Decolonizing Climate Change Adaptation in Africa: Lessons from performing Africa's future

Oct 02, 2023

"Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity," proclaimed Patrice Lumumba, a beacon of post-colonial leadership. His assertion underscores a potent sentiment felt across the continent: the importance of reclaiming African narratives, especially in critical areas such as climate change adaptation. 

The global discourse on climate change has, for a considerable period, been dominated by Western paradigms, scientific models, and technocratic solutions. While these hold value, they often eclipse the deep-rooted, context-specific insights of African communities. For a continent rich in oral histories, traditional practices, and indigenous knowledge systems, its response to climate change demands a more rooted, decolonized approach. 

As Burna Boy, a renowned Nigerian musician, articulates, "Our real life is in Africa." This statement emphasizes the profound connection between the land and its inhabitants. When addressing climate challenges, the solutions must be grounded in this 'real life' — in the lived experiences, traditions, and ethos of African communities as they future the continent from the bottom up. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the acclaimed Nigerian writer, warns of the "danger of a single story." In the context of climate change adaptation, it’s crucial to steer away from monolithic narratives and appreciate the varied, rich diversity of African experiences. A strategy suitable for the coastal communities of Mozambique will not resonate in the Sahelian expanses of Mali.

As Ghanaian scholar Ama Ata Aidoo astutely notes, "We don't just borrow words; history, memory, and all unconscious processes become your dictionary." In essence, the African dictionary of climate change adaptation must be written in a myriad of dialects, drawing upon the memories and histories of its many peoples. Borrowed concepts such as "sustainability" and "resilience" that are throwwn around as universal truths - need to be interrogated for what they mean within the hyper-diversity of African contexts. 

Kenyan scholar and playwright Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o has extensively written about the importance of language and decolonizing the mind. He posits that embracing indigenous languages (and, by extension, knowledge systems) is a form of resistance against oppressive structures. Thus, decolonizing climate change adaptation is not just about introducing localized practices; it's a radical act of resistance against global structures that have historically marginalized African voices. It's about validating that, as Thiong'o says, "the peoples of the world can be partners in a common quest for meanings."

The ethos of such a decolonized approach is reflected in the works of Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani. He champions the need to break free from 'received categories' and to deeply understand the colonial legacies that shape present realities. By extrapolating Mamdani's insights to climate change, we recognize the necessity to question dominant paradigms and create new methodologies built on African ontologies.

African adaptation must be more than a response to external stimuli; it should be a conscious, proactive reclamation of agency. As Senegalese poet and philosopher Léopold Sédar Senghor articulated, it's about harmonizing the values of tradition with the opportunities of the future.

In conclusion, Africa's response to climate change should not merely be a reaction to external models or pressures. It should be a symphony, composed by its thinkers, leaders, artists, and communities, echoing the rhythms, beats, and melodies of its diverse landscapes and cultures. By valuing African scholarship and indigenous wisdom, the continent can craft a climate narrative that is not only resilient but also resplendent in its authenticity. It's time for Africa to write its climate history, one that is, in Lumumba's words, full of "glory and dignity."