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INTERVIEW: Brighton Kaoma on Zambia’s climate compatible future

Brighton Kaoma, winner of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, speaks to CDKN’s Anna Hickman about the challenges and opportunities facing Zambia, and how young people are key instruments of change in addressing the social and environmental impacts of climate change. Brighton won the award for his work supporting young people in making their voices heard on social issues as part of the Children’s Radio Foundation, UNICEF’s Unite4Climate programme and his own not-for-profit organisation, Agents for Change.

“What I have done is send a picture to the world that if you empower young people with a voice to speak about what matters to them, we will see a generation of ethical young leaders. There are many Brightons in Africa – they just need to be given the skills and the opportunities.”

That’s the optimistic outlook of Brighton Kaoma, who in June 2015 won the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, which recognises and celebrates exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. He attended the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace, visited Number 10 to meet David Cameron and David Beckham, and went to the BBC where he spoke to John Major.

Brighton is from Zambia, from the mining city, Kitwe, in the Copperbelt Province. He became a reporter through the Children’s Radio Foundation, which trains young people across Africa and gives them the skills to create a dialogue on important issues facing their communities, Zambia and the world, such as climate change and HIV. From there, he went on to set up his own weekly show at age 14 about how people can protect themselves against climate change and pollution. In 2010, Brighton became a Child Ambassador for his community with the UNICEF’s Unite4Climate Zambia programme, one of UNICEF’s signature child-led advocacy programmes, and became a programme coordinator for Zambia. His mandate was to train young people to train others in a ‘pay it forward’ concept. Brighton was also appointed Global Youth Ambassador with the Children’s Radio Foundation in June 2015.

He co-founded and runs a not-for-profit organisation called ‘Agents of Change’, which aims to tackle ignorance surrounding HIV in Zambia by giving young people leadership skills, the ability to network with each other, and access to opportunities.

Now age 21, Brighton is starting his second year at the University of Zambia. His life philosophy centres on empowering young people with the tools and opportunity to talk about the issues they face, to share experiences and knowledge so that one day they will be able to talk to policymakers and politicians with confidence.

In an interview to explain his country’s challenges and the role for young people, Brighton explained: “Yesterday, I spoke to parents and friends at home and they told me they’d had no electricity for two days. The dam is running dry because climate change is decreasing the water board and to combat this, there is huge electricity rationing across Zambia. Just accessing water is a challenge. Growing up, we complement and help our parents by carrying out chores such as fetching firewood and water, but now children have to walk an extra mile each way. If a child must walk very far, they end up not being on time to school. Climate change is not only an environmental but a social one, and this is just one example of the many issues that young people in Zambia are facing.”

The challenges facing Zambia are many; total annual precipitation is expected to decrease while temperatures are projected to rise. “Deforestation is happening at an alarming rate; electricity is scarce so people are cutting down trees,” Brighton said. “And we are now seeing the consequences in the water board running dry as a result of this deforestation, which impacts the electricity supply as I mentioned before due to the impact on the dam. Also, Zambia is primarily a copper mining country, which is hugely important to the economy, but there are many externalities as a result of copper exploration with chains of mining companies doing extraction on a large scale.”

Despite these challenges, Brighton is positive that Zambia can capitalise on its strengths: “At COP21 and the climate negotiations, many people are pushing for the agenda of looking for alternative energy and limiting deforestation. There are many great prospects for Zambia to invest in more solar power and it is clear that fossil fuels have failed to meet the energy needs of Zambians. It’s important at COP that Zambia commits to investing in renewable energies and consequently supporting grass roots organisations in implementing projects. Water harvesting and storage also needs to be considered for use in times of drought.

“In Zambia, three years ago, as part of our role as Child Ambassadors with UNICEF, we advocated the construction of a floating school alongside other young Zambians. Flooding in Western Zambia is increasingly common due to changing rainfall patterns, and it means that during certain periods, children can go for months with attending school. We brought together mining appropriators, the Minister for Education and Minister for the Environment to find a solution to the impact of floods. The school was built in partnership with UNICEF and the Zambian government. It’s symbolic of how we are trying to adapt and we’ve harnessed the opportunities presented to us by climate change. Just like the chameleon, we adapt, but we’re also preparing for the long term, hence the construction of the school.

We must have the confidence to approach mining appropriators or the Minister for the Environment to find a dialogue and to mobilise ourselves and our community. I’ve experienced it, how it feels to walk for an hour just to draw water in a bucket because of scarce water resources and drought. For all these challenges, we can find strategies for adaptation. Climate change is here to stay, we must mitigate its effects but we must also live with it.”


Image credit Hands at Work.

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