What is hope to you?
Hope for me is justice. Justice for the past atrocities that have been committed against our people. Atrocities that are still continuing. Justice comes with accountability. For over 500 years, our continent has been plundered, our people have been used as slaves. Our people built the wealth of the Global North. And today, we are still seen as just monkeys. The noble house needs to acknowledge the atrocities that they've done to our people, like the German Herero genocide. They need to acknowledge that their corporations are still working in that mindset. For me, hope is really about getting to the roots of the problems of capitalism. The roots include the narrative that African people or indigenous people are not as worthy as others.
Can you tell me your story?
I was born an activist. I was born in a refugee camp. At the time there was apartheid in Namibia and my parents went into exile in Angola. From there, the rebellion against the South African Apartheid regime in Namibia started. My father was the chief of intelligence of SWAPO, the independence movement. He was a general. At the time of his death, when I was two years old, he was the acting commander.
He was killed in battle?
It was in Southern Angola, he drove over a landmine. That's the official version.
Was he assassinated?
I don't know. But at that time many generals were dying in car accidents.
When was that?
He died in 1981.
Is there something like hope for you in your father’s death?
It doesn't give me hope. It just makes me angrier because I see that he died for nothing. He died so others could enrich themselves. What would give me hope is if the global leaders would say, okay, it's time that we stop exploiting these countries. It is time that we give indigenous people the platform they deserve. Because we are not just monkeys living in the bush. We are people that have a connection to nature. What gives me hope is the climate movement that I am a part of because we are really trying to shape things. We are putting pressure on the government in our own country and elsewhere.
It’s the wildfires, the persistent droughts, the rainfall patterns that have changed. The climate crisis is already here.
How is activism, as you say, connected to your story?
I grew up in Angola in refugee camps and left for East Germany in 1985. We were a bunch of kids. Many children lost their parents. They didn't know what to do with the youngest ones. So they were sent away. Already in the camps, we were being trained, being told: down with capitalism, down with Botha, down with apartheid. This shaped me. I was taught from a young age that you need to fight for yourself. You need to fight for your people.
What does your activism look like today?
I am part of Fridays for Future Windhoek. We are about ten volunteers. They are all students, I am the only mama. It's the kids that we engage with. There is hope in teaching other people how to be self-sustainable, in the possibility of thinking differently, in acting differently or shaping the future differently. We need climate justice.
What is the reality of climate change in Namibia?
It's the wildfires, the persistent droughts, the rainfall patterns that have changed. Normally we would have a short rainy season in October. Then, in November and December, the rain starts. But now the rain starts in January. This affects our food security. The deserts are expanding. We have climate refugees fleeing the drought, also from Angola. The climate crisis is already here.
What are the forces driving climate change in Namibia?
These are more the global effects. In the country, it is the continuous exploitation of places like the Kavango Basin where the Canadians started drilling for oil in a very ecologically sensitive area. Our country is ruled by the same rules that were used during apartheid. Namibia has 10 percent of the shares and the Canadians have 90 percent. This is neocolonialism. We are still not free. We have never had as much poverty in this country as we do today. Money is going missing every single day.
And you say that these structures reproduce colonial structures of exploitation.
The Global North has to recognise that what they have done in the past was wrong and that things have to change. We also deserve a future. Right now, they are taking it all away from us. Their oil and gas projects, not only in Namibia. Tanzania is the same. Families are being displaced because of the Eastern pipeline, again with government support. They call it “development". It is not development. It is neocolonialism. They are causing ecocide and another potential genocide.
How do you want to change that?
Decolonising is important because we don't want to live like people in the Global North. Sure, I love being there every now and then, it is super enriching when it comes to culture, new discoveries. But it doesn't mean that we all want to live in a brick house. It doesn't mean that we all want to be stressed, to get up at five o'clock in the morning to take the kids to school. This lifestyle has been imposed on our people by the colonialists and has become systemic.
How do you see life in the Global North?
Everything is driven by capitalism. People have become so individualistic. You always have to buy everything. At least here I can put my seed in the ground and my food will grow. I can grow my trees. Here we have space. If you look at Namibia on the map, you can see that it's spacious. If you look at our yards, they are spacious. We have our own ways, we have our own traditions that have been rooted out thanks to colonialism. It is disguised as religion and development, based on narratives of hatred towards other people. There's no difference between development and Nazism for me: “let’s get rid of us indigenous people, we don’t need these monkeys, let's burn down the Amazon forest".
You are on your way to COP26 in Glasgow – what is your expectation? What do you hope for?
For me, it's not only about cutting emissions. My hope is that the leaders of the Global North realise that what they're doing in our country is still colonialism and that it has to change. I am hoping that for once global leaders will choose life over profit. I also want COP26 to realise that through their inaction they are responsible for the death of millions of people globally, especially the ones living in the Global South. When we talk about climate action, let's also talk about accountability. Let's sit down and say, okay, this is what you did – how are you going to make it better?
INA-MARIA SHIKONGO is a climate justice activist and artist. She was born in Angola, grew up in former East Germany, and studied in Namibia and France. As an active member of Fridays For Future, Shikongo is fighting against the extraction of fossil fuels and calling for systemic change in politics, economics and everything in between. Shikongo also runs a project that trains grassroots organisations and communities throughout Namibia in the basics of fashion design.