I interviewed Fousseny Traore, environmental activist and human rights defender from Mali. Fousseny is Founding President of the ecological association Citizens for the Climate Mali and one of the original members of the Sauvons le Sahel Movement (ActonSahel). He currently lives in the UK.
Fousseny says: “It’s time to face the agony of our world and get serious.”
Leslie: Can you describe your upbringing and what effect it had on you, please
Fousseny: I am from Mali, but I left because several members of my family were murdered as a result of inter-ethnic conflicts and terrorism. In addition, my activism put me at risk because I campaigned for human rights – specifically, the violence against women and children, the forced and early marriage of young girls, as well as the physical excision of young girls. My life was in real danger so I applied for a visa to come to the United Kingdom. It’s usually very difficult for young Africans get visas for Western Countries. I was lucky.
Part of my work, through Citizens for the Climate Mali and ActonSahel, is to bring together young activists in the Sahel countries in West Africa. This part of Africa is on the front line of climate change, but forgotten by the world. We conduct awareness campaigns to end deforestation and promote reforestation; we protect the environment so that local populations can have access to drinking water, particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania and Chad. Unfortunately, we have no financial partners to help us.
I was born in Bamako, the Malian capital. I did not know my father, who died when I was a child. I was educated by my grandmother at first and then by my uncle, my mother’s brother, who was a teacher and farmer. He taught me the beauty and fragility of nature. I soon saw that the natural balance was changing. For instance, we used to enjoy swimming in rivers and lakes. They were our natural swimming pools. Unfortunately, today these lakes and rivers have become football fields because of the drought caused by climate change.
As a child, I witnessed the damage caused by torrential rains and, at other times, the lack of water. I saw the poverty, famine, diseases, and the total inaction of the authorities. In summary, I had a very difficult and painful childhood.
Leslie: What began and sustained your interest in the environment, please?
Fousseny: Since my childhood I have been a great nature lover. It pushed me to tell people about environmental protection, starting with my family and my friends, continuing with my neighbourhood and other Malians in wider circles. I travelled to towns and villages as well as to markets and to schools to raise awareness about what the ordinary citizen can do to roll back some of the climate, environmental, poverty and health issues we face. It wasn’t easy, especially because the country is plagued with structural and socio-economic problems, but I persisted – living my life as an environmental soldier to save biodiversity.
To give one example: in 2020 I went to a village in Mali as part of our awareness campaign against deforestation. I was shocked and deeply upset because I saw my brothers and sisters eating leaves from trees. Others were eating old dry animal skins because of poverty, and the lack of food.
Leslie: Why is Big Oil particularly damaging for Africa?
Fousseny: Africa accounts for 12% of world oil production. It suffers from endemic oil pollution caused and maintained by Western and Chinese multinationals, damaging living conditions and fostering social tensions. To operate with impunity, the offending oil companies have established control over most of the value chain, including transport and trading of crude oil, chartering, import and distribution of refined products. This makes it difficult to curb the actions of these companies, some of which were involved in the scandalous sale of adulterated fuel to these same African countries. The mishandling of hydrocarbons is also responsible for deforestation as well as air, soil and water pollution, This, in turn, has kick started a drop in agricultural yields and the appearance of many diseases (cancers, heart attacks, respiratory problems, nervous system disorders, vision disorders, false maternity, etc.). Hydrocarbon pollution has also impoverished local populations and sparked conflicts (war, banditry, armed attacks, hostage taking, etc). The damage to nature is particularly marked in the Niger Delta, at Pointe-Noire in the Congo, and in Angola and Algeria. The frontline victims have been, of course, the least well off and those whose traditional means of subsistence is fishing and agriculture. In addition, poor governance and corruption in many African countries has allowed the oil industries to fully recover the oil rent while not respecting safety and hygiene standards.
Big Oil is not good for Africa and the planet.
Leslie: What would you say are the most effective actions people in the West can take if they care about the planet and the emergency hitting Africa right now?
Fousseny: Many westerners claim they care about the Climate crisis. Personally, I don’t believe it because they are not doing enough to save the planet when the West is largely responsible.
However, I recognise that some people in the West are taking effective action.
People in the West need to:
- Stop oil, gas and coal altogether and switch to renewable energies.
- Stop the fossil-fuel lobbyists.
- Review their luxurious lifestyles, including overconsumption.
- Travel less.
- Protect very important areas like seas and tropical forests and end their exploitation.
Leslie: How do you manage the grief and alienation of being so close to the centre of the storm while living in Britain?
Fousseny: It is as an inhabitant of the earth and a member of the tribe of the living that I try this cry of alarm. The scientists are desperate they no longer know how to explain the gravity of the situation. They no longer know what to do to be heard. But in the face of the climate emergency, doing nothing seemed even worse to me.
We are witnessing an open-air crime. Ignoring the climate emergency these days for me is a crime against life. It’s time to face the agony of our world and get serious.
Next week, I interview professor and psychologist Chris Blazina about the bond between people and animals.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.