Climate Change Mitigation in African Indigenous Communities

By Lori Poutiainen

Anthropogenic climate change and its consequences are a global phenomenon. Its effects are felt more deeply in developing countries, especially those on the African continent. Following the COP26 and 27 convention, it is evident that the failures of the Global North to recognise the need to amplify marginalized voices is not only an issue of justice but also of climate neglect. Other climate change conferences and conventions were criticized for leaving-out certain communities and voices which are imperative to the struggle against climate catastrophe. Therefore, who is it that we need to turn to if not the very institutions claiming to solve these problems? 

The answer may lie in the knowledge of Indigenous communities who practice alternative ways of tackling climate change. Many communities either remain untouched or seek to remain separate from the neoliberal systems of capitalist accumulation which have arguably led to our environment’s destruction. The phenomenon of climate change has drastically affected the socio-economic, health and political life of Africans and the livelihoods of the Indigenous communities which remain. A clear example of its effects are the severe droughts in the Horn of Africa, Southern African and Sahel. This article will present the climate-change related challenges African Indigenous communities face, and the adaptations these communities use as climate change mitigation mechanisms. It will then analyze the need for a broader role for Indigenous communities to be ingrained into the decision making process, regarding global environmental issues. 

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people whose livelihoods are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change, including those located on the African continent. Indigenous communities consist of groups of people who do not recognise or have been placed outside of the dominant state system or governance of an area. These indigenous communities have a different culture and way of living in comparison to the dominant majority living in the area, and are often at threat of extinction. They are also considered vulnerable and suffer from various forms of economic, social and political marginalization. Their way of life is dependent on the rights they are granted to their traditional land and therefore, the resources the land provides. With climate change becoming more serious with extreme weather events such as drought and the burden of serious poverty, the little land that is protected and the communities cultivating it are at risk. 

Moreover, Indigenous peoples in Africa, live in a wide array of sensitive ecosystems and use natural resources for pastoralism, hunting or foraging. Their traditional practices involve implementing the wisdom of generations before them to take care of their land such as livestock keeping, biodiversity protection and harboring knowledge on the protection of local nature. This wisdom, experience and most importantly, direct knowledge of their environmental resources in their lands and territories, makes indigenous communities the perfect example of how climate-related challenges can be tackled by African Indigenous communities, and the need for these local strategies to be highlighted on a local, regional and global scale. This is particularly important as the degradation of indigenous livelihoods and ecosystems poses a serious risk to the continent’s sustainability and the lives of their communities.

Despite less consideration having been given to Indigenous communities during the formation of climate-change mitigation strategies, some organizations are pushing for the integration and amplification of Indigenous voices when developing climate change strategies and proposals as this has been previously disregarded. This is because Indigenous knowledge on observing and monitoring climates and natural resources can aid in making informed decisions on utilizing resources and patterns of sustainability. Many Indigenous communities use local and Indigenous derived knowledge which have been passed on for generations and present alternative ways on how to cope with the effects of climate change. This knowledge is derived from Indigenous groups’ experiences of coping with ecological uncertainty such as droughts, good insecurity and displacement due to them being “confined to the least productive and most delicate lands because of historical, social, political, and economic exclusion”. Indigenous communities have had to adapt and combat climate change in order to conserve their lands, territories and resources. This highlights the agency Indigenous communities have when working towards creating change. There needs to be more awareness and push towards learning from the local agro-ecological knowledge that many African Indigenous communities nurture.

The resilience and adaptations of Indigenous communities is challenged by unequal power in decision making, vulnerability amongst populations, poverty and agro-business. The current governing frameworks do not effectively protect indigenous people’s interests, livelihoods, resources and rights. This is a gross injustice considering they are some of the most carbon-neutral populations to exist, thus contributing very little, if anything, to the climate catastrophe.

Fortunately, there are activists and non-profit organizations who have created demands which fit into a climate justice system which places Indigenous communities at the center of climate change mitigation strategies. According to the IPACC, this would include: promoting Indigenous adaptation plans, engagement in UN treaty bodies on the environment (UNFCCC and the like), conserving African Forests with the participation of the tribes and communities who rely on them and the protection and promotion of Indigenous rights over not only their land but of their intellectual property. These demands highlight a greater need for a local human-rights framework, rather than larger  global paradigms which are clearly not touching the lives of Indigenous communities in a positive manner. The agency of indigenous people needs to be recognised as a powerful tool for change, with regards to climate change mitigation strategies but also as a part of larger recognition of their rights to their land, and ways of living. 


