Struggle for environmental justice.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:New African Markets: ENERGY - Michael O'Brien-Onyeka - Interview

Michael O'Brien-Onyeka is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa. He has previously worked with Amnesty International and other NGOs. He lived in Iraq at the height of that country's insurgency, setting up the first Iraqi National Youth Council, and an organisation that assisted women to acquire passports. There followed a four-year stint as Oxfam's policy manager for East and Central Africa before joining Greenpeace Africa in April 2012. He spoke to Stephen Williams about Greenpeace Africa's ethos and work.

What are Greenpeace Africa's main challenges?

On the external challenge side, despite seeing a lot of democratisation in the continent there is, ironically, a massive shrinking of our democratic space. Governments are becoming increasingly insensitive to public opinion and civil society. You see increased secrecy, like around the nuclear plan in South Africa. Everything is shrouded in secrecy.

But there are constitutional requirements in South Africa. It is enforcing the constitution that is the challenge.

[NB: A few days after this interview, Greenpeace Africa filed papers in the High Court in Pretoria to compel Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to update the country's nuclear liability regulations. Michael O'Brien Onyeka said it was imperative "that at a minimum, the maximum amount of protection is given to the citizens of this country".]

What is Greenpeace Africa's mission? Greenpeace Africa's mission is to ensure that humans live in harmony with nature because that's the only way we can continue our existence. I'd like to correct this perception that we are trying to save the planet. No! The planet can take care of itself. We are fighting to avert a catastrophic climate change that everyone agrees is imminent. It's about fighting for the very survival of the human species, not for the planet because the truth is that if all humans disappeared tomorrow the planet would regenerate itself. We do not enjoy being troublemakers. But we believe the voiceless deserve a voice and we are happy to put ourselves in the line of fire to provide that voice.

What would you say is going wrong?

In the air, we are releasing far too much greenhouse gas. On the land, we cut down the trees that absorb the C[O.sub.2], cutting down the forests at a rate of one football field a...

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