Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Caravan Chat - Where Marriages and Climate Change Come Into Play

Grace and Ronica during the Interview
Every time l thought of writing this story, a sly grin would cross my face. These two women farmers from Zambia literally connected climate change and the waning of marriages in their rural villages. I will come back to that in a minute.

Meet Grace Tepula who is small scale Zambian Dairy Farmer and a mother of five and who has 5 grandchildren. She also grows maize and groundnuts. And adds, ‘Maize is the staple food of Zambia you know.’ I nod.

We are standing outside the International Conference Centre in Durban, South Africa while having this interview. She is excited to be talking to me but has this expression on her face that says, we had better get it right in Durban.
Climate change has affected the community she finds herself in. ‘Climate change has reduced our milk from 50 to 60 liters a day to 30 to 40 liters a day, ‘ she says. Adding that the hot weather makes it difficult to grow fodder for the animals which are zero grazed for purposes of reducing diseases.’ 

Of the rains and expected harvest she says, ‘There has been a drop in harvest because of wells that are drying up.’ Maria, she calls my name. I gesture knowingly. ‘There has been reduction of water levels. The hot season that starts in August and ends in October has had an extension,’ Grace adds. This has been to their detriment. It has simply meant that they didn’t have fodder for their animals. 

Another farmer standing next to her quips in, ‘ It has also meant that we are buying the fodder at expensive rates.’ That is Ronica Mona who is a mother of 5 children and 5 grandchildren and who lives in Luanshya. Their faces defy their ages. I guess it is the jovialness they have as they do this interview or is it because they just had a demonstration where they demanded their rights in front of international media? I can’t put a finger on which. I am glad they are doing this in the first place. Back to the interview.
Grace tells me that commercial farmers are making a killing from selling them expensive fodder for their animals. ‘I would rather grow my own fodder to avoid the expense, ‘she says. Adding that, the big scale farmers are privileged because they are able to irrigate their farms.'

Ronica brings in the twister that l mentioned above. ‘Our men failed to dig copper because our mines were closed. The women through Heifer International got empowered and started digging white gold, milk,’ she says with what seems like a sly grin on her face. ‘ Our marriages are now stable and we are looking after our men,’ she adds. 

Grace who is standing next to her jumps in quickly, ‘ Men who don’t work in Zambia are called Loafers. These men experience inferiority complex when they are idle but because of the white gold they no longer are idle and broke.’ 

Adding proudly, ‘We take care of the animals, milk them and sell the products. After we are done, we bring the money back to the family and all is well.’ I grin. It is just the way they light up when they discuss this subject.

The white gold is however getting threatened by climate change. 

Grace tells me that every animal needs 40 to 80 liters of water on a daily basis. Something that is no longer viable because of the hot weather and drying up of wells. 

They have a message to leaders attending COP17. ‘Help us financially to cope with droughts and famines because you are the main emitters and therefore cause that greatest mess,’ says Grace.

Ronica winds it up by saying, ‘We want a fair deal. ‘ The interview is over but the women start to laugh in unison. I know they know. Ronica says as if reading my mind, ‘What we have told you about our marriages is true.’

By Maria Wanza

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Caravan Brief - Trans African Caravan of Hope Opening Ceremony Held in Kwa Zulu Natal University

We shall shout it loud. We must be heard
I am writing this piece from Kwa Zulu Natal University where we are meeting with all the caravanites who have travelled over 7000 kilometers to be here.I am sitted right at the back observing the whole room. It is electric with ululating women accompanied by chanting crowds. Watch the video

Crunch Time As Caravan of Hope Arrives in Pretoria, South Africa

This Piece is being written on our way to Durban at around 9.30pm on the 25th November, 2011. It has been a relaxed day today. As we drive for the next 6 hours, we realize we are about to descend on Durban and crescendo what has been a spirited campaign. This morning over 100 caravanites from the Trans African Caravan of Hope chanted demands outlined in the Africa People’s Petition as they waved placards and patriotically held their country flags high. This was outside the Union Building in Pretoria. 

During the meeting the continental coordinator Mithika Mwenda urged South Africa ‘not to let Africa down during this COP17.’ The group then picked on that and chanted it out with the realization that COP17 is just a few hours to kick off. The Caravan of Hope is travelling over 7000 kms by road to Durban, South Africa. The caravanites have witnessed what climate change has done in the continent including increase of temperatures in all the countries we visited like Kenya which also played a hand in the drought and famine that the country experienced early in the year, heard about Zimbabwe’s Veld fires, Uganda’s mudslides, Zambia’s late harvest due to delay of rains among others. The list is endless. 

