Africa’s creatives are promoting sustainability to combat Climate Change

In her 2004 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan activist, spoke of the “central role” of culture in the political, economic, and social life of communities. She also charged Africans and the rest of humanity with their responsibility to the Earth, saying, “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system.”

With a population of more than 1 billion and growing, Africa contributes the least of any continent towards global carbon emissions, but stands to lose the most if the projections for climate change are realized. This is further compounded by the fact that since 1900, east Africa is estimated to have lost more than 80% of forest cover, while west Africa has lost more than 90%.

This trend will be accelerated as Africa is already undergoing rapid urbanization, resulting in more deforestation and polluted air and water bodies. With the growth of Africa’s middle class, there will be a greater aspiration for convenience, including consuming disposable goods, resulting in greater pressure on the environment.

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted just about every metric on the planet. But chaos presents an opportunity for recalibration. This crisis has reaffirmed the need to create sustainable practices in spite of the constraints that are emerging from the pandemic. Those who have been able to utilize opportunities to produce more locally and take steps to strengthen local supply chains have fostered positive change during this tumultuous time.

Africa’s creative industries and cultural economy play an important role in staving off this future and ensuring sustainability. The greatest areas of innovation are being witnessed in building design, fashion, and visual arts.

How African creatives are embracing sustainability in urbanization

The rapid urbanization process in African cities leaves room for local artistic and cultural influences to be harnessed. The cultural economy can facilitate the integration of sustainability into urban designs, ranging from the use of public spaces to the design of buildings.

Architecture’s most prestigious honor—the Pritzker Prize—was recently awarded to Diébédo Francis Kéré, a Burkinabè-German architect known for ingenious, climate-resilient structures, that draw on  historic architectural best-practices from his country of origin, Burkina Faso.

Another example is, Rwanda’s Gahanga Cricket Stadium, which opened in 2017. It has been recognized for utilizing sustainable construction methods. It won awards for its distinct design that blends the stadium into the surrounding area and merges cricket with Rwanda’s famously hilly terrain.

In Ghana, the seat of the presidency, Jubilee House draws upon local culture for the design of the structure. In the quest for sustainability, solar panels are being installed as part of the government’s “Solar Rooftop Programme” to utilize solar energy to power government buildings.

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