said planting trees was only the first step.
“The most important factor is grazing pressure. If you plant a tree and a day later the goats come along, they will absolutely eat the tree first before they eat the dry grass next to it,” he said.
“We don’t speak so much about planting trees but about growing trees.”
He said planting 350 million trees would require about 350,000 hectares (864,000 acres) — an area bigger than Luxembourg — and added that a volunteer could realistically plant about 100 trees a day.
“It is not impossible, but it would take a very well organised effort,” he told reporters.
He said that Ethiopia was one of only five countries ranked as having a “sufficiently ambitious” contribution to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the UN’s pact to curb global warming.
Trees take in carbon from the air as part of the process of synthesis and store it in their leaves, branches and trunks.
Abiy’s tree-planting drive is part of a national environmental campaign, known as the Green Legacy Initiative, that includes cleaning waterways and making agriculture more sustainable.
Billene said the turnout Monday indicated that the Prime Minister’s environmentally-friendly message was resonating.
“Everyone was clear and understood the long-term vision,” she said. “They actually bought into the benefits of what it means to have a green country.”
If Ethiopia really did plant 350 million trees on Monday, it would have smashed the current world record of around 50 million held by the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
However, an official determination may have to wait.
So far, Ethiopia has not attempted to register its achievement with Guinness World Records Limited, spokeswoman Jessica Dawes told reporters in an email.
“We are always on the lookout for new record-breaking achievements, however, and so we would encourage the organisers of this event to get in touch with us to register an application,” Dawes said.
A people determined to tell their own stories
African storytelling in cinema is undergoing an evolution and Africans are spinning the wheels
It was Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian novelist, who once said:
Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
This statement, made by the late Booker Prize winner during a 1994 interview in the Paris Review, stresses the importance of owning the narrative and places the onus on people of any race or culture to seize the initiative and tell their own stories; otherwise they would have strangers, who are not privy to the facts, churning out distorted narratives.
For many decades, Africans and indeed people of colour were faced with this problem: they watched in horror and dismay as the white-controlled film industry made movies that not only reinforced negative stereotypes, but also peddled falsehoods as fact and portrayed black people as savages that needed to be trained to act civilised.
Movies like 1965’s “Naked Prey” and the infamous “Birth of a Nation” (made in 1915) are a few examples of how people can manipulate perceptions of a race when they have the power and financial means to.
Even in recent history, there have been movies that have unwittingly advanced the white saviour complex. 2002’s “Tears of the Sun” (which starred Bruce Willis) tells the story of a U.S soldier who goes into Nigeria to save innocent children from rebel forces during a war. The film reeked of poor research, and deservedly, was panned by critics.
It would be fair to admit, though, that times have changed. The narratives are changing, and African stories are now being told in more ingenious ways. Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo Di Caprio lit up global screens in 2006’s “Blood Diamonds” (based on Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war), Gavin Hood earned critical acclaim for the 2005 movie adaptation of Athol Fugard’s novel “Tsotsi”, and Lupita Nyong’o shone brightly in 2013’s “12 Years A Slave”, a movie based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave memoir of the same time.
There is a lot more authenticity as well as nuance in the making of these films, and those involved now show that they care enough about telling these stories well.
It would be difficult not to acknowledge Abraham Attah’s portrayal of Agu in 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation” or Nyong’o’s portrayal of Harriet in 2016’s “Queen of Katwe”, the latter directed by Mira Nair and based on real-life conditions of one of the slums in Uganda’s capital city.
There are still debates on the kinds of stories being told, and how themes like slavery and racism keep being “glamorised” in film, but at least Africans are telling their stories now, and that is a major step forward.
There is also the small matter of who gets to interpret roles in these films: months ago a few Nigerian actors screamed blue murder when it was revealed that Nyong’o would be working on a picture adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.
A lot of work still needs to be done in pushing African storytelling, but for now, progress should be acknowledged and celebrated.
400 years after, Ghana’s “Year of Return” inspires mass return to motherland
More than 100 African-Americans granted citizenship by Ghana at a time when the US struggles with identity and racial tensions
It was the late reggae legend, Peter Tosh who, in one of his records, crooned along the lines of “I don’t care where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you are an African”.
That statement has been subject to conjecture over the years, but one fact that is undeniable is that many African-Americans and Afro-Americans have expressed interest in tracing their roots back to the continent from which their ancestors were captured into slavery centuries ago, and to aid this quest, the Ghanaian government recently granted national citizenship to 126 African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans.
In a year that has been tagged “The Year of Return” by the nation formerly named Gold Coast by colonialists, this could prove to be the biggest gesture of fellowship so far that has been extended to people of colour living in the diaspora.
The event which was marked on November 27, 2019 in colourful fashion as the new citizens dressed in traditional attire, is made more significant by the fact that 2019 makes it exactly 400 years since the United States officially opened its harbours to slave ships for the first time.
To its credit, Ghana has always been at the forefront in attempting to reconnect African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans to the African continent.
In 2001, the Ghanaian government passed the Right Of Abode Law, which confers rights on anyone of African ancestry in the Americas to stay in Ghana indefinitely. In 2016, former President John Mahama had 34 African-Americans naturalised into Ghanaian citizenship, and in June 2019 current President Nana Akufo-Addo embarked on a five-nation tour of the Caribbean to promote the “homecoming” initiative.