This group presents a cocktail of the true reflection of Africa. Here we have farmers, youth, scouts, womens groups, religious representation, civil society, government delegations. These people come from both rural and urban area representation. 

Africa is diverse. For her to be heard during this COP17, diversity must be her strength. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Caravan Picture Speak - Uganda Speaks

Setting Up
Vice President Ssekandi Signs Petition
Government Officials Meet Up with Activista Youth of Action Aid who organized the flag off event
Our gracious host in Uganda. She was lovely. You can see the smiles on the Caravanites' faces.

Caravan Picture Speak - Zimbabwe - Drums of Climate Justice Thunder in Zimbabwe

Drums of Peace Group Lead in Rhythm

The Drums of Peace is a group that communicates its messages through drums. They helped lead the caravanites in what turned out to be a rhyth thundering Zimbabwe.

Age Didn't Matter

Everyone Joined in
Hear Us
The participants held a procession on the streets of Zimbabwe before gathering for addresses by their leaders
And The Streets Thundered

We As Women Take the Brunt of Climate Change. We Shall Be Heard.

We shall fight for our future

Caravan Picture Speak - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe...A Spirited Dramatization of the Petition

This is Us

Here's How we Send Our Message

Here we go

Her Song, Their Song, Our Song
The above team is an award winning group that dramatizes messages. This time the group dramatized the Trans African Caravan of Hope Petition that is being presented to the incoming COP17 president, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in South Africa.

The song they did stirred a number of emotions. At first, it was anger of what Africa is being subjected to and a little while later, eyes across the hall were getting teary and hands were reaching for handkerchiefs or Kleenex, It was moving.

Caravan Picture Speak - Zimbabwe - Lest You Forget Our Petition

Here's What

We will Keep Repeating this Until We Are Heard
We are fighting for our future

Food Security Must Be Addressed

The Disease Burden Because of Climatic Changes is Wearing Africa Down

Caravan Dispatches - Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe What A Pleasant Aroma

Drums of Peace, An Entertainment Group That Engaged the Caravanites,Much to their Delight
So as it turns out Zimbabwe turned out to be one of the most hospitable countries in this whole trip. Only it caught us by surprise. The people were very helpful and friendly. 

Take our courtesy call to Davis Dumezweni Luthe, Town Secretary of Plum Tree, which is a border town between Zimbabwe and Botswana. This visit that came in last minute turned out to be the best ever decision we made. The town secretary of Plum Tree, which is 9kilometers from Botswana, is apparently a comedian. It was indeed a relief to have someone crack us up on this trip seeing that we had a long journey ahead of us.
At a meeting in his office, he noted in his speech that, ‘Every level of government must appreciate climate change and do that by mainstreaming it.’ He added that not only did Zimbabwe draw up mechanisms. The 7th MDG which speaks of Environmental Sustainability is a serious issue for them. He wound up the speech with teaching us what Plum Tree stands for Peace, Love, Unity, Manpower, Trust, Resources, Enter , Exit. To which he got a huge applause.  

Caravan Dispatches - Botswana, What A Let Down!

I started to write this blog when we were leaving the border of Botswana and driving down to Gaberone. But as fate would have it, my computer blacked out because it needed to be powered. 

So here l am about 5am the very next morning writing as we drive along some very clean and organized Botswana streets. I almost didn’t want to do this entry. The caravanites were and are not a happy people. A group of the caravanites, specifically Burundians and Rwandese were turned back and asked to go to the high commissioner to get visas for entry. Believe it we were so angry. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Caravan Chat - Remembering Late Prof Wangari Maathai on the Way to Durban

Prof Wangari Maathai
 PACJA will on 28th November 2011 hold a Waangari Maathai solidarity night in Durban, South Africa. It is expected that song, dance, tribute speeches will render the air as the Trans African Caravan of Hope caravanites remember and honor the late Prof Wangari Maathai who gave so much to the community she found herself in. 

 ‘If Prof Wangari Maathai was here she would reinforce messages that we have heard throughout from the leaders we have met so far. She wouldn’t be talking about Africa being compensated but rather that we as Africans need to look for homegrown solutions,’ Says Joseph Kabiru. He had the opportunity of interviewing the late Prof Wangari Maathai during his stints at both BBC and Nation Media Group. Joseph Kabiru is also a caravanite from Kenya.

