Young Ugandan activist Nyombi Morris arrived in Egypt for the UN’s COP27 climate summit with high hopes of being part of the campaign for environmental justice.
But it didn’t take long for Egypt’s tough security measures to shatter his dreams, as rights groups warn the North African country has snuffed out protests with ‘dozens’ of protesters. arrests.
“I was so happy when they announced the COP would be in Africa,” said Morris, who founded the youth organization Earth Volunteers which campaigns for “climate justice”.
“I thought maybe I would be lucky enough to be in the room where the negotiations are taking place.”
Instead, “with the questions we received at the airport, it won’t be easy for us to proceed with our plan,” the 24-year-old said.
In 2008, when Morris was 10, devastating flash floods hit Butaleja district in eastern Uganda, an area where illegal extraction of riverbank sand for construction was common. Some 400 people, including Morris’ family, lost their homes.
Morris, who said the digging “has worsened flooding already made worse by climate change”, said they had to move to the capital Kampala.
“I’m here to represent my mother who lost a farm, who lost a house,” he said. “I am here to seek compensation for my community.”
– ‘Abusive security measures’ –
Activists wishing to demonstrate at COP27, which is being held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, must apply for accreditation 36 hours in advance, providing information such as the names of protest organizers and details of the proposed walk.
Approved demonstrations are only permitted during working hours and in a specific area built for this purpose.
This accreditation process is risky, Morris fears.
“When they started asking about our locations, where we will be staying, our passports, our names, we were worried,” he said.
“What if they follow one of us and (we) get arrested? »
He cited the case of Indian climate activist Ajit Rajagopal, who was arrested after leaving to walk from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh. He was later released after an international outcry.
Human Rights Watch warned on Sunday that “dozens of people” calling for protests had been arrested.
“The Egyptian government has no intention of relaxing its abusive security measures and allowing freedom of expression and assembly,” the watchdog said.
Rights groups say at least 138 people have been arrested ahead of a rally scheduled for November 11 – planned across the country but not in Sharm el-Sheikh – against what they say is a crackdown and a sharp increase in the cost of living.
– ‘Watch online’ –
Africa is home to some of the countries least responsible for global warming emissions, but hardest hit by a wave of extreme weather.
In addition to security restrictions, Morris lamented that activists like him were excluded from the talks.
“I’m looking online because our observer badges won’t let us in,” he said.
“I’m like ‘so why are we here?'”
He said his hopes had faded that holding the summit in Africa could make a difference, including demanding that the rich countries responsible for the emissions pay their dues.
“It’s not an African COP, it’s a Polluters COP – because polluters rule,” he said.
“Haven’t you seen Coca-Cola here?” he added, referring to one of this year’s official sponsors.
Campaign group Greenpeace called Egypt’s choice of the soft drinks giant “appalling”, blaming the company for much of the “world’s plastic pollution”.
Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, tens of thousands of protesters from around the world marched to demand “climate justice”.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is skipping COP27, calling it a “greenwash” forum and saying “the space for civil society this year is extremely limited”.
On Sunday, ignoring the restrictions, a handful of activists held up banners at the entrance to the summit hall.
“We are trying to promote veganism to help save the planet from greenhouse gases,” said Tom Modgmah, a disciple of Vietnam’s “Supreme Master Ching Hai”, alongside colleagues holding banners.
“Be vegan, make peace,” they read.