Vanessa Nakate makes no apologies for being a climate activist

Vanessa Nakate needs no introduction. She has been there, done that, in the context of being a climate/environment activist.

Getting hold of her was almost as tough as trying to fix an appointment with the president.

She is on demand. The media wants to get a piece of her but so too do diplomats, civil society actors and politicians.

Our interview was conducted on phone after attempts to meet physically failed.

My first question to her was whether she feels like a celebrity given the prominence and publicity her activism has drawn locally and internationally.

“No,” she swiftly replied.

“I try to focus on my objectives, on my goals,” she said.

She says she became a climate activist sort of accidentally after university.

After university I was free and I wanted to do something that could have real impact in the lives of the people. I did some research and chose to become an activist on the climate.

Her activism has enabled her to attend numerous conferences abroad and to rub shoulders with world leaders and other activists.

Nakate, 25, became a global phenomenon in 2020 when AP cropped her out of a photo with other prominent climate activists, Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer. They had just addressed the media during the World Economic Forum.

She says she has forgiven AP but acknowledged that it is still a struggle for young African climate activists to stand out from their counterparts in Europe or generally the western world who enjoy so many advantages.

Last year she was one of the special guests at the COP 26 summit in Scotland where she delivered a speech urging world leaders to do something about global warming.

She is convinced that with persistent pushing and urging, leaders especially those in Africa will stop paying lip service to effects of climate change.

“Right now everyone can feel the hot temperatures. We have witnessed drought, death of animals and other signs. What more evidence do we need?” she queried.

One of the challenges of being a climate change activist in Africa, she says, is that the western world sometimes chooses not to hear you.

“We are active but like the AP incident, the western world at times chooses not to listen to us. This is however changing but it has been a challenge,” she said.

Other challenges relate to funding for activists from Africa, a situation she says has been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nakate said in parts of Africa, security personnel brutally break up even peaceful protests something that scares away young people from joining climate activism.

Nonetheless, she believes that young Ugandans should join activism because there are now many platforms on which one can voice their concerns.

“All it takes is to be really passionate about the climate, to be focused and to create a network of friends who share your passion,” she said.


Nakate was born in 1996. She attended Mivule Primary School where she sat her Primary Leaving Examinations. She joined Our Lady of Good Counsel Senior secondary school in Gayaza for her O’level and attended her A’level at Trinity College, Nabbingo.

She enrolled at Makerere University Business School and graduated with a Bachelors of Business Administration (majoring in Marketing).

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