At the climate summit in Egypt, an important role is reserved for the Dutch professor Patrick Verkooijen. He raises billions for climate adaptation, but instead of spending the money on expert climate victims, he does business with Dutch businesses and corrupt African leaders.
It was on a sunny Monday morning in September that some sixty heads of state and ministers from different countries walked over a red carpet to the floating office of the Global Centre for Adaptation (GCA) in Rotterdam. Among them were greats such as IMF director Kristalina Georgieva, WTO director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and European Commissioner Frans Timmermans.
They come to visit the international ‘African Adaptation Summit’. Because countries that contribute the least to climate change take the heaviest blows. The facts speak for themselves: Africa, a continent that has contributed less than 3 percent to the current climate crisis, has by far the most climate victims.
A lot of money is needed to allow entire population groups in Africa to adapt to the changing climate. The energetic CEO Verkooijen has taken on that task. He is collecting billions on behalf of the JSA for the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP).
The day started beautifully but ended in disappointment. Not only the assembled journalists, mainly from Africa, complained about the lack of willingness on the part of Europe. African leaders were also not happy that host Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands showed up as the only European head of state. Only a few European ministers visited this sub-top, which is regarded as a precursor to the major COP27 climate summit in Sharm El Sheik in November.
Moreover, hardly any money was collected. Of the $52.7 billion needed annually for African countries to adapt to climate change, only $11.4 billion flows in. Thus the aim is to rake in another 41.3 billion. Only the United Kingdom, Norway, France, and Denmark added a paltry 55 million dollars in total. From the prime minister of the host Netherlands, they received only nice words.
It was a bitter pill for the African delegations in particular. “Rotterdam is a test for Sharm El Sheik”, Macky Sall initially said hopefully. However, the President of Senegal and the President of the African Union lost hope during the meeting. “This leaves a bad taste in our mouths,” he said afterward. “I am a bit disappointed, to be honest.”
Also Ban Ki Moon made his appearance. We know him as a former UN Secretary-General and as Vice-President of The Elders, an independent group of wise men, once founded by Nelson Mandela. Ban Ki Moon is also chairman of the JSA and said during the press briefing that the world should mainly invest in small-scale agriculture. “The world needs resilient agriculture,” he said. “Therefore, smart investments must be made, especially in small-scale agriculture, to secure their own food supply.”
At this point, it is time to introduce myself. As a journalist, I write a lot about agriculture. In the Netherlands, internationally, and especially in Africa. Ten years ago I already wrote about the Masai in Kenya and how they coped with the changing climate.
I became friends with Isaac Nemuta who took me to his Maasai family in 2012 and showed me how they were already being hit hard by the prolonged droughts and heavy rainfall. A year of no rain means the death of millions of cattle.
Five years before, in 2007, he already started a school for all pastoralists, together with SNV. From Tanzania and the far north of Kenya, the herder’s people still come to Oloirien, in the Kajiado district, the habitat of the Masai. Even Turkana from the far north of the country attend the school.
In three simple classrooms with instructions painted on the wall, several hundred shepherds are taught here every year about social and economic topics, but especially about climate change and how to deal with it. Grassland management is also being demonstrated on a plot: recovery, harvest, and storage, as well as water conservation. In this way, the nomads learn to withstand the drought for longer and they do not have to migrate to greener regions as quickly or even not at all.
Last summer I visited him again. It was in the middle of the fourth rainy season with no rain. Dead cattle is piling up. Shepherds, almost as thin as their own cattle, migrate to better places, which are hard to be found. “It’s terrible,” Isaac told me. “When we met ten years ago, we worked hard to be prepared for climate change, but what we are now facing is a disaster.”
His school and training activities have evolved into the Climate Smart Pastoralists Association. Isaac is CEO. On a cool but sunny morning in what should have been the rainy season, he invites me to the bustling Ngong Road in Nairobi, into the small, humble office of Dr. James K. Kandagor. I am welcomed with all due respect, including a cup of English milk tea and white bread with margarine.
In addition to Isaac and Doctor Kandagor, secretary of the Climate Smart Pastoralists, Elder Michael Kibue is also present. “Waiting for the rain to come again is no longer enough,” he has noticed. “Sometimes areas are so dry that grass won’t grow, even when it rains. What is needed there is new grass seed. And trees. Acacia grows very well on grassland, and it protects the grass. It’s a symbiosis.”
It’s all about a holistic approach: improving grassland, improving seed, and ultimately water retention, right down to the driest areas. “The chemical-based farming methods are good in the short term, but in the long term they are disastrous,” says Michael. “We destroy nature for short-term gain.”
Livestock is not the problem. Not even in large numbers. “Livestock is actually a resource. Cattle helps to restore grassland. But you have to know how. That is why we teach herders how to graze their livestock according to a plan.”
Therefore, they also go out to teach pastoralists. They visit them all over Kenya, Tanzania, and far beyond. As far as Sudan and even Namibia. “We work together with the University of Cape Town.”
I was invited because they have an important question for me. Or rather: a request. They put a printout of a press release from the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) on the table, titled: ‘Global Leaders Welcome President Kenyatta as Global Champion for the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program’.
The GCA article is full of praise for Uhuru Kenyatta, who was proclaimed Champion Climate Adaptation. It was just before he stepped down as president of Kenya, where he had been in power for ten years.
