23-year-old Vanessa Nakate from Uganda was delighted to attend the world economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. She had been invited to participate in a youth climate science event. She was very keen to share her message with the world until she noticed something off with a photograph, she took alongside climate activists, Greta Thunberg, Isabel Axelsson, Luisa Neubauer, and LoukinaTille.
Surprisingly, by the time the media house released the news coverage, Nakate noticed that she had been cropped out of the photograph.
According to CNN, Nakate said that the incident points to a broader issue of erasure of African voices and climate action conversations. “You didn’t just erase a photo, you erased a continent, but I am stronger than ever,” she tweeted.
During an interview in her home in Uganda, Nakate said, “Africans have truly been erased from the map of climate action. Very many African activists have been doing a lot of work putting in a lot of effort trying to get their message heard and listened to,” she added.
A photographer for the Associated Press took the picture and released it with Nakate cropped out of it. The climate activist took the bold step of questioning the agency’s actions on Twitter, “why did you remove me from the photo; I was part of that group,” she wrote. In a video statement, she said: “It was the first time in my life that I understood the definition of the word racism.”
In a statement on Friday, the AP apologized and said it regretted publishing the photo. According to an AP news story, the incident prompted soul-searching within the organization. The AP also reported that they intend to expand diversity training for their employees.
Not only was Nakate initially cropped out of the photo, but her presence was also totally omitted in previous versions of the conference report. According to Nakate, “My reaction was more of a feeling of sadness and a feeling of being worthless and having wasted my time at the press conference. Because I did not just see the photo, I went ahead to read the article, and, in the article still, I was not introduced as one of the activists who were at the press conference”, she said. Her name appeared on later reports.
The young activist has, however, received loads of support and commendations on social media. Fellow activist, Greta Thunberg, tweeted saying, “I’m so sorry they did this to you… you are the last one who would deserve that! We are all so grateful for what you are doing, and we all send love and support!! hope to see you soon again!!”
In response to all the support she has received alongside a newly verified Twitter account and thousands of followers, Nakate said: “The online reaction has been so powerful and very supportive.”
“Despite all the hurt and the depression, I have very many people who came out and supported me,” she said, “People have been pouring out all kinds of support and speaking against any kind of discrimination or injustice towards African climate activists.”
Fortunately, the incident has turned out a “blessing in disguise” as a Twitter follower put it. Nakate has not only set the record straight, but she now has a stronger voice, and she is globally recognized.
According to Nakate, she’s neither the first nor the only one to have experienced such; she happens to be the only one to speak out against the injustice boldly. “Many of those African activists have been going through those things, but they just did not have the strength to air them out,” she said, “now is the time to put an end to it.”
Climate Justice activist. Jimmy Mogollon also said, “The press has been consistently popping out youth of color in their coverage of the climate action movement for years we must rise up and demand better.”
Nakate happens to come from Kampala, Uganda, and was inspired by Greta Thunberg to join the climate activism due to unusually severe temperatures in her region. She went on a solitary protest against climate inaction and rising temperatures outside Uganda’s Parliament.
“When I went to the Parliament, a couple of policemen checked my placard quite a number of times, trying to look for a message or any kind of plot that I had against the government,” she said
According to experts, Africa is the most vulnerable to climate shocks with very severe droughts and floods occurring too often. East Africa as a whole which includes Uganda wear Nakate is from, is presently facing its worst locust invasion in decades after the rainiest season in 40 years which came after a severe drought, scientists say the situation is becoming the “new normal.” In recent times, floods and landslides have become very frequent, according to CNN, Ugandan government sources say, an estimated 300,000 people have been affected and 65000 people displaced.
Nakate, who returned from Davos over the weekend to her home in Kintintale, Kampala, Uganda, says the incident she believes has activated or conversation that will change the “framing of African climate change activists.” According to her, “Everyone is speaking against the Erasure of African activists and the world has set their eyes on this African activist I believe that now is the time for them to be given the platforms to speak out and to be listened to.”
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