Lack of development as well as high rates of inequality and poverty across Africa have long been perceived as a burden on the rest of the world, presented as things to pity rather than things that need solving.
This outlook is one that has to evolve in order for true change to occur on the continent. Luckily, young people are standing up and speaking out for what Africa deserves. A fresh generation of persistent voices, innovators, changemakers, and action-takers are making sure that the world sees the continent with fresh eyes, and that Africa itself rises from the ashes of vulnerability.
Last year revealed that globally, we are tired of dealing with significant issues in the same old ways and expecting radical improvements. This is a message that echoed loud and clear after young climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg spoke at last year’s pre-COP26 summit.
“No more empty promises, no more empty summits, no more empty conferences,” asserted Nakate.
“Blah blah blah ... This is all we hear from our so-called leaders, words. Words that sound great, but so far, have led to no action,” Thunberg rallied.
This tone was carried all throughout 2021 as the world continued to reckon with COVID-19, a worsening climate crisis, and increased global inequality. As such, 2022 will be defined by the need for action, and nowhere is this more pertinent than on the African continent. Thankfully, young activists have been captaining this need for action, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
These are just a few of Africa’s young changemakers that we’ll be looking out for in 2022.
1. Elizabeth Wathuti
One of the highlights for Africa at the 2021 COP26 Climate Conference was 26-year-old Elizabeth Wathuti’s speech on the state of sub-Saharan Africa’s environment. The Kenyan climate activist appealed to the emotions of delegates and called on them to consider what their inaction was doing to the African continent and its people.
“Please open your hearts,” she said. “If you allow yourself to feel it, the heartbreak and the injustice is hard to bear. Sub-Saharan Africans are responsible for just half a percent of historical emissions — the children are responsible for none — but they are bearing the brunt.”
Wathuti, founder of Kenya’s Green Generation Initiative, was inspired by fellow Kenyan and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai to establish an organisation that plants trees and food forests to improve the local environment, and tackle hunger in Kenya. The young activist is outspoken on her social media and is also an avid supporter of the Fridays for Future movement.
2. Emmanuel Cosmas Msoka
Youth across 🇹🇿 are reimagining a better future this #WorldChildrensDay 💙— UNICEF Tanzania (@UNICEFTanzania) November 19, 2021
Meet our Youth Advocate @MsokaEmmanuel, who uses his passion for innovation to create positive change in his community. The time is NOW. Children are speaking up 🗣️ and doing their part.
Are you listening? pic.twitter.com/valI965Tj3
Tanzanian children’s rights activist Emmanuel Cosmas Msoka is a UNICEF Youth Advocate for water, sanitation, and hygiene. The young innovator created a pedal-powered hand washing machine in 2020 to help combat COVID-19 in his community and with the help of local organisations, has supplied over 400 handwashing stations across northern Tanzania over the course of a year.
His interests in innovation and volunteering has led him to encourage other people his age to come up with inventive solutions to significant problems, and to call on young people to become generational leaders.
3. Stacy Owino
Kenyan student, Stacy Owino co-created an app that helps protect women and girls from FGM.
When she was just 18 years old, Kenyan student and women’s rights advocate Stacy Owino co-created an app to help bring an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) in her country.
Three years later, Owino is not only a determined young woman studying STEM, she’s also an African representative on the Youth Sounding Board for the European Commission, and was honoured at last year’s Young Activists Summit held at the UN in Geneva for her work towards eradicating FGM.
When we asked her why it was important for young African girls to take up space, Owino told Global Citizen: “Something the world needs to know is that things are changing, and us as African youth are really taking up these spaces. We're not going to let you tell us about us. We will tell you about ourselves.”
4. Alaa Salah
Two years ago Alaa Salah was dubbed Sudan’s “Nubian Queen” when she stood up for the country’s revolution. The 25-year-old went viral after videos of her dressed in white, standing atop a car and reciting a rousing poem, circulated on social media.