The Masai barely allow me the time to read what it says. Verkooijen’s name is almost unpronounceable for them, “but what he says is exactly what we are doing”, proclaims Kibue. “We are already working on his ideas about climate adaptation. In practice, in the field. At the grassroots level.” And these Maasai want to scale up, expand and roll out their climate adaptation program all over East Africa, preferably even all of Africa. So that all pastoralists and nomads have access to water, education and knowledge about grassland restoration, market access and other ways to deal with the rapidly changing climate.
They expect little from Uhuru Kenyatta or from the current Kenyan politics. “They still think the old way there.” These expert and experienced climate victims don’t want to waste much more words on politicians, especvially not Kenyatta. They don’t want to talk about his corruption, or his origins. That Kenyatta is a Kikuyu who who are not involved with herdsmen. They do not want to fall into negative statements or old politics with outdated, intensive farming methods. “We have to start working in a totally different way. Exactly as GCA advocates: seeking solutions for climate change at the local level.”
And then there come presents on the table. For me and my family, but especially for Professor Patrick Verkooijen in Rotterdam. “Please be the voice of the pastoralists in Europe. And,” they ask me, “please go to Rotterdam as our ambassador.”
So a few weeks after the African Adaptation Summit, I once again visited the largest floating office in the world. This time, it was not sunny. It was a rainy Monday afternoon. The CEO had just returned from Kenya, where he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nairobi.
I had the opportunity to congratulate him and hand him some traditional gifts on behalf of my Masai friends. Including letters and a Certificate of Appreciation “for his great efforts to implement accelerated climate adoption programs in Africa.” The certificate from the Climate Smart Pastoralist Association stated the clear desire to work with GCA.
Verkooijen was very happy with the gifts and expressed understanding for the situation. During his recent trip to Kenya, he also met Masai, from whom he received exactly the same gifts, so he said: a plaid blanket, a beaded rungu (traditional baton) and beaded headband.
He regularly visits Kenya for already 25 years, he told me, so Verkooijen knows the problems that herds face now that the climate is changing. I didn’t have to tell him about dying livestock and even people. He told me the same example I had heard from my Maasai friends: “shepherd communities need access to water. A dam or a well. But it is important that everyone has access, otherwise jealousy and even fighting between villages and communities will ensue.”
Scale and speed
Despite their vast knowledge, the Masai cannot easily converse with their highly exalted compatriot Uhuru Kenyatta. After all, he is from a completely different tribe, which means a huge cultural difference. In that respect I am closer to Verkooijen. However, I did notice a distance. Perhaps it was the presence of an English-speaking communications officer, which prevented us from speaking Dutch.
In terms of content, however, we were on the same level. At least: that’s what I thought. This man is aware of the gracvity of the climate problem. And he knows the solutions. He has the money, my friends have the knowledge, the experience, the drive and are literally among the climate victims that matter. And above all, they have a common goal. It’s time to shake hands and talk about a meeting between my Masai friends and GCA to discuss a joint program.
But no, the GCA doesn’t work that way, the professor explains. “Our projects work on two dimensions: It’s about scale and it’s about speed. We don’t have programs for communities of 50 or even 250 people, we’re talking millions.” The GCA invests in major programs conducted in collaboration with international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank.
The story he previously told the NOS resurfaced: Western companies have the knowledge and expertise, they should also benefit from it. “We are not a program for small subsidies,” says Verkooijen. “For small-scale farmers or community projects there is already an Adaptation Fund.
I try to emphasize that this is not a small community project, but an international program that is trying to scale up. But he ignores the facts and the numbers. He simply puts aside the fact that this concerns thousands, if not millions of people. His answer is inexorable: “No! This is relatively small-scale. It’s for a few hundred people. That’s for the Adaptation Fund. That’s especially for local communities.”
The CEO is adamant. Aid money continues to flow along the old colonial route: through the western business community that knows better than por victims and who must also earn money from those initiatives. So I have another question for him: “why did you declare Uhuru Kenyatta Global Champion?”
On this, he points out that billions are needed. “So we looked for champions. We need allies who have connections to other leaders. Kenyatta is excited and he has time now that he is no longer president.”
It’s true. Kenyatta knows how to raise money. The extended family alone owns an estimated 500.000 acres. A year ago, he was the fourth richest president in Africa. Business Insider Africa estimates his personal wealth over $500 million.
Money he earned with corruption. One in three Kenyans identified him as the most corrupt Kenyan. The Pandora Papers revealed that he and six family members would own 13 foreign companies, including a one with stocks and bonds worth $30 million. It is this corruption that keeps the country financially abysmal.
So I ask Verkooijen again: “Yes, but why Kenyatta? Why not a less corrupt leader?” But this is followed by a frosty look and an urgent appeal not to talk further on the subject. “I don’t comment on the past of foreign heads of state!”
Sit and wait
It’s to get cynical. Or to go on the barricades in Sharm El Sheik at the big COP27 climate summit. But protests against this state of affairs will most likely be crushed with an iron fist. It will serve the climate negotiators such as Verkooijen well that this summit is organized in a country where civil rights have never been dealt with so harshly before in modern history.
But hey. The world simply does not prioritize climate problems in Africa. Probably too little money is being collected anyway. And maybe that’s for the better because whether the money ends up with the right people has proven very doubtful.
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