I am talking to him whose article on Prof Wangari Maathai got published by the Guardian. He also had interesting perspectives hence my talking to him. His article can be found at
As a young man, his first impression of Prof Maathai was that, ‘she was the toughest woman in Kenya.’ She stood by her values and ideals. She was consistent in both her political and environmental battles.

 ‘This woman started to discuss climate change in the 70s way before the world had picked up on it,’ says Kabiru who grew up in surrounding area of MAU forest. His community benefited from what the government called the ‘shamba’ system where landless people were allowed to cultivate in forest areas They would then be urged to replace the trees. It was confusing for the community.  ‘The trees are growing, the crops are growing.  what is the farce about  forests?, ‘ The rural folk had wondered when in the early 70s the Late Prof Wangari Maathai started urging communities around the MAU to move away. 

‘The community didn’t quite understand the connection. It was confusing. The logic of the ecosystem didn’t make sense at all,’ says Kabiru. It also didn’t help much because the political elite painted her negatively every chance they got. But she fought on. She began working with women’s groups where she taught them not only the importance of trees but also how to plant and take care of them. So far the Green Belt Movement has planted over 40 million trees across Kenya since the 1970s.

Based in Eastern Africa, The MAU is the largest water tower in the region and its existence has been threatened on several occasions because of human encroachment. ‘All major rivers in East Africa are fed by the MAU, ‘ Say Kabiru adding that rivers like Sundu and Molo rivers are now dried up.’  Adding that if one went deep into the MAU one can’t help but notice that there has been destruction because of heavy logging.
‘Now looking back, she knew what she was talking about,’Kabiru adds.

By Maria Wanza

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Caravan Chat - Global Warming, Nothing But Destruction

                 The poem below was recited at the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe by 11year old
             Samuel Tembo from Sir Roy Welensky School during a brief welcome ceremony.
  This poem  was written by his father who urged him to recite it with a lot of feeling in it.

Samuel Tembo
Global Warming, Nothing but Destruction

By Samuel Tembo

Global warming, global warming, global warming
What global warming to talk about
What good is in global warming?
What beauty is in global warming?
Nothing but destruction

The protective ozone layer have been destroyed
The sun’s rays falls directly on us
Climatic conditions have been affected
What beauty is in global warming?
Nothing but determination

Global warming who created you?
You have opened the floodgates of hell
You have killed thousands of people
Millions have been displaced
Chickens and goats have been drowned
Worms and bridges have been swept away in floods
Lizards, chameleons and insects engulfed in flames
Yes, l see nothing but destruction

We have seen EL Nino in Zimbabwe, cyclones in Asia
Tonados in the USA, Veld fires in South America, Heat waves across Africa
What beauty is in global warming?
Nothing but destruction
 Let us come together as a community
Let us come together nation
Let us come together as one world
And stop  global warming
Because it is nothing but destruction

Fighting for Climate Justice for the Marginalized

 He fights for the marginalized with a clear focus

Joseph Mururu from Kenya is a caravanite with a mission. He is going to Durban, South Africa to fight for climate Justice especially for the marginalized communities he is working with. Joseph who works with the Shape the Child Charity Foundation tells me passionately that for years now they have continued empower marginalized communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, ASAL, areas by capacity building them on issues of food security. Shape the Child Charity Foundation also works with orphans and Other Vulnerable Children. They also have education and health projects. 

The Marginalized

Their description of marginalized also includes empowering communities leaving in the slum areas. He tells me, ‘The slum areas are also marginalized. They lack social amenities that a lot of people take for granted.’ Shape the Child Charity Foundation works in Kibera the largest slum in Eastern and Southern Africa whose education levels are low compared to their counterparts in other parts  of the country. They also work in Turkana, Isiolo and Kajiado district. He tells me in no uncertain terms, ‘we are growing the list because the need is great.

A Child Who Got Help

Singing About Collective Responsibility

This is our land This is our world what we do today determines our future.
Achieng Abura, Musician from Kenya

I am writing this enroute Bulawayo from Victoria Falls which is about 171 kilometers away. Yes, we are in Zimbabwe. The falls were beautiful. Pause. I will tell you about that in my next blog.

 Right in the heart of Zimbabwe achieng abura is belting out a song on collective responsibility in as far as climate change is concerned. If you don’t know, Achieng is one of the most prolific singers in Africa and who is based in Nairobi, Kenya. This mother of one is also an environmental scientist who understands the whole climate change issue.
I have heard her music  but the first time l heard her play live  was during a tribute to the Late Prof Wangari Maathai that was held in Nairobi Kenya. I was so tongue tied at her performance. Achieng has a voice that is so strong that l remember thinking during her performance it sounded more like a Bob Geldof concert, It was thunderous.

