Consider this perspective from an American high school senior who recently spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya with the United Nations youth program organizers and with the Kenyan President’s office. There may be much Americans can learn from an example of leadership in the developing world.
Bananas and fruit sold on a busy highway. Kindness (and some trickery) to strangers. Honking in the congested streets. Small children smiling, waving in droves, and concrete walls decked with barbed wire and armed guards. A red-cloaked Massaii sentinel. Nests of giant storks in the middle of a city parking lot.
Nairobi, and place like Kenya, are admittedly not on the minds of many young people today in America, with academic stress, adolescent drama, and political tension locking the gaze of many young people on their own problems, on the local, as opposed to the world.
And why, of all places, should they care to look at Kenya at all?
Knowing about a small developing world country seems much less important than cramming for an ACT (Standardized Test), or trying to navigate today’s political and cultural divide at home. But it is, in fact, as important as all of these things, and that is for the simple reason that it stands as a beacon of leadership amid all the dark tidings of sweltering European summers and drought, record-breaking temperatures in the Middle-east, and vast forest fires in Sweden, Siberia, and California.
All of these kinds of disasters are being made increasingly more common by the scourge of climate change, and it is clear that humankind is losing the battle against this behemoth- scientific calculations have suggested that 3 years after the Paris accords, (in which the challenge to keep levels of temperature rise “well below 2 degrees Celsius”), according to Scientific American, the Earth may warm by 2 degrees Celsius by as early as 2036, posing an existential threat to humanity.
Yet despite these worrying predictions, we can all learn from the shining example of leadership in the Republic of Kenya. This African country is an example in two main ways- firstly, the extent to which the government of Kenya has promoted environmentalism, including ongoing campaigns against poaching and the ivory trade, a ban on single-use plastic bags, and renewable energy. Kenya is under way to generate roughly two-thirds of their energy from sustainable sources, including wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric.
Secondly, the cultural ethic that the people of Kenya hold in the land itself- and the birds, the trees, the savannah, all as an ecosystem to be protected, not cleared and “tamed”. President Kenyatta himself continues to support ongoing countrywide tree-planting campaigns in the hope of combating deforestation, promoting biodiversity and protecting the water of the rivers on which Kenya depends. These are great steps in one day becoming a carbon neutral circular economy.
But where does all this drive come from? Why would a developing world country like Kenya be so interested in its own biodiversity? Not to denigrate developing world countries, but many are currently looking to transform their economies with cheap and abundant fossil fuels. The truth is, during my two weeks in Kenya I noticed that many people there feel a true responsibility of stewardship, and care for the land that often underlined the lifestyles of the people there.
A clear example of this stewardship lies in one of the more internationally famous Kenyan tribes (there are about 42), known as the Masai. These Masai tribespeople are pastoral, and have rejected modern technology in many respects in favour of the ways of their ancestors. They actually aid (and are employed by) the Kenyan rangers in their protection of the wild animals of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti because they see it as their duty to protect the animals from those who would seek to harm the creatures, even going so far as to use force to stop trespassing poachers.
While these people may have poor living standards compared to the average American, they follow their “creed of nature” and believe in the relationship of man and nature to be an eternal, vigilant duty, rather than an obsolescence to be disregarded. Therein lies in part the popular will to implement such a far-reaching restriction as a ban on single use plastic bags, and decarbonization of the Kenyan energy grid.
Therein lies the sustainable instinct that makes Kenya so inspirational- it is a vision of the way America could again see the link between man’s responsibility for the care-taking of nature, and nature’s reciprocal bounty. Even such a simple idea as that may be the first step in helping a climate-skeptical America to once again see a more interconnected world.