5 Inspiring African Environmentalists That We Can All Learn From


Earth Day may have passed, but the effects of climate change on our environment remain visible everyday. Today, Africa is faced with a colossal task in protecting our environment from continuous exploitation and the devastating effects of global warming. One thing that is sure, however, is that we hold the power to overturn our current climate crisis. Now is the time for us to know our rights and fight to protect our environment from further exploitation. And in doing so, it is crucial for us to know our history and the iconic figures behind the Green Politics movement in Africa. Here are 5 influential African environmentalists who have dedicated their lives to combatting climate change and conserving our environment.

1. Wangari Maathai


Although she passed away in 2011, Wangari Maathai’s legacy can be felt throughout the world and has continued to impact the global environmentalist movement. Dr. Maathai was a renowned Kenyan environmentalist who founded the Green Belt Movement- an initiative that focused on poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting in Kenya. Having launched in 1977, the movement has since planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. Her lifelong commitment to environmental conservation has inspired many other African environmentalists to take action and continue the fight to protect our environment from exploitation and the effects of climate change.

2. Rene Ngongo

René Ngongo Painted in Photoshop René Ngongo is a Congolese environmentalist, biologist and human rights activist who in 1996, founded OCEAN (Organisation Concertée des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature) in order to protect the DRC's natural resources. OCEAN helps give a voice and infrastructure to Congolese civil society in its fight against forest destruction. He is an expert on the impacts of environmental destruction in the Congo Forest Basin. The Congo Basin is home to the second largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon. At the risk of his own safety, Ngongo documented the exploitation of Congo’s natural resources by the belligerents of the Second Congo War (1998-2003). The war involved nine differnt African countries and around twenty armed groups. There had been 5.4 million deaths primarily brought on by disease and starvation, by 2008. In April 2001, the UN accused Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of the illegal and systematic exploitation of Congolese resources such as diamonds, cobalt, coltan, gold and other resources. Although today, these conflict minerals are still being exploited by international mining companies and their representatives preying on a corrupt government and vulnerable populations. The minerals are used by military and tech industries to operate electronics. Congolese civil society leaders that accept donations: @actionkivu @strongroots_congo @panziusa @malaikadrc @plfdreams is a US sleepwear line in which every purchase goes to support women in conflict regions, especially to women in Congo. #StandWithCongo #Congo #drc #environment #humanrights #portrait #painting #illustration #renéngongo #art

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Rene Ngongo is a Congolese biologist who has dedicated his life to saving the Congo rainforest from deforestation and environmental degradation. Growing up in DRC, he witnessed the Congo rainforest- the second largest tropical rainforest in the world- succumb to deforestation caused partly by the severe poverty affecting the local people (who would cut the forest and use it for food), and partly because of commercial mining. He launched his own non-profit organization OCEAN- Organisation concertée des ecologistes et amis de la nature- as a means of fighting against further exploitation of the rainforest.

3. Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian human rights activist and environmentalist who pioneered The Movement For The Survival Of The Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP began as a protest against the severe environmental degradation that occurred alongside the Niger Delta river after decades of oil-drilling by the Shell Oil Company. Ken Saro-Wiwa was savagely executed by the Nigerian military in 1995, but his efforts to draw attention to the climate devastation that oil -drilling caused to his homeland did not go in vain. Although the effects of decades of oil spills and pollution are still rampant, Shell Oil has since ceased drilling production in Ogoniland.   

4. Corneille Ewango

Dr. Corneille Ewango spent much of his youth in the Democratic Republic of Congo collecting ivory tusks from the elephants his uncle had poached. He even used his ivory tusk collection as a means to fund his higher education studies. But in an ironic twist of events, it was in university that Ewango discovered his love for the environment while interning with the Wildlife Conservation Society. In 1996, as Dr. Ewango was the head of the Okai Faunal Reserve’s botany program, DRC began to suffer a civil war. But despite the growing instability and conflict in his home country, Ewango stayed behind even as he watched fellow staff members flee the country. At one point, Mr. Ewango hid in the forest from soldiers managed to keep 14 okapi- a Congolese giraffe that can only be found in DRC- alive. He has since continued his conservation efforts and has also been credited with the discover of 600 new tree species and 270 tropical plant species.

5. Nnimmo Bassey

Nnimmo Bassey is a leading Nigerian environmental and human rights activist who became involved after oil conflicts with the Shell Petroleum Development Company resulted in a massacre in 1980 that left 80 people dead and hundreds of houses destroyed in his village of Umu Echem. He has since co-founded the Nigerian NGO Environmental Rights Action, and is the chair of Friends of The Earth International- a network of environmental organizations spanning across 74 countries.

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