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Peddling pilgrims bike across Africa

peddling pilgrims

© Christian Aid

Joe Ware on the cyclists crossing a continent that is bearing the brunt of climate change.

Africa may not have much responsibility for climate change but it’s certainly feeling the brunt of it. So with the UN climate summit coming up soon a group of Africans have decided to cycle 6,500 kilometres across the continent to raise awareness of what’s happening there and hopefully focus minds for the Paris talks.

The epic trek began in Mozambique in southern Africa and will take them through 9 countries before reaching their destination in Nairobi, Kenya, on 15 November. The distance travelled is the equivalent of cycling from Sheffield to Manchester 100 times. The peddling pilgrims, 10 of whom are cycling the whole way, will be joined by many others at different points, including 74-year-old Victor Coutries. The septuagenarian, from Soweto, South Africa, describes his cycling as a physical act of prayer in response to a changing climate, saying recently: ‘When I was young, summer was summer; winter was winter. But now summer is like winter and winter is like summer. These days, when it rains, it can cause havoc.

‘The moment one cycles, people ask, “What is going on?” Then you can tell them about climate change. Cycling for me is like a prayer, showing that I am committed through taking action.’

He hopes his example will encourage others to follow suit, adding: ‘I cycle everywhere. I don’t like to use a car – I’m happier when I’m cycling. This is another important message of the campaign – we must rely on ourselves, not use the car all the time.’

Already the pan-African cycling caravan has had an impact in the countries through which it has passed. The president of Botswana, Tseletse Khama, even paid for a new bike for one of the group.

They hope their act of physical effort will also generate global awareness for their Act Now For Climate Justice petition, which will be presented to world leaders ahead of the UN summit at the end of November.

For Allen Namukamba, 35, lead cyclist for the Zambian stretch, his journey towards climate activism began when he quit producing and selling charcoal, a polluting fossil fuel, and became an environmental campaigner.

‘Government officials from the forestry department came and did some awareness raising in our community,’ he recalls. ‘I was convinced and quit. Now I speak to my community about the dangers. We barely have any rain and Lake Kariba is drying out. Many people are suffering and it is important to show people the connection with their economy, health and education. Everyone needs to care about the environment.’

As well as their local and international advocacy, the cyclists are also planting thousands of trees. In Botswana, one such tree was planted by Bishop Champion Malongwa, chair of the Botswana Council of Churches. ‘As a country we have serious water [shortages] and far-reaching environmental effects,’ the bishop explained. ‘I am now old, but my interest is to see that present and especially future generations do not suffer.’

Front cover of November 2015 issue of New InternationalistThe riders are currently in Malawi. Their petition can be found at actclimate.org.

Joe Ware is Church & Campaigns Journalist at Christian Aid. He is on twitter @wareisjoe

Find out what’s on the table at Paris in the November 2015 issue of New Internationalist.

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