Thursday, December 6, 2012

Interview by a Catholic Ecologist: Hope in Africa: Catholic youth work for sustainability

A few days ago,i was deeply honoured to be interviewed by William L. Patenaude, a Catholic Ecologist who live and works in the state of Rhode Island in the United States of America.

William (or Bill), is a committed Catholic Ecologist-an environmental engineer who holds a Master of Arts in Theology- a man who loves the Church and is keen to promote care for creation. William writes widely and has a new book, "Catholic Ecology in Orthodoxy, a Culture of Life, and the New Evangelization.", coming soon!

Mr. William Patenaude

Below is his introduction to the e-interview; please click here to re-direct to the full interview on his blog: Catholic Ecology. Thank you Bill for your help with making the efforts of CYNESA known across the US and the world! Asante sana!

Allen Ottaro of Kenya is Executive Director of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa. At 28, he’s traveled and done more than many twice his age. Allen (or Al, as his friends call him) is the face of the African continent’s future—a future of thriving economies and cultures as well as the preservation of its identity, its abundant natural, beautiful resources, and its soul. 

Al is a true Catholic ecologist. Because he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences, I am delighted to share them with you.

[Update (December 4): The following interview takes on even more value given recent statements by Bishop Bernard Kasanda of Mbuji-Mayi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bishop 
Kasanda has condemned the international community for failing to react to unrest and invasions caused by factions seeking control of mineral and oil resources. Read here for more.]

Friday, July 20, 2012

Salute the African Woman!

Something that might be deemed 'strange' happened at the just concluded African Union summit, last Sunday. South Africa's Home Affairs minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was elected after four rounds of voting, the new Chairperson of the African Union Commission, defeating incumbent Dr. Jean Ping of Gabon.

Dr.Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Her election went against the tide for two reasons: the 'voters', were African heads of state and government-an entirely male club, save for Presidents Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Malawi and Liberia respectively. That Dr. Dlamini-Zuma got these fellows to back her is impressive. Secondly, the AU has laboured to adhere to the so called 'gentleman's agreement' pitting the large AU nations versus their smaller counterparts. In this arrangement, the former were required to 'leave' the AU posts for the latter. This card did not work for Dr.Ping this time round, when South Africa decided that all countries are 'equal' and campaigned hard for its candidate. It seems the other nations concurred by voting in Dr.Dlamini-Zuma. Lastly, the Anglophone-Francophone divide reared its ugly head once again at the continental governance level. South Africa was accused of dividing the continent along language lines. Never mind that English and French are not native to any of the AU member states. Dr. Dlamini-Zuma was quick and smart enough in her rejoinder, stating that she is not 'Anglophone' but Zulu! This for me, was the knock-out punch! Intriguingly, the host, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, missed this AU summit for the first time, nursing ill-health in a Brussels hospital. I can only speculate as to whether his absence was a good omen to Dr. Dlamini-Zuma's election prospects!
Away from the politics and more importantly, a crop of African women leaders is set to shape the destiny  and political discourse of the continent.Not many weeks ago, Ms. Fatou Bensouda from Gambia, was elected as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), succeeding Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo. She becomes only the second prosecutor in the history of the ICC, which has been labeled by some African statesmen (including former AU chair, Dr.Ping), as being 'an African Criminal Court'. It will be interesting, therefore, to see how the relationship between Ms. Bensouda and Dr. Dlamini-Zuma evolves, as the two institutions interact.
Ms. Fatou Bensouda; ICC Prosecutor.

I already mentioned Mrs. Joyce Banda, President of Malawi and her opposite number in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In Kenya, Martha Karua is putting up what is promising to be a bruising battle for the presidency, in a male dominated battle-ground. The boys are running scared!
Early in his tenure, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, picked Tanzanian, Asha Rose Migiro, to be his number two.
I am sure i am missing quite a number of other African women who are taking the continent and the world by storm. Most memorable though, is the competitiveness that Nigerian Finance minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, brought to the race for the World Bank presidency.
Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Again, the United States and the European Union have some sort of deal, that ensures an American and a European always sit at the helm of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund respectively. Still, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director, put up a strong bid for the job, that eventually went to Obama's nominee, Dr. Jim Yong Kim.
I have a strong vibe that we will be hearing from and seeing a lot more African women on the continental and world stage during this decade.

Africans have reason to look forward to brighter days to come and to salute the African woman!

