Socialist Worker

Climate change: African poor will suffer

by Mzimasi Makiniki, Malawian activist
Issue No. 2026

The 6,000 delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, this week have a heavy responsibility.

The very future of the African continent and our planet is in the balance.

The delegates should not allow themselves to be used to give the appearance of concern and action when in reality nothing effective is being done.

It is very appropriate that this meeting takes place in Africa, for it is here that some of the most speedy and profound effects of climate change will be felt.

Rising sea levels could destroy an estimated 30 percent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure, according to a United Nations (UN) report released last week.

It warned that coastal settlements in Egypt in the north could be flooded, as could, the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal and Gambia in the west.

Cities at risk include Cape Town in South Africa, and Maputo in Mozambique and Dar Es-Salaam in Tanzania which are on the east coast.


In my own country agriculture employs almost 85 percent of the labour force and accounts for nearly 90 percent of the export earnings. If agriculture is hit then hundreds of thousands of rural households will suffer or perish.

Food crops across the continent will be affected by climate change.

Only around half of Africa’s 810 million people have access to safe drinking water.

Three quarters of its population uses groundwater supplies to a greater or lesser extent.

Changes in rainfall patterns may have devastating effects and force millions to migrate.

Over 95 percent of Africa’s agriculture depends on rainfall. Models indicate that 80,000 square kilometres of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa currently deemed constrained will improve as a result of climate change.

However, 600,000 square kilometres currently classed as moderately constrained will become severely limited.

It is important to recognise the reality of these scenarios.

But equally they must not paralyse us or make us believe that the issue of climate change is fundamentally different to other issues such as poverty, debt, education or the stranglehold of the multinationals.


The great danger is that, like the G8 summit last year in Gleneagles, the world’s leaders will emit great sympathy for Africa and then move back to their daily business of making profits and backing their big firms.

And most African leaders will meekly allow them to get away with it.

I was very pleased to hear of such a big march in London over climate change last Saturday. We are united across the world by this issue. But it does not unite rich and poor.

It is of course true that the effects of climate change will spare nobody on this planet. But that doesn’t mean that everyone gets the message.

The US is responsible for about 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with only about 4 percent of world population.

George Bush is like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, leading a herd of corporate dinosaurs over the cliff and bellowing as he goes.

When the colonialists came to Africa they described its people as “barbarians”.

If we “discovered” the US today, how could we describe a society so obsessed with visiting war and death upon other people when they should be urgently tackling so many problems?

We will need to fight to impose our demands over climate change, just as we must over other vital issues for humanity.

E-mail Mzimasi at

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Article information

Sat 11 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2026
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