Ten weeks of this past summer have made the most defining moments of my career, my personal and my professional development in journalism. I have been in the United States of America enriching and being enriched by local U.S. communities, honing transferable skills and forging connections for future collaboration, under the banner of the Mandela Washington Fellowship - Flagship program of the U.S. government’s Young African Leaders’ Initiative (YALI).
To not only be one of the 17 young Cameroonians selected from close to 2000 applicants, but also among the top three chosen to do a professional development internship can only be a divine blessing. To top it all, being strategically matched with Planet Forward (PF) as my internship host organization was magical, as it nicely combines the two main things that drive my professional goals — journalism and the environment. For four weeks at PF, I had a unique chance to work on some really exciting environmental stories across Africa including; the development of a clean cooking technology by Cameroonian Aisata Ibamie, Nelson Boateng’s transformation of plastic waste into low cost houses in Ghana, and Taku Mutezo’s beekeeping and chili pepper cultivation initiative to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in Zimbabwe.
Why do I care deeply about the environment? When I was much younger, my mother would customarily get us ready to join her in planting crops like maize and beans by mid-March, which was when we expected the rains to start. But for the past decade, the routine has evolved, as the start of the rainy season is increasingly unpredictable. Rains either start late, stop early or run longer than anticipated, and this inconsistency makes our crops wither, reducing the yield.
It is no longer news that one of the most disturbing issues of our time, which is also one of the most loosely understood, is climate change. Learning from the United Nations Fact Sheet on climate change that Africa accounts for only between 2% and 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, has led many around the continent to challenge the environmental preservation cause as an unaffordable luxury if the highest polluting nations do not take concrete actions to redress their carbon footprint. However, it is important to continuously remind ourselves that our vulnerability to the climate crisis is no longer a distant worry. Rather, an everyday reality where flooding, heat waves, droughts, violent winds, high temperatures, fluctuations in rainfall influencing agricultural activities and more continue to wrap us around the climate “snowball”.
We recently saw in a UN report, how climate change fueled a deadly inter-communal violence in the Far North Region of Cameroon where clashes between Choa herders and Musgum farmers led to the killing of at least 45 people, many injured and mass displacement of thousands inside the country, forcing more than 30,000 to flee to neighboring Chad. This tension originates from the fact that these communities depend on the waters of the Logone river, one of the main tributaries of Lake Chad which has been shrinking over the last six decades, and has lost 95 percent of its surface water, diminishing water supply for the communities, as revealed by a UN Refugee Agency. We have also seen from a research publication in the Pan African Medical Journal that indoor pollution already kills about 7,000 people in Cameroon annually.
What is my contribution to environmental consciousness in Cameroon? After serving as a weather news anchor on Cameroon’s National Television Station for about 2 years, engaging in research, analysis and presentation of weather events, patterns and forecasts, I drew closer to the science behind our changing climate. Most importantly, I realized there was so much more I could do to raise awareness on the climate disaster that is racing in on us really rapidly, remind my people that we may not have largely contributed to this problem, but it is also unfortunate that the dangerous gasses emitted elsewhere do not respect country by borders nor their impacts.
I saw problems. Knew I did not have the entire panacea for them. But, I definitely believed my tiny contribution could spark change. Together with my friend - Patu Ndango Fen, we started an initiative on the sidelines of COP-26 known as Game Changers. It just made so much sense that we work together as she had just been awarded a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. My environmental journalism experience combined with her technical expertise make us a great duo. Game Changers is a youth led movement that exists to champion advocacy for environmental awareness in Cameroon by mobilizing businesses and individuals to make bold concrete commitments to adopt low carbon operating models and lifestyles. With the support of the UK government through the Climate Diplomacy Fund, we have attained some milestones - marshaled about 20 businesses to commit to the Race to Zero, build the capacity of over 300 Cameroonian SMEs on green growth, organized the first ever circular economy forum in Cameroon, rallied over 200 volunteers to retrieve over 5000kg of plastic waste from landfills for recycling and rippled out to reach over 10 thousand people through media advocacy. Our hope is that climate awareness will drum up to at least 1 million Cameroonians by the end 2023.
What is our way forward? As we galvanize young people to join the climate fight, one of the questions I asked myself was: With the alarming rate of poverty and youth unemployment in Cameroon, what will it take to realistically engage and keep young people interested in this climate fight? To answer this question, we, at Game Changers are canvassing support to launch a platform for Cameroonian green entrepreneurs in competition for investment deals. These young people will pitch their innovative ideas to multinational serial investors and business magnets who will challenge, mentor and support to transform their ideas into profitable businesses.
Thanks to my internship supervisor – Frank Sesno, I was able to visit the multinational organization - CNN which has greatly modeled my journalism journey. With the coaching and collaborative efforts of Kim Ossi, Lisa Palmer, Victoria Middleton, a host of others at the George Washington University, and the amazing people I connected with while studying Leadership in Civic Engagement at the University of Nebraska Lincoln such as: Meg Lauerman and Taylor Lofdahl, I return to Cameroon with new strengths and a more informed mission to raise awareness not only about the climate challenges, but also on innovations, ideas and people making strides to help the planet progress. And yes, my stay at PF was fun too! It was so exciting to go kayaking and art painting with Kim Ossi.
As a testament of the long lasting bond I am establishing with Planet Forward, I look forward to serving as a liaison between PF and Cameroonian university students who are interested in environmental journalism. We will be executing an experiential learning project which aims at enhancing the students’ storytelling capacities by equipping them with necessary skills for environmental science reporting, as well as push the Cameroonian narrative to the world. This project could not be more timely as it fills the gap of severely limited in-depth environmental reporting in Cameroon at a time when climate change is an emergency.