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Climate activists Vanessa Nakate, Luisa Neubauer, Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille, from left, arrive for a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.
Markus Schreiber/AP
Environment

Climate Activist Vanessa Nakate Wants to 'Amplify Unheard Voices' After Getting Cut From AP Photo


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Youth activists like Vanessa Nakate are at the forefront of the global movement for radical climate action. The United Nations’ Global Goals urge countries to address climate change to ensure the future viability of the planet. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

When Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate saw the Associated Press had cropped her out of a photo with fellow activists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, she was "heartbroken."

Then, she spoke up.

Nakate, 23, released a video on social media in which she said she "understood the definition of the word racism."

"We don't deserve this," she said in the video, posted on Jan. 24. “Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis ... You erasing our voices won't change anything. You erasing our stories won't change anything.”

"I don't feel OK right now,” she added. “The world is so cruel."

The AP has since apologized for the cropped photo that featured the activists Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille. 

But Nakate felt the incident fit into a broader pattern of systemic racism. While white activists are often celebrated, black activists are often ignored, and their efforts largely go underappreciated, she noted. 

The AP crop directly highlighted that dynamic by explicitly removing the sole black activist in the frame.

Climate action, in particular, demands input from African activists, Nakate said, because Africa is the continent most urgently impacted by climate change. 

Nakate’s video response ultimately went viral and she gained hundreds of thousands of followers across her social media platforms, giving her a far larger platform to advocate for change than she had before Davos.

She’s using her newfound fame to “amplify unheard voices” to ensure other activists can get the recognition they deserve. 

Nakate got involved in climate activism in 2018 because of the unique threats facing her country, according to Democracy Now

“My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture,” she said. “So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high.”

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Nakate ultimately became the country’s first Fridays for Future climate striker, joining the movement famously launched by Thunberg. Starting in early 2019, Nakate would stand outside the Ugandan parliament every Friday with signs demanding climate action. 

She then founded The Rise Up Movement, a global collective of climate activists calling for an immediate end to fossil fuels. 

Nakate traveled to Davos to broadcast her concerns and build a larger coalition. While the AP crop seemed to derail her efforts at first, the opposite effect has now taken place: Her voice has never traveled further. 

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