Green Ghana Day. Launched in June 2022, it brought together politicians and popstars to plant trees. The aim is to plant five million trees across Ghana in a national forestation effort. The forests are taking a hit, and that threatens land, water and our future. It took me back to my time in Kenya, and meeting the legendary Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace prize winning environmentalist, whose action of planting trees also connected to issues of gender, power, and change.
I’ve been thinking about the green economy, gender and Ghana specifically because we’re counting down to Global Citizen Festival in Accra’s Black Star Square this weekend. The artist line up from Usher to Sarkodie continues to have my team of young dynamic Ghanaians giddy with excitement. I listen and watch them as they share their favourite artists lyrics, and their new constant companion – the Global Citizen Festival website. The Festival’s umbrella theme is Ending Poverty. The two other festival themes are girls empowerment and climate. It is because of those two themes, and remembering a pivotal interview with Wangari Maathai in the forest just outside Nairobi, that I start to think specifically about ‘the Green Gender’.
Because of Global Citizen Festival, there is an opportunity to connect Green, Gender and Ghana, in a thoughtful, and focused way. I’m calling it ‘The Three G’s ‘#TheThreeGs. There are multiple ways this focus might serve a nation, a Continent, and its economies. With the economy, there is a call to focus on the youth, whose population numbers dominate – here in Ghana, and across the Continent. Connecting green, gender and Ghana could galvanize young women already interested and focused on issues of empowerment, to connect that focus to going and being green.
My point is, right now, there are limited stories in how we engage and think about The Green Economy here in Ghana. Globally, there are individual climate activists whose names are on global stages like Ugandan activist, Vanessa Nakate, and The Green Climate Fund Youth Champion, Kenya’s climate activist, Elizabeth Wathuti, as well as Greta Thunberg. I’m not thinking about individual voices, I’m calling for a structural narrative shift in how we engage, think and talk about the Green Economy in Ghana as part of an Environmental awareness nation-wide.
In my work of Emotional Justice, our mantra is ‘storytelling as a strategy for structural change’. In Ghana, the story is government’s Green Ghana Day, and The Green Project – an important, laudable effort. I think about including in such an effort a specific focus that connects gender, green and Ghana.
Inclusiveness matters. Too often gender in Ghana can end up marginalizing an issue. That’s because gender is treated as if it’s an island that politicians travel to, gain or give something, and then they leave to return to ‘reality.’ But, the Global Citizen Festival themes of girls and green, offers an entry point to connect green, gender, and Ghana in a way that could be fresh, and do transformative work.
I’m thinking here about YAWC – the Young African Women’s Congress – a convening I’ve been part of since its inception in December 2016. Each year young women between the ages of 18 – 25 from 13 plus African nations come to Ghana to be part of a gathering that explores different elements of their future. YAWC is part of the Excellent Leadership Group (ExLA) Gender Program. ExLA emerged from ‘Excellent Student Leadership Awards (ESLA)’, an NGO promoting quality leadership among student leaders across Ghana. YAWC has a network in seven different African countries – women’s empowerment is one of its tenants, and it has introduced new programs on Health, Education, Agriculture, Human Rights and Youth.
Creating a clear engaged connection and intersection of green, gender and Ghana means telling a different story about The Green Economy, and what it could mean. This would be about injecting both an entrepreneurial spirit into how the Green Economy might serve the millions of women entrepreneurs whose innovation, discipline, diligence, ability to pivot, drives entire portions of Ghana’s economy. It would mean shifting the narrative about what the Green Economy could mean for Ghana’s youth who are currently navigating horrific unemployment numbers. It would absolutely mean reimagining how this work about climate and the green economy is funded, and engaging this work beyond Government, and Government agencies, into communities, the world of foundations and the private sector where it can be fostered so it may flourish, and not flounder, or fall subject to partisan politicking.
‘The Green Economy’ is a term touted among the world of environmental justice advocates and activists. With it are other terms like reducing carbon footprint, and gas emissions. There are gatherings like the annual UN climate change conference COP (Conference of the Parties), where Western nations spar about each other’s refusal to heed the persistent drum being sounded by climate that our planet is in peril if we choose to continue to chart our current course, and treat climate like a football to be kicked.
Too many Western nations treat climate, and our planet’s natural resources the way they treated – and treat – Africa – as a space of extraction and exploitation. It is a relationship that is abusive, and it is one that has consequences. The consequences are manifesting in the air, the water, and on land. Nations are experiencing floods and rainfall that don’t nourish but drown, drought that destroys and decimates, and expanding unsustainable energy sources that rely on raping the land. Here in Ghana, galampsey – the small farms being sold to big mining organizations, is our most high-profile exposure to how the abuse of our mineral resource of land and soil is transforming entire parts of Ghana. Who profits and who pays with this narrative, and its consequence?
Here in Ghana, we’ve failed to tell a story of the green economy that centers those who could be its beneficiaries, and its most ardent drivers. We’ve failed to connect this narrative in ways that transform. That failure stems from the investment of a political elite whose lens is too often focused on personal power and profit, while the green economy is long game work, with huge profit for the people, and crucial progress for the nation. The deal making, and corruption that comes with big energy, and contracts that include payoffs to local elected officials also mean extraction occurs minus consequence or interruption. Our economy is one that has women entrepreneurs as its foundation, strengthening them by connecting green, gender and Ghana would be powerful. It could also mean breaking the chains of how financing happens, chains that have too long told a story of a failure to invest in women.
Stories matter. They create outcomes, they drive investment, they ignite change, and they galvanize movement. Storytelling is about narrative. Narrative can help shape mindset. Mindset change transforms possibility for a nation. What if we changed this story of the green economy and climate justice here in Ghana; and created a narrative of inclusivity where green, gender, and Ghana go together like jollof, chicken and shitoh – a tasty combination that feeds not just your stomach, but our soil. It is a narrative that may change our current struggle to expand and elevate a beleaguered economy. Narrative isn’t magic, or magical – it is commitment to creating and sustaining stories that connect green, gender and Ghana as part of a path to redefine The Green Economy.
As I enter this week, and gear up to rock my African Print pants to the sounds of Sarkodie at the Black Star Square, I think about narratives, their power, and our future. The Three Gs – Green, Gender and Ghana – need not just be an idea in this article, it can be the beginning of a narrative that shapes a nation, and engages its youth in understanding how green can be their world, their work, their power, and their possibility.
Global Citizen Festival, here we come!