Guardian of Green: Mithika Mwenda’s Impactful Ecological Crusade

Mithika Mwenda | Executive Director | Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)
Mithika Mwenda | Executive Director | Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)

A stage where the fervor for climate justice intertwines with strategic brilliance, shaping policies and infusing voices into the global discourse to define a new niche for economic and environmental justice—Mithika Mwenda is a stalwart leading the way. This is the realm in the pulsating heart of transformative climate action, where advocacy meets resilience and leadership embodies change; Mithika emerges as a beacon of hope and determination.

In the intricacies of climate policy, Mithika is out in front laying the foundation of change with unparalleled dedication. His journey resonates with the essence of leadership, not confined to titles but thriving on passion and purpose. As the Executive Director of Africa’s de facto platform of the continent’s rallying call for climate justice, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), Mithika’s role transcends the boundaries of an ordinary position. He embodies the spirit of advocacy, where each decision he makes and every initiative he undertakes echoes the voices of the unheard, reverberating across nations.

Mithika’s story is not just about policy interventions and strategic alliances—it’s a saga of resilience, of standing firm against adversities and channelling the collective strength of communities towards a sustainable future. His leadership is marked by the commitment to human dignity, justice and accountability, values skilfully incorporated in PACJA’s mission.

Let’s dive into the narrative of a leader whose footsteps leave an indelible mark in the sands of climate justice, exploring the depths of his initiatives, understanding the essence of his advocacy and witnessing the transformative power of his actions!

A Breath of Fresh Air

The Africa Climate Summit was hosted by the Government of Kenya and the African Union where Mithika distinguished himself as the main voice of civil society and articulated issues which were applauded as the burning concerns of the people in a forum deemed pro-market.

Mithika narrates the backstory of this event. When the Summit was first announced in February 2023, hopes soared among stakeholders, including civil society and people at the frontline of climate crisis, envisioning a unique opportunity for Africans to mould their own destinies. “This was our chance to voice our concerns and dreams, to shape an agenda reflective of our realities, desires and asirations” he emphasizes.

However, the path to this vision proved rocky. Global interests overshadowed the planning process, sidelining the very voices that should have been central. Mithika and his allies in the Non-State Actors Steering Committee bringing together diverse groups across Africa stood firm, vehemently protesting this exclusion. Despite compromises, the battle was far from over. “We had to prevent the Summit from being hijacked by those with conflicting interests,” he recalls.

Mithika’s determination led him to address the leaders directly, firmly laying out the people’s demands and ‘redlines.’ “We ensured that our voices resonated louder than ever, standing as a testament to the power of collective determination,” he says.

In the face of adversity, Mithika emerges as a beacon of leadership, ensuring that the Summit truly belongs to the people it aims to serve.

A Voice in the Wilderness

Weathering the storm, he stands tall, becoming the embodiment of change in a forum where his influence ripples beyond the surface, echoing through the corridors of both challenge and triumph. Yet, his journey, much like the changing winds of the  Summit, began in the humble embrace of rural life. Growing up amidst the tranquil yet resilient rhythms of his upbringing, Mithika’s life is profoundly shaped by his upbringing.

My polygamous father, a strict Catholic missionary school teacher, instilled in us Christian values,” he shares. This upbringing was a blend of Christian principles and traditional African customs, emphasizing the significance of rites of passage that marked different stages of life.

Tragedy struck early, with Mithika’s father passing away during his high school years. This left the family grappling with financial hardships, making education seem like an unattainable dream. Despite these challenges, his determination to explore the world beyond his village fueled his academic zeal. “Education was my ticket to a broader horizon,” he notes.

Against all odds, Mithika’s dedication paid off when he became one of the few students to secure a spot in a public university. “Joining Moi University was a turning point,” he recalls, acknowledging the pivotal role education played in his life. With the support of government bursaries and loans, he embarked on a journey that would shape his future. He is an embodiment of resilience, determination and the transformative power of education, inspiring countless others to reach for their dreams despite the odds.

Nurturing Knowledge

Joining the university was a guaranteed step after meeting the Ministry of Education’s cut-off point,” Mithika reflects. Yet, destiny took him to Moi University, a distant institution that initially seemed far removed from his dreams. “I wouldn’t have chosen Moi University,” he says, citing the financial challenges and distance from home.

During his second year, Mithika found himself questioning his chosen path, realizing that Education Course which he had been placed, was not his true calling. However, adversity became the catalyst for transformation. Engaging deeply in student politics, he became the vice president of the Student Union. “I discovered myself through student politics,” he admits. A journey that paved the way for a more significant purpose beyond the classroom.

