makura1_YASUYOSHI CHIBAAFP via Getty Images_wind turbines africa YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

How to Sell Climate Action to Africa

The Global North’s disaster narrative regarding climate change has failed to motivate Africans to tackle the problem. It would be far better to reframe climate change as an opportunity to create new industries that can create jobs, build businesses, and stimulate the continent’s economies while saving the planet.

JOHANNESBURG – There is a well-known story about two footwear salesmen who traveled to Africa in the early twentieth century to look for new markets. Within days of arriving, the first salesman concluded that there was no potential for shoe sales because everyone was barefoot. His colleague, by contrast, saw a huge untapped market to explore.

That tale reminds me of how the rich world, arguably for well-intentioned reasons, has chosen to talk about climate change, especially with regard to Africa. NGOs, donors, and governments in the Global North have packaged climate change as a single story of disaster. The pessimism extends to the language used, such as “climate emergency,” “climate crisis,” and “climate refugees.”

We are constantly reminded that Africa will be the region hardest hit by climate change. The narrative, reinforced by images of drought, famine, and floods, consistently portrays our farmers, fishermen, and villagers as victims.

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