Can Kenya’s youngest candidate lead the climate fight to power?

Ever since she was a little girl sitting in front of the radio listening to leaders such as Kenyan Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai and former US first lady Michelle Obama, Anita Soina knew she was going to try to change the world.
She just didn’t know she would start so soon.
Frustrated by Kenya’s slow progress in reducing climate-warming carbon emissions and tackling deforestation, the 22-year-old activist is vying for a parliamentary seat in the country’s general election on August 9. A victory would make her the youngest Member of Parliament (MP) in Kenyan history.
“After finishing my university studies and realizing that I was qualified for the position of MP, I decided to go for it. These are the challenges that make me wait no longer,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
From school strikes to street protests, young people around the world are pushing leaders to do more to switch to clean energy, protect the environment and support those hardest hit by climate impacts. But Soina, who is running for the Kajiado North seat in Kajiado County, just south of the capital Nairobi, believes change is not happening fast enough with activists working outside of politics.
“I realized that fighting from the outside might not really be the solution,” she said at a campaign meeting in Ngong town with motorbike taxi drivers. boda boda”, which constitute a powerful electoral bloc in Kenya. “Having a voice inside parliament…makes it easier because I would be able to sponsor and pass bills and talk about these issues from the halls of power,” she said.
A member of the indigenous Maasai community, Soina has spoken out on environmental issues since she was 17, carving out a place for herself as a strong advocate for climate action. She grew up witnessing the consequences of rising temperatures linked to climate change.
“I have seen the Mara River in different stages, from when it was an all-season river to now when it turns into a seasonal river which sometimes has no water at all,” she said. In high school, she was learning about climate issues and realized that the Maasai, whose livelihood depends on livestock, were particularly affected by the drought cycles that plagued Kenya.
Since then, she has published a book, “The Green War”, highlighting environmental injustices around the world, and presented a TED talk on the subject. She also founded an activist group called the Spice Warriors, which aims to disrupt climate denial.
Her high-profile fight to get Kenyan leaders to step up climate action has also propelled her into headlines, including stories about her love life, and subjected her to attacks on social media.
But that intense attention could be an advantage when Soina faces 16 other candidates for the seat next week as a representative of the Green Thinking Action Party, said party founder and sustainability advocate Isaac Kalua.
Kalua said he started the party when he realized that after three decades of protests, public discussions and newspaper articles, his efforts had done little to accelerate the Kenya’s progress in protecting people from climate change. “(Soina) has made great strides internationally, talking about issues that affect ordinary people. He is someone who can address environmental issues in the space where it matters, not just from the outside,” he said.
In a survey of concerns among young Africans published last year by Foundation, an African charity, 70% of 18-24 year olds say they are concerned about climate change, but less than half are satisfied with the way their leaders attack it. this.
On the world’s youngest continent – nearly 60% of Africa’s 1.25 billion people are aged 25 or younger – Soina says young people don’t see enough urgency in the way their governments are handling the crisis climate, which will affect young people most of their lives . “In Kenya, I can say that we have no climate voice in parliament,” she said.
“As long as there is such a voice in parliament – even if it’s not myself – it will bring about change faster than if we had no voice at all.”
Soina is committed to working on some of the major social and economic issues facing Kajiado County, such as high unemployment and school dropout rates. But as a self-proclaimed ‘green MP’, the environment is her top priority and if she wins the seat, she said she wants to use that momentum to influence climate policy across the country. Her platform, however, also includes smaller-scale local solutions that she hopes will show people that they all have a role to play in tackling climate change.
This includes planting fruit trees in schools, police stations, religious institutions and homes to provide shade and food and to help the country reach its goal of having 10% of its land covered with trees by the end of the year. “I will also turn trash into cash by promoting recycling activities in my constituency,” Soina said.
On the campaign trail, groups of young people surround Soina asking her to promise to create more jobs and ensure that their climate concerns are taken seriously by the government.
Kajiado-based political analyst Douglas Were said Soina’s “climate flag” may well be playing at the polls in a county where drought is killing pasture and livestock on which the mainly pastoral population depends. “If someone can play that card and say, ‘We need to plant more trees, we need to conserve our rivers, so you can provide food for your families,’ people will resonate with that,” he said. -he declares.
For some of his other supporters, it is Soina’s youth and energy that are his greatest assets. “This is important because of the urgency to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Wanjira Mathai, regional director for Africa at the World Resources Institute and daughter of Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.
“Africa is particularly vulnerable and our young people are the future.”

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