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Jennifer Rourke Remains Strong Despite Both Physical and Political Attacks

By Maura Mulholland

On June 24, 2022, Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate for the Rhode Island State Senate, was physically assaulted at an abortion-rights protest in Providence. Video evidence shows the scene unfolding as pro-choice activists surrounded an anti-abortion counter-protestor. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Rourke escorted the counter-protester out of the crowd and into a less packed area. Moments after this occurred, a man attacks the counter-protester, the camera jostles a bit, and then focuses on Rourke, recognizable in a bright pink shirt, being punched twice by another man. 

The man who assaulted her, Jeann Lugo, was her opponent in the state Senate race. A police officer aligned with the GOP, he dropped out of the race the day after the incident. He was arrested, but released on personal recognizance. His actions are currently being investigated by the police department, and he has been placed on administrative leave. 

Lugo was only the first candidate with a questionable background to run against Rourke. The Tuesday after Lugo dropped out of the race, Michael C. Carreiro, who helms the Warwick, Rhode Island firefighters’ union, filed to oppose Rourke in the race for the District 29 State Senate seat. Some recent revelations in Carreiro’s Facebook history have revealed a troubling past. In 2009, Carreiro, a white man, attended a themed event dressed as Black singer James Brown. Pictures were posted online of him in brown face paint and a wig, an evident attempt at Blackface. In addition to this racist garb, images have emerged of Carreiro posing and smiling next to well-known conservative television host Tucker Carlson, a man who he apparently admires despite Carlson’s divisive political commentary and personal life. 

In the midst of Rourke grappling with her controversial opponents, she reached out to the Democratic committee of District 29 in an attempt to earn their endorsement and support. The committee has declined to speak regarding any of the candidates in the race, and according to Rourke, will not even return her calls. Rourke’s candidacy, and the inadequate response of Democratic leadership to her concerns for her safety, has catapulted a local Senate race to the national stage and reveals how inhospitable U.S. politics are to Black women. Women of color who seek to run for public office unfortunately face a daily double-edged combination of misogyny and racism. 

The Vega v. Tekoh Decision is an Attempt by the Court to Fight Back Against Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd Protests

On June 23rd, the United States Supreme Court rolled back the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination that was articulated by the Warren Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The conservative justices on the Court tried to characterize this decision as a logical reframing of the 5th Amendments interpretation, but in reality, this decision is merely an attempt to protect police officers in an era where policing is viewed increasingly negative.  

In its 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court found that police officers are required to inform suspect of their right against self-incrimination (among others) in order for the arrest and subsequent prosecution to be constitutional. In Vega v. Tekoh, the 2022 Court found that police officers cannot be sued in civil courts for failure to administer the Miranda warnings.  

This case arose after Terence Tekoh, a hospital attendant, was accused of sexually abusing a patient in Los Angeles, CA. Tekoh was interrogated by Carlos Vega, who did not inform him of his Miranda rights, and Tekoh ultimately provided written confession to the assault. This confession was later used as evidence in his criminal trial, though he was acquitted by a jury. As a result of his interrogation, Tekoh filed suit against Officer Vega under a federal civil rights law, Section 1983, which allows citizens to sue police officers over violations of constitutional rights. 

The Vega decision leaves in place the aspect of the Miranda ruling where Defendants can have their criminal charges thrown out if the arresting officer fails to inform them of their rights at the time of arrest. All 6 conservative Justices found in favor of rolling back the Miranda protections, with the three liberal justices dissenting. In his written opinion, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. argued that  

“Miranda rests on a pragmatic judgment about what is needed to stop the violation at trial of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. That prophylactic purpose is served by the suppression at trial of statements obtained in violation of Miranda.” 

Justice Alito is willfully ignorant of the purpose of the 1966 Miranda decision. His decision does not engage with Fifth Amendment protections in good faith, and should instead be viewed as an attempt to further protect police from civil suits. In the wake of the widespread George Floyd protests of 2020, states and localities have seen a mass influx of civil suits against police. In the Tekoh decision, Justice Alito argued that “Allowing the victim of a Miranda violation to sue a police officer for damages…would cause many problems.” The Tekoh decision is not about fixing a previous mistake, it is about protecting police and the violent tactics they use to confront and intimidate African Americans. The Supreme Court has succeeded in rolling back one of the few legal protections available to people of color to push back against misconduct from officers.