‘Matching your act after that was a nightmare,’ l told her the very next week as we sat in her cozy house discussing the possibility of working together. I was with my colleague, Ann, at the time. We were humbled that a musician of her caliber would even let us come into her home to discuss our project. Something that never happens with musicians at her level. The project? The Trans African Caravan of Hope, where she got to perform during the flag off in Kenya.  

So now  we listen to her. Her music is Trans African because right at the back of our bus, a Zambian 50 plus year old caravanite is dancing away. She is so carried by the music that she adds a rhythmic stump as she sways back and forth. I smile knowingly as all the attention goes back to her. 

‘I worked on this album for about a year,’ Achieng had told us when we met her. ‘It takes time to come up with songs that stay with the people, ‘ she had added. It is true. Her music is timeless and authentically African. The meticulous work included bringing in a musician from the Borana community to sing along in one of what has become our favorite song. Of that she says, ‘we had to get it right especially in terms of accent.’ 

She has two complete environmental albums and she is still doing more. ‘What is your drive?’ l remember asking her. ‘I do music to change lives. My music is about people remembering the message,’ she had said. I sit back and think as we get closer to Bulawayo, isn’t this what we need as we head to COP17? That the world remembers Climate Justice is NOW. 

By Maria Wanza

Caravan Dispatches - Somewhere in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Bulawayo City Hall
I am sitting at the balcony of the hotel we checked into late last night here in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. It is about half past six in the morning but like l mentioned before, it looks like 8am in Nairobi.

The morning is chilly but there are sun rays that are teasing their way through the heavy clouds.I don't know if they will tease enough to scare the clouds into some sort of retreat. 

From where l sit, l grin knowingly. This could be anywhere in Africa. 

Straight ahead on my right there is what seems like a taxi man who is calling out to passengers going to a certain place in the city. The drivers are hooting as the conductors try to convince the potential passengers to get into the cars. Just down the road on my left is a petrol station that is still closed. 

As the ravens at two roof tops away peck at some grains l can’t help but marvel at how different countries in Africa can have such similarities. 

Last night when we got in there was no food at the hotel and we had to go find something to bite. ‘Is it safe?’ You knew that question was coming. ‘Oh yes it is. You don’t need to worry,’ the receptionist had assured us. He was kind enough to direct us to a good take away place. No not a fast food place but a take away place with good homemade food. I have found out that that is very different. In most places we have been to take aways are usually associated with fast foods. Here we found out that these places with homemade take away foods are popular. 

At 10pm they were still open and we had to queue. As l waited in line, l chatted with the owner and he told me he lived in Nairobi a while ago. I then told him why we were visiting Zimbabwe and l went into all-about-the-Trans African Caravan of Hope event speech. Hmm! Something l have done during border crossings especially in Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe. So back here at the balcony in Bulawayo l can see that the traffic is picking. 

Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe after the capital city Harare. It is estimated that there are about 1million people who live here. This is city is multicultural whose residents speak at least 3 languages including English. These are Ndebele, Xhosa, Kalanga, Sotho, Nambay, Tonga and Venda.  The Majority of  this city’s population belongs to the Ndebele ethnic and language group. Bulawayo is considered at the industrial and business capital of Zimbabwe. That little brief from Wikipedia can work for you for now.Smile.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Caravan Dispatches - The Spice That is the Caravan

Variety. Uniqueness. Creativity. That is what has marked this caravan as we have found ourselves in different countries but with the same agenda of fighting for climate justice. 

I am writing this on the bus as we go from Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambia which is a 7 hour journey but no worries, we have acclimatized. 7 hours now looks like kid play. So it is here that l can’t help but recall how countries have interpreted the message of the Caravan through their activities. Yesterday, about 55 caravanites joined us from Lusaka Zambia. We are now slightly over 120 caravanites in 4 branded buses as we head to Durban, South Africa. 

Back to the recalling … The Trans African Caravan of Hope worked through task forces in all the participating countries. The coordinating task force which was working from Kenya coordinated with key country task force members. The country task force members then ensured coordination worked within their countries. The world should know that we went to Durban, South Africa for  COP17 and we were not quiet about it. 