Friday, July 13, 2012


I have been reading blogs about Africa these past weeks. However, none of the reads have been as original and refreshing (as well as concrete!), as two interviews given by two Jesuits; the provincial of Eastern Africa, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator and the Superior General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas.

Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator,SJ : Good News for Africa


Adolfo Nicolas,SJ: The World Needs Africa

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Introducing CYNESA!

CYNESA - the Catholic Youth Network for Sustainability in Africa- is growing steadily. The young men and women behind the initiative are more than convinced that their mission and agenda is crucial. In this post, i share with you an article that introduces CYNESA- and invite you to be part of this initiative.

CYNESA, the Catholic youth response to environmental challenges in Africa

April 16, 2012
Photo Credit: CYNESA
Allen Ottaro, Ngonidzashe Edward, SJ, and Tafara Ruvimbo Dandadzi
Despite the large numbers of Catholic youth that the Church in Africa is proud of, there exist only few initiatives addressing environmental concerns that are emerging from, and led by, the youth in Africa.  The duty to promote and safeguard the environment is “the responsibility of everyone”, as John Paul II pointed.  This realization was the subtle beginning of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa or CYNESA.  Inspired by John Paul II’s message for the World Day of Peace 1990, young Catholics from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa, drawn from and representing university chaplaincies and parish groups, joined up to respond to this invitation.
In November 2011, faith communities from around the world came together under the banner, We Have Faith – act now for climate justice, to champion for a just and robust outcome of the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa.  Young people from several African countries, joined by colleagues from Europe, formed a strong part of this initiative.  Indeed, many youth-led environmental movements are present in Africa, spurred on by the stark reality that Africa suffers enormously from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.
Young people are now identifying the mission of CYNESA as the platform through which young Catholics across Africa can offer a response to the twin challenges of environmental degradation and climate change, from the perspective of Catholic social ethics, paying attention to the most vulnerable.  Taking advantage of social media that helped move the initiative, the network aims to respond through:
Education and awareness creation, by preparing a toolkit on climate change that draws from scripture and Catholic social ethics.
Networking and advocacy training, by seeking to establish and build relationships with like-minded partners, and to train young Christians in advocacy on environmental sustainability, and to link different initiatives on the continent.
Encouraging and supporting concrete action plans at the local level, by endeavoring to encourage young people to act in their parishes, schools, and within their youth movements by developing appropriate sustainable practices to conserve resources.
We welcome partnerships from other organizations already engaged in this mission in Africa and beyond, and hope that the network can be a tool that builds the Lord’s Kingdom, by caring for His creation.

Allen Ottaro, Ngonidzashe Edward, SJ, and Tafara Ruvimbo Dandadzi.

Mr Allen Ottaro is the Founding Executive Director of CYNESA and is based in Nairobi, Kenya.  Ngonidzashe Edward, SJ is a Jesuit Scholastic at Hekima College, also in Nairobi.  Mr Tafara Ruvimbo Dandadzi is the CYNESA Deputy Executive Director and Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa and is based in Zimbabwe.  For more information, please visit CYNESA.


The Role of Youth in Advocacy and Governance of Natural Resources in the context of a Green Economy-From Victims to Actors

My last post was about the news that followed after my trip to Bukavu, in the east of theDemocratic Republic of Congo. The main mission of my trip was to participate in an international conference on governance of collective natural resources. I presented a paper entitled, 'The Role of Youth in Advocacy and Governance of Natural Resources in the context of a Green Economy-From Victims to Actors'. In this blog post, i share with you the abstract and introduction of my paper.

In June 1992, world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Also known as the ‘Earth Summit’ the conference resulted in the Agenda 21, as a comprehensive plan of actions to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.
Principle 21 of the document states that, ‘The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should
 be mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better
 future for all.’ while Principle 23 states that ‘The environment and natural resources of people under
 oppression, domination and occupation shall be protected.’ (1)
There is a clear connection between youth as actors in environmental governance that ensures natural
 resources in post conflict zones are protected. However, youth have often been victims of 
unsustainable natural resource exploitation in post conflict zones in the Great Lakes region. 
The next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20[1], proposes the shift
 from brown economies to green economies, as well as a new institutional framework for sustainable
 development. This offers a renewed opportunity for youth to be key actors in advocacy and
 governance of the natural resources, as leaders in their communities, towards a green economy.
Presenting the paper to an attentive audience