Salah showed courage in putting herself at the forefront of the movement in a country where women’s voices are heavily restricted.
She was later shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the image of her in white has become a symbol of freedom for citizens in Sudan. This symbol is key to 2022 because, although her efforts — and the efforts of other Sudanese women — helped move the country towards a democracy in 2019, the end of 2021 saw the transitional government being dissolved into a military coup, and the beginning of this year has seen unrest in the country as it tries to establish a functional government.
While Sudan has yet to become stable in its freedom, Salah’s influence has kept Sudanese women going in their effort to stand up for their country.
5. Trevor Oahile
Trevor Oahile is a 24-year-old student who's helping to educate Botswana’s youth about the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights through a radio show called Don’t Get It Twisted. The show addresses young people, particularly boys and men, and explores ways in which they can be better informed about the stigmas surrounding reproductive health.
Oahile also works with UNFPA, the United Nations' sexual and reproductive health agency, to run training programs across the country, speaking about social accountability and empowering other youth activists in Botswana.
6. Nkosilathi Nyathi
Zimbabwean activist Nkosilathi Nyathi has been a climate activist for nine years, after he began standing up against climate change at the tender age of 10 years old.
Nyathi started making videos documenting the impact that the climate crisis was having on his immediate environment, including capturing flood damage and soil erosion, and interviewing experts on pollution. The young advocate went on to receive a grant from UNICEF and the G20-backed Global Infrastructure Hub in 2016 to build a biogas digester at his primary school. This meant that the school could replace the use of firewood in the kitchen with biogas, which is less of a pollutant to the environment.
Nyathi, who helped to establish the Zimbabwean chapter of the Fridays for Future campaign last year, continues to make videos alongside UNICEF Africa, and has also started venturing into public speaking on the urgency of climate change.
7. Lual Mayen
Lual Mayen went from walking three hours a day from a refugee camp in Northern Uganda seeking a place to charge his computer, to founding his own gaming company, Junub Games, and creating a game to help inspire peace.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur and 2021 Young Activist Summit honoree used his personal experience as a refugee from South Sudan to create a game called Salaam, which allows players to experience the life of a refugee while helping them seek a peaceful resolution. Salaam also has in-app purchases that not only advance you in the game, but also aid refugees in real life. For example, when you buy water for your player in the game, you are also purchasing water for someone in a refugee camp.
“My hope is I want other refugees to understand that we are not just here to survive. We are also here to thrive,” the CEO of Junub Games told CNN.
Mayen also uses his voice to speak publicly about the global refugee crisis, and inspires young Africans to dream bigger.
8. Zolani Metu
Zolani Metu is on a mission to decolonise mental health services, and make them accessible and understandable to as many South Africans as possible.
The 28-year-old psychotherapist and mental health advocate established Decolonial Mental Health, a consultancy company that works with corporations, educational institutions, and nonprofit organisations to help them promote African-focused mental health management and wellness in their spaces.
Metu was also named one of Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans for 2021, and prioritises making the mental health space inviting for Black and queer people.
9. Leah Namugerwa
When you celebrate your birthday by planting trees you give back to nature & future generations. Trees give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil & give life to wildlife.— Leah Namugerwa (@NamugerwaLeah) August 29, 2021
Today is @SJEastAfrica's birthday. She has celebrated it with 38 #Birthdaytrees. Happy birthday Sarah pic.twitter.com/v74YyXd8xg
From dedicating her birthday to replanting trees in her community, to establishing a petition to pressure the Ugandan government to ban single-use plastic, 18-year-old Leah Namugerwa is already a force to be reckoned with in the climate activism space.
Inspired by fellow young activist Greta Thunberg, Namugerwa began striking on Fridays in front of the Ugandan Parliament at just 14 years old. Today, she continues to advocate for banning plastic in her country, access to water and sanitation for vulnerable community members, and the protection of Africa’s trees and forests against the climate crisis.