Spiced Up the Tshirts

When it was all said and done, we have had common designs but different interpretations. This not only came through our activities but also in the communications materials. While Kenya and Rwanda had white T-shirts with green and red collars respectively, Uganda chose green and red t-shirts. Zambia had interesting colors which included grey, beige and black. Coupled with that was a few more that had been meticulously hand woven with a heavy African heritage. Malawi gave us among other things, straw hats that the caravanites have taken to wearing since then.

Spiced Up Activities

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Zambian Permanent Secretary Urges Global Leaders to Commit to Legally Binding Deal

A tired look flashes across his face as he tells me that he now has to irrigate his farm because the rains are failing. It is costing him more.

Flanked by PACJA continental team,  Permanent Secretary Eularia Mwale during the Meeting
‘My government therefore, including other stakeholders, stands firm in support of the need to ensure that global leaders conclude a legally binding climate change agreement during the UNFCCC conference in Durban, ‘  Said Eularia Mwale. She is the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President of Zambia, Provincial administration Eastern Province.  The PS was speaking during a welcoming a speech of the Trans African Caravan of Hope in Chipata, Zambia yesterday.

Women with children on their backs and others in their 70s ululated and sang spiritedly as the caravanites entered the event area and began to socialize with the attendees. The caravanites joined in and danced along whether they understood the words of the songs or not. It was all in the spirit of solidarity. These women had come from all over Chipata district.
The Caravan of Hope has been to 6 other countries since the 9th November 2011. Zambia is the 7th country on the list of 10 countries that are involved in the Caravan which is a huge awareness road trip that is headed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Durban, South Africa.
During the meeting, the Hon Mwale also appreciated the input that the government of Zambia has continued to receive from the civil society that has been aimed at effectively responding to the challenges imposed by climate change. I spoke to her after the meeting and she said that her government has given priority to women farmers. Adding that through their farmer support input program, women farmers have continued to receive inputs for farming through their clubs. This program, she said, is aimed at working towards contributing to total food security for Zambia.
This has also been happening across the gender divide. This must be good news to Marksesio Ngoma, who is a maize, beans, sunflower and sweet potato farmer. A tired look flashes across his face as he tells me that he now has to irrigate his farm because the rains are failing. It is costing him more. The hot seasons seem longer than ever. That is why this COP17 is important to farmers like Marksesio.

Robert Chimambo from Zambia Climate Change Network, ZCCN, who also attended the meeting said that the failure of the global leadership to set up firm collective actions by 2009 as agreed through the Bali Process was a disappointment. He urged as he reiterated the Permanent Secretary’s call that, ‘all parties to the UNFCCC need to act with renewed urgency and determination to ensure a fair and safe legally binding deal.’ This has been the clarion call as African leaders graced the Caravan of Hope events across Eastern and Southern Africa. 

The participants who held their respective country flags also witnessed the planting of trees dedicated to all the countries that caravanites have gone through. What made it interesting was also a tree that was planted in honor of the late Prof Wangari Maathai.

By Maria Wanza

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Caravan Dispatches - Of Welcoming Government Officials and Timing Culture Shock

19th Nov, 2011

So now we are on our way from Chipata, Zambia. A supermarket attendant asked me, do you know how far it is? And before l could answer he said, ‘600kms plus.’ I smile. He smiles back. I tell him, ‘I think we will survive. We have so far covered over 4000kms and we are still going.’ I hear myself say that and l can’t believe. What? We have surpassed the half way mark and we are still going strong. Chipata, Zambia gave us a feeling of being wanted. The government through its DC had last night at around 7pm spoken to us. We felt privileged that a government official had taken the time to come and meet us. What was more surprising was what happened when we got to the border in order to clear and get into Zambia.  ‘Oh so you are the Trans African Caravan of Hope team?’ To that we chorused yes. So at that point we didn’t have a clue as to what we had done. We were kind of taken aback. We listened on. ‘Okay so we have your tomorrow’s program here. Let’s check you in.’ And just like that we began what would feel like ‘we are glad you are here experience.’ Just a few hours ago we finished the event and we went to pick snacks. After that, the police gave us escort for about an hour. 

I have to tell you about the change in timings. I know for sure East Africans were shocked by the fact that when we awoke this morning, 4am looked more like 7 am to them. In fact, one of them had already gotten out to find a cyber cafĂ©. He told me that when he found one, the proprietor there said, ‘we are open only at 0800hours and not earlier.’ To which he said, ‘How can you be closed when the sun is high in the sky?’ His answer, ‘No one will come to the cyber at 5am simply because the sun stands high in the sky.’ Yeah, what culture shock. We got to Lusaka fine and found some very hospitable people. Cheers Lusaka.

By Maria Wanza