Editor’s Note: This is the third of four posts by Think Green columnist Robert Gardner exploring the stories of the young activists profiled in Emily Hunter’s book, The Next Eco Warriors. Hunter will speak at Montgomery County Community College on Monday, Feb. 25 from 12:30-2 p.m. in the Science Center Theater at Central Campus, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. A simulcast of the presentation will be shown at the West Campus in the Community Room of South Hall, 101 College Drive, Pottstown.
Kevin Ochieng was 23 when he led a group of 5,000 Kenyans as they formed a circle around the base of the Mount Kenya, the continent’s second-largest mountain. The symbolic protest took stage days before the Copenhagen Climate Council, where it was hoped leaders of Eastern and Western governments would adopt sweeping environmental policy change.
Organizing the event took months. Young Africans concerned themselves more with earning a wage and raising a family than with protecting the planet. Persistence proved fruitful as networks of community groups mobilized to join the cause.
“We didn’t have lots of money,” Ochieng said. “But we did have numbers. And that is our strength.”
With the assistance of the Kenya Wildlife Service, local police, and a host of helpers along the way , Ochieng and his African activist cohorts made their way to the base of the mountain and spread out. He and the four other protest leaders then made the six-hour climb to the summit. All the while, those standing at the mountain’s base maintained a reverent silence.
Upon the top of Mount Kenya, the five protesters rolled out a banner one hundred feet long and sixteen feet wide. It read: SAVE THE WORLD, SAVE AFRICA, SAVE MOUNT KENYA: WE NEED A DEAL.
In Copenhagen, the passionate Kenyan discovered what he and many back home had feared: Africa would not be consulted when determining the future of its own future sustainability. The continent’s silence had been purchased with political and monetary capital.