His role as a student leader opened doors to national outreach and activism, aligning him with Kenya’s human rights, democracy and reform movement. This exposure shaped his career profoundly. “It was a turning point,” he acknowledges; his passion for public policy and advocacy ignited.

In the years that followed, Mithika’s resolve led him to pursue a Master of Science in Public Policy Analysis at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. “I wanted to sharpen my skills, to make my work on policy engagement more impactful,” he affirms.

Beyond the Podium

Universities indeed nurture future leaders,” Mithika affirms. Inspired by the impactful student leaders preceding him, he found his calling in defending human rights and ensuring fairness in society. Becoming a student leader was a natural progression, driven by his innate desire to advocate for fellow students’ rights to essential amenities.

In the realm of student leadership, Mithika found his voice. “It provided a platform to demand necessary changes,” he emphasizes, recalling his interactions with university officials and government agencies. This experience not only empowered him but also ignited his enthusiasm for advocacy and policy influence.

His journey took an unexpected turn with his first international trip to Kampala, Uganda, a seemingly modest accomplishment. “Traveling for a student leaders’ meeting was a significant milestone,” he recalls with a sense of wonder. This experience broadened his horizons, revealing a larger purpose awaiting him beyond the boundaries of his imagination.

From Student Halls to Policy Halls

I’ve spearheaded the formation of a powerful climate justice movement,” Mithika declares proudly. His approach, he explains, was meticulous and well-executed, leaving an indelible mark on Africa’s climate discourse. With support from Co-founder Augustine Njamnshi, he surmounted regional, linguistic and cultural barriers, creating a robust network of organizations and individuals.

Their efforts brought visibility to marginalized communities previously overlooked in international discussions on low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways. “We provided a platform and a strong voice to those who were silenced,” Mithika emphasizes, highlighting the movement’s crucial role in shaping global climate discourse processes.

Remarkably, the concept of climate justice, once relegated to obscurity, has now become a central topic in African and global climate discourse processes. “A decade ago, it was a backwater issue. Now, it’s at the heart of discussions,” he exclaims triumphantly. Their success, he asserted, was a testament to their dedication, strategic planning and the support of a united network working toward a common goal. Through their collective efforts, they’ve transformed climate justice from a mere concept into a powerful force driving meaningful change on a global scale.

Rising Temperatures: Passion in Climate Advocacy

Being a part of the Climate Network Africa and the All-Africa Conference of Churches laid the foundation for my activism and networking skills,” Mithika reflects. He emphasizes the pivotal role this experience played in his personal journey. “It was a crucial time for discovering myself,” he added, reminiscing about the opportunities that shaped his path.

His responsibilities centered around outreach and network building, focusing on connecting with civil society organizations and faith movements. “My role involved forging connections during priority policies, plans and programs relevant to Africa,” he states. These interactions not only refined his skills but also broadened his understanding of the intricate issues at hand.

The Ties that Bind

Amidst the fervor for constitutional reforms that birthed one of Africa’s most progressive constitutions in 2010, I played pivotal roles, including being a youth Co-Convenor at the National Convention Assembly,” Mithika recounts. His involvement immersed him in interactions with renowned activists, political leaders and stakeholders. “Those experiences instilled confidence in me, shaping me into a resilient activist,” he shares, emphasizing the significance of perseverance in the challenging arena of activism.

The intense engagement not only honed his activism skills but also provided profound insights into policy and legal processes. “Understanding these intricacies is vital for civil society’s role and influence in shaping development,” Mithika explains. This multifaceted understanding empowers him to navigate the complexities of civil society engagement effectively.

Voicing Truth to Power

Climate policy influence isn’t just a career for me—it’s a passion,” Mithika affirms. His strategic engagement with policy actors and organizations has been instrumental in championing the cause of the vulnerable through PACJA. “We’ve become a stalwart ally, a de facto civil society leader in Africa’s climate policy processes,” he proudly states.

At the heart of this influence is the ClimDev-Africa Initiative, led by the African Union Commission, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank. PACJA, as an unofficial partner, plays a crucial role. “We bring the voice of non-state actors to policy discussions on climate change in Africa,” Mithika explains. His involvement in the steering committee of this initiative has been pivotal. “I’ve shaped pro-poor policy interventions and anchored climate justice imperatives,” he says, outlining his contributions to shaping the pathways pursued by governments and UN organizations across the continent.