It has been suggested that beyond its socio-cultural nuances, the move to extend citizenship to people in the diaspora also serves to boost Ghana’s tourism potential and influx of human capital, with the Afro Nation and Afrochella festivals – scheduled for December – expected to attract many young blacks from North America and the Caribbean.
This suggestion is valid, and economic gain is to be expected, but what is more important is how the opening of Ghana’s doors to diasporan Africans is totally in line with Pan-African values, and this move is one that Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, would have been proud of.
In a world where African-Americans are struggling with identity amidst the racial tensions that still haunt the United States, an offer of free citizenship by an African nation couldn’t have come at a better time.
The continent is by no means perfect, but it does provide a home for those who are frequently made to feel like they don’t belong in America, and evidently, these people are grabbing the chance to reconnect to the home of their ancestors, with both hands.
Fossil fuel: The human cost of powering Africa’s future
Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030
Official projections of the UNDP suggest that the rise in human population in the next few decades will be most visible in Africa. Thirty years from now, about 2.2 billion people could be added to the global population – more than half of this is expected to come from Africa.
The broader consequences of this are far-reaching; from the need for more automation to enhanced jobs and expanded career prospects, demand for more food; housing alternatives, need for more alternative energy sources to overcrowding in mostly urban centres.
In spite of the increasing access to renewable energy sources, firewood and coal remain the dominant energy source powering African countries. About 80% of the world energy comes from fossil fuels, and fossil fuels such as coal are limited and therefore unsustainable resources
A recent study reveals that the rapid depletion and usage of fossil fuels on the continent will result in at least 50,000 avoidable deaths as a result of emissions from power plants and vehicular emissions alone.
Annual emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide in Africa will double by 2030, compared to figures from 2012.
Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030. Most of which is likely to occur in South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria. Yet fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.
Overfilling our atmosphere with carbon will provoke more extreme weather, deadly heatwaves, more severe droughts, and increasing bush fires.
While the adoption of renewable energy sources for power generation is frequently cited as a practical alternative but despite the promise of innovations like solar mini-grids, most governments are less invested in solar-power solutions across the continent.
But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.
Even African countries who have remained major proponents of renewable energy, still show a pull towards the use of coal.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently declined Kenya’s request for a coal-fired power plant. The AfDB further warns that it had no plans to finance new coal plants in the future, citing environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu project in Kenya.
Numerous investors, development finance institutions and insurers are limiting coal-related investments. China, the World bank group, Germany and Japan who are the largest providers of public finance for Africa’s energy sector has continuously demonstrated the will to move away from fossil-fuelled power projects.
Also, environmental activists and climate crusaders are continually voicing their growing concerns about the impact of burning fossil fuels.
One such group is Greenpeace which sued and won its case against the Lamu plant in Nairobi.
Ghana currently faces a severe power crisis that could have significant repercussions on the overall working of a national economy – with fuel reforms on petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel being heavily taxed.
An area in Mpumalanga, an eastern province in South Africa houses South Africa’s national power supplier Eskom. It remains the largest single area contaminated by lethal nitrogen dioxide globally. This makes it the centre of the world’s deadliest air pollution.
This is not surprising as South Africa is the continent’s most advanced economy. Power generation and distribution persist as a major challenge. It has remained predominantly coal-based with already evident attendant consequences.
It is equally not surprising, that since the nation’s power supplier had been struggling lately losing $1.46 billion in one year; the economy of South Africa had been adversely affected with job losses, inflation and the worst unemployment statistics – South African unemployment rate of 29.1% hit10-year record high in 2019.
Again, most of the likely sulphur dioxide emissions are expected to come from future coal-fired power plants across central Nigeria, along the coast of Egypt and southern Africa.
And, as droughts get worse, the air quality deteriorates with air pollution from power plants in South Africa and Botswana travelling as far as Zimbabwe and Namibia thereby impacting ocean evaporation, surface wind speed, atmospheric pressure and the chances of uncontrollable bushfires with its associated consequences on the ecosystem.
UNICEF report showed only seven of Africa’s 54 countries are home to real-time air pollution detection and monitoring devices.
The challenge of air pollution on the continent is worsened by other environmental pollution and resource-depleting activities such as desertification, population explosion, and fauna depletion.
In essence, while over 70% of children living in Europe and North America live within 31 miles of an air quality monitoring station, the number stands at just 6% across Africa’s 1.255 billion people.
Fossil fuel burning also impacts water quality and availability –acid rock drainage from coal mines, the destruction of mountain streams and soil quality.
Governments of African countries and corporate decision-makers must, therefore, continue to expand the use of renewable energy and transform its energy system to cleaner alternatives; less dependence on coal and other fossil fuels.
With effective national and regional climate strategies, policymakers must be deliberate about legislations on the quality of automobile imports, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency; deploy more waste-to-energy approaches in rural communities, introducing limits on the amount of carbon that polluters are allowed to emit and building a clean energy economy by investing in efficient energy approaches and technologies
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