Vanessa Nakate is Africa’s voice for climate change
Sie was at the World Economic Forum in Davos and spoke at a conference on food and agriculture in Berlin. Now Vanessa Nakate is sitting in the UNICEF office in Berlin and keeps her eyes down. Her mobile phone in a pink glitter case and a plate with biscuits and fruit on the table. But Nakate just sips her tea. The young woman as the voice Africa in the global climate protection movement, describes himself as extremely shy. She gained worldwide notoriety when she complained on Twitter in 2020 that she had been cut out of a photo that showed her with Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer and other white climate activists in Davos: Not one person was cut from the picture, but a whole continent.
You are 26 years old, studied business administration and were a climate activist in Davos. Could you have dreamed that?
When I started activism in 2019, I didn’t even know the word. As long as I went to school and university, I wanted to graduate, maybe add a master’s degree, and then get a good job. After that, I thought maybe I would get married and start a family. I didn’t know anything about the existence of the World Economic Forum.
You went to a girls’ school in Kampala. What did you learn there that helps you today?
Only in my last two school years did I go to an all-girls school. There I could choose core subjects, French, management, geography and computer science. That was an unusual combination. But as early as elementary school, I made my first attempt to take on responsibility. I wanted to be a student health president. Nothing came of it. At the boarding school, which I attended when I was eleven or twelve, I then held various positions. And last year there was a beauty pageant.
Did you take part in this?
Yes. When I was young, I watched a lot of fashion shows. I was a very reserved kid and just didn’t talk to other people that much. Fashion themes were a way for me to interact with the world and have fun. Then when this kind of pageant came to my school and I wanted to run, people were surprised. Some said I couldn’t do it anyway, I should at least try not to embarrass the school. But I had it in mind.
And? How did it turn out?
I got second.
And the shyness? How is it for you now, sitting in Berlin and a large German Sunday newspaper to give an interview?
You have prepared questions, I just have to answer them. It would be more difficult for me to have a proper conversation. It’s a challenge for me, but I’m trying. When I get to know someone better, things get better. Then I even joke.
Do you come from a political family?
Yes, my father has been in politics since I was little. For two terms he was the political head of a small town. He has been district mayor in Kampala since the recent elections. My father also studied business administration. My mother takes care of my siblings and the household. She is a good and loving mother. My parents worked their way up from a rather poor class. Today I would say we are part of the middle class. I have four younger siblings, two sisters and two brothers.
How did it come about that you eventually became interested in environmental and climate issues?
In 2018 I researched for myself what challenges the people in Uganda have to fight. That’s when I came across climate change. Of course we had dealt with the topic in school. But I felt the same way as many other people: You hear something and quickly turn to the next topic. One does not understand what the real effects are.