When It Rains, It Pours: The Struggles of Climate Justice Advocacy

The greatest hurdle we face is the deep-seated mistrust between governments and civil society in Africa,” Mithika states. He acknowledges the challenges arising from the shrinking civic space and the rise of inward-looking, nationalistic political environments. In this context, collaboration between state and non-state actors, as well as cooperation between governments from different parts of the world, becomes critical to tackling the existential threats posed by the climate crisis.

Despite Africa’s efforts in developing robust climate strategies and policies, Mithika laments that these initiatives often remain lofty ideas. “Insufficient resources and fragmented stakeholders hinder the transformation of these strategies into tangible action,” he emphasizes. The urgency of the climate crisis demands a united front, where governments and non-state actors work together harmoniously, transcending boundaries and differences.

Mithika’s words underscore the importance of bridging gaps and fostering trust between all parties involved. He emphasizes the need for collective action, where collaboration triumphs over mistrust, ensuring that policies translate into meaningful interventions on the ground. In the face of complex challenges, his advocacy resonates as a call for unified efforts and shared responsibility to safeguard the planet’s future.

In the Heart of Reform

In the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC), my task was to coordinate and ensure deeper peoples participation, channelling pro-citizen perspectives into the 2010 draft constitution,” Mithika explains. Reflecting on the context, he adds, “Coming from a period where human rights and accountability were often neglected, this was a crucial opportunity to embed provisions safeguarding human dignity in our constitution.”

Mithika’s pivotal role stems from the NCEC’s strategic position in the drafting process. “We had direct representations in the drafting team,” he affirms, underscoring their influence on the constitution’s shaping. In a period demanding a transition toward accountability and human rights, Mithika’s efforts epitomize leadership in action, ensuring the voices of ordinary citizens are not only heard but also enshrined in the fundamental legal framework of the nation.

PACJA’s Call to Action

As a consortium of over 1,000 organizations across 51 African nations, we offer a platform,” Mithika emphasizes, highlighting their collective vision for an equitable approach to climate response, especially concerning the Paris Agreement and its consequent implementation framework, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Their collaboration extends beyond national borders, working closely with key African intergovernmental agencies and various UN entities, sharing their vision on the global stage.

PACJA has pioneered innovative initiatives to drive its policy priorities and choices. “We partnered with the World Bank for the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, building forest communities’ capacity on REDD+,” Mithika explains, underscoring its commitment to environmental sustainability. Additionally, their Guard-Africa Project, supported by the Swedish Government, and the African Activists for Climate Justice program, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, empowers those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, fostering a unified African movement for climate justice.

Recognizing the power of media, they established the African Climate Change and Environmental Reporting (ACCER) Awards, a reward scheme to incentivize journalists to report on climate change in Africa. Furthermore, the community and youth-focused Nairobi Summer School on Climate Justice serves as a vital forum for experiential learning, bridging generational gaps and fostering collective inter-generational conversations.

PACJA’s dedication extends to capacity-building efforts, collaborating with like-minded institutions and fostering international partnerships through initiatives, traversing countries and continents, like the African Climate Legislation Initiative, which the Alliance spearheads with Pan African Parliament, and the Afro-descendants Climate Justice Collaborative, jointly driven in collaboration with US organisations. “These initiatives drive our leadership role within the global climate change discourse,” Mithika affirms, encapsulating their commitment to accelerating the Paris Agreement’s implementation.

The Pinnacle Ascent

Being recognized among the trailblazers is a demonstration of our Alliance’s collective impact,” Mithika asserts, with respect the numerous Awards and recognition he has ammased, among them, his 2019 and 2022/23 recognition as one of the World’s 100 Most Influencial People on Climate Policy by the think Tank, Apolitical. He humbly refrains from taking sole credit, emphasizing his role as the face of a dedicated team. “I’m just a leader within a tireless team at the secretariat, our Board of Directors and the entire PACJA membership,” he says, highlighting the collaborative effort that drives their success.

For Mithika, the acknowledgement goes beyond personal validation—it signifies the tangible impact their work has on others. “It means someone, somewhere, is feeling the impact of our work,” he affirms passionately. This realization fuels their commitment to advancing the cause of climate justice. Their mission extends far beyond accolades—it’s about amplifying the voices of those often unheard.

He expresses their dedication to broadening the climate justice discourse, ensuring that every concerned voice finds a platform. “We will continue to champion this cause,” Mithika vows, his words echoing with determination.

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