Friday, April 6, 2012

Dem's Encounter With Indian Journalist Ahead of Rio+20

Rio +20 is around the corner and environmentalists, especially youth activists, around the world  are gearing up for the big environmental show. Keeping in tune with the tradition of STEP to give voice to people in developing countries , Anuj Sharma, Journalist and a writer for  Alter Eco and Times newspaper, also a contributor with the Jester Magazine in India, caught up with Ebrima S. Dem, national coordinator of Gambia chapter of Global Unification International (GUI) and Climate Change Focal point for The Network of African Youths for Development, to understand the green concerns emanating in Gambia and get an update on GUI Gambia’s preparation for the event. 
The interview story was made available to Mansa Banko through an email. Follow the interview:-

Anuj: So tell us, how did the green journey begin for you; what sparked your interest and concern for the environment?

Ebrima: My interest in the field of sustainable development grew out of a personal desire to help and support my community. I was born in a village and spent my childhood in a setup where local communities used to take everything they need from the forest, such as medicine, food, shelter, and fodder for their animals, in a very sustainable way. Everybody used to take resources from the forest only to satisfy their needs.
However, in recent times, people have become greedier and commercially oriented. A large number of trees have been cut and sold as timber firewood, charcoal. The rate at which the forest is now been destroyed is alarming.
As a young person, I thought that I should do something to reverse this trend. Hence begun my green journey; a journey to work in collaboration with local communities, so as to fight for and develop a safer climate regime.

Anuj: As you mentioned, in contemporary times one often witnesses how once green, untouched land is being transformed into concrete suburbs and shopping malls at a rapid speed. How do you think this development is affecting the human mind? And since your organization is concerned with youth, do you feel that the lack of free, wild, untouched nature have a negative impact on how we feel, think and behave as individuals?

Ebrima: Personally, I have nothing against forest-land being converted for residential purpose, as long as it sustainably manages the environmental concerns and also meets the needs of the people. 
However, I am totally against the current practice, in which vast forest-area is being cleared, degraded and effectively destroyed by greedy business companies at the expense of environment and local public. What we have to understand is that any development that is not sustainable is not development at all and a development project that doesn’t meet the needs of our future generations is not worthy of being termed developmental. We need to re-define the term ‘Development’. Presently, most of these so-called development projects are antagonistic to a sustainable future. The goals of development and environmental protection should be compatible and people’s mindset should be re-oriented towards sustainable development.
As a youth, I am very much concerned about rapid depletion of our forest resources, the profit of which is most often restricted to a few influential elites. The future generation needs these resources too. They will need the fresh air, they will need the medicines derived from plants; there is no excuse, whatsoever, to deprive them of these valuable natural resources. Our future generations have a right to inherit a green healthy planet with forests, wild animals and biological diversity, not just in pages of history, television or on the internet, but in reality.
Thus, as a youth-led organization, Global Unification, The Gambia is very much concerned about the need to incorporate the principles of sustainable development in our national development process. So, while we focus on educating and informing general public about the merits of green economy, we are also lobbying for a shift in policy design which is more sustainable, pro-poor and promotes community driven projects.

Anuj: Most people in urban centres spend their whole life in vast cities and never been in real contact with wild forests. In that context how do you think that the urbanization is affecting the understanding for nature in general?

Ebrima: I think environmental concerns and sustainable development should be incorporated in urban development planning. There is no problem having reserve forests, parks and zoos in urban settlement. Destroying the environment in the name of urbanization should not be acceptable.

Anuj: Global warming is now a known problem and there is a growing interest in maintaining “green lifestyle.” Do you believe this will have an overall positive effect or is it just a fad?

Ebrima:The need for sustainable living is not a matter to be negotiated or debated about, it’s a question of our survival. So we need to shift to a green lifestyle, else our future, as a species, is doomed. We should incorporate sustainability as a principle in every choice we make and consider how our actions can harm the environment. We should, by all means, try to lessen our carbon footprint on this planet.

Anuj: Corporations producing products labeled “green,” are in vogue and have somehow helped made environment a marketable entity. But is there a danger in equating environmentalism with the consumption of “green products”?

Ebrima: Our green efforts and sustainable practices should increase and not just be restricted to mere branding and labeling of food and beverages as green products. The need of the hour is to formulate a concrete and coherent action strategy. We should actually do more and talk less as sustainable living is not only about writing it here and there, but rather, it should evolve as a manifestation of every single activity of our everyday life.

Anuj: Many people feel about environmental concerns but inevitably feel helpless as lonely individuals when considering the powerful financial and political interests. 
What is your advice to those who want to help and do something constructive for the environment?  Is there a hope for action on an individual level or do we need to be a part of the system to change it?  
The choice to create a positive change is driven by passion and desire for improvement, says  Ebrima.

Ebrima: The choice to create a positive change is driven by passion; it grows out of a desire to improve a situation. Hence, it always begins with an idea conceived by a single person, and grows big as more people get motivated by the idea. So one should always persevere and never feel lonely doing what s/he believes to be right and worth fighting for. Living green and motivating others to do the same is not only about challenging powerful financial agglomerates but changing mind-sets of the people. The magic is always in the little alternate things we do; that is what makes all the difference.   

Anuj:What is your organization’s  plan for Rio +20? 

Ebrima: My organization is mobilizing youth in Gambia around campaign call: Think Green and Act Green. Through this campaign, we hope to gather the ideas and concerns of youths in the process leading to Rio + 20 and influence its outcome. We are also considering organizing a youth consultative forum on Rio + 20, where all youth can come together and share their ideas on sustainability in general and Rio + 20 in particular.

Anuj: Great initiatives, I must say. My best wishes for Rio +20 are with you Ebrima. Thank you for taking out time for us; it was really a pleasure talking to you.

Ebrima: The pleasure was mine too. And all the best to earth and each of its citizens, as what happens in Rio can very well define human future on earth.

Ebrima S. Dem is national coordinator of Global Unification-The Gambia 

Climate Change Focal point for The Network of African Youths for Development ( ) 

He can be reached by email at

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