Documented advocacy for the good governance of natural resources can be traced back to the origins and beginnings of the environmental movement in the United States of America. One of the most well known personalities associated with this movement is writer, scientist and ecologist, Rachel Louise Carson, and who I was introduced to early in my Environmental Planning and Management study program. Growing up simply in the rural river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania, her mother bequeathed to her a life-long love of nature and the living world that Rachel expressed first as a writer and later as a student of marine biology. At a very youthful age of 25 and 29 years, Rachel earned an MA in Zoology and became the editor-in-chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Yet it is her book, ‘Silent Spring’, which she published while dying from cancer in 1962, and at the height of industrial and chemical pollution and destruction of nature, that won her international critical acclaim and galvanized the environmental movement, shaping the management of natural resources at various levels.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in 1972, was one of the key milestones of this movement. Among the key outcomes of this conference was the setting up of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
In 1987, the famous Brundtland[2] Commission report on Sustainable Development was published. The report coined the concept ‘sustainable development’ and defined it as “ …development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (2) In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), popularly known as the Earth Summit was held in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The Earth Summit is widely remembered for having enshrined the Agenda 21 principles into the global sustainable development agenda. Principle 21 of the document recognized the importance of mobilizing youth globally, recognizing them as actors in a partnership that transcends geographical boundaries, in the pursuit of sustainable development, which includes the management of natural resources. Principle 23, explicitly expressed the need to protect natural resources of populations under oppression, domination and occupation. While post-conflict zones may or may not necessarily be described as being ‘under oppression, domination and occupation’, it is accurate to state that the conditions of living in post-conflict zones generally match those described in Principle 23 of Agenda 21. However, post-conflict zones may also exhibit characteristics of great potential in terms of socio-economic growth and a ‘re-birth’ of society, coupled with a greater sense of ownership and responsibility towards the management of natural resources, as a component that fuels and drives this ‘re-birth’. This paper seeks to examine the role of youth as key actors, especially in advocacy and governance of natural resource management in post-conflict zones, and especially in the context of a green-economy, which is one of the major themes for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, to be held, again, in Rio de Janeiro, in 2012.
The first part will look at the concept of youth and what defines them. The second part will attempt to dissect the various interpretations of advocacy and governance, looking at how youth have been involved at various levels, and how it has been reflected in the management of natural resources. The third and final part will look at what is being proposed as the green economy and the opportunities it may offer for youth to be more effectively engaged in the management of natural resources in post-conflict zones.

[1] The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) is being organized in pursuance of General Assembly Resolution 64/236 (A/RES/64/236). The Conference will take place in Brazil on 20-22 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. It is envisaged as a Conference at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government or other representatives. The Conference will result in a focused political document. The Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
[2] Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland was born in Oslo, Norway, on 20 April 1939. A medical doctor and Master of Public Health (MPH), Gro Harlem Brundtland spent 10 years as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system. For more than 20 years she was in public office, 10 of them as Prime Minister. In the 1980s she chaired the World Commission of Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bukavu...and the news that followed

I was trying to get some rest from a 31-hour bus trip,when news of a plane crash in the Eastern DRC town of Bukavu, started filtering through on the internet. That was Sunday, 12th February.
Just days earlier, Thursday morning, to be precise, i had left Bukavu by bus.
According to media reports, the plane was ferrying the finance minister and senior advisers to President Joseph Kabila, including the Governor of the South Kivu province. Apparently, the foreign pilots were flying into Kavuma airport on Bukavu for the first time. They overshot the runway and crashed, One senior presidential aide died while the finance minister, reportedly sustained serious injuries.

I was more curious about the condition of the Governor. On the evening of the 8th February, i was among conference participants that shared a dance floor with Governor Marcellin Cishambo, at a dinner party hosted at the end of a 3-day conference on natural resource management in post-conflict zones-the subject of my trip to Bukavu.
Governor Marcellin Cishambo (in bow tie) at the opening of the Conference in Bukavu

In fact, earlier that day, i had taken part in a group discussion in which the Governor participated, and even had a chance for a photo-op and a tete-a-tete afterwards. It was therefore a shock to learn that he had been in the ill-fated plane. Thankfully, the Governor's injuries are not life-threatening, even though he will be immobile for several months, if media reports are to be believed. I wish him and his colleagues a quick recovery.

In the meantime, stay tuned for posts on my experience in Bukavu and Rwanda.