Former president of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete: how climate change has altered my country

Former president highlights rising sea level and unpredictable rainy seasons

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. Robert J. Ross / Asilia Africa

Growing up, there was a predictability to the rain, says former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete.

The “long rains” would start in March and end in May, and the “short rains” would appear towards the end of the year.

But over time, Mr Kikwete, 70, has witnessed a change in his country as the impact of global warming has come to the fore.He says now “you cannot determine” when the seasonal rains will come.

When they do arrive, there are times when “there’s too much … causing havoc”. Conversely, drought periods are more frequent and last longer, he said.

Mr Kikwete, who was Tanzania’s president from 2005-2015, pointed the immediate effects climate change, such as flash floods that killed children who were on their way to school.

In September, Mr Kikwete will become the chair of the Global Partnership for Education, which is dedicated exclusively to transforming education in lower-income countries. He was speaking to The National during an education summit in London held to help raise at least $5 billion to support GPE’s work over the coming years.

An avid basketball fan, in 1944 Mr Kikwete was appointed as Tanzania’s finance minister. A year later, he became its foreign minister before ascending to the presidency in 2005.

Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus) hunting on plains of Serengeti, wildebeests (Connochaetes Taurinus) in background, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Getty Images

Since stepping down in 2015, he has taken on a series of roles dedicated to development.

In 2016, the UN secretary general appointed him to a senior role in the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which works to tackle global malnutrition.

Mr Kikwete’s eponymous foundation, established in 2016, has broadly worked with governments and other organisations to push development forward.

But global warming has also been on his mind, as has its impact on Tanzania.

World leaders have put a green recovery from the pandemic at the heart of their economic plans. But there are concerns that not enough money is flowing to poorer countries to help them to adopt greener technology and tackle global warming.

With the UN’s climate conference, also known as Cop26, due to take place in November in Glasgow, the environment has remained high on the agenda.

Mr Kikwete highlighted ways in which climate-related issues, from rising sea levels to mosquitoes to the rainy seasons, had affected Tanzania.

The country is slightly south of the Equator, below the Sahara.

He recalled the case of an island near the coastal town of Pangani on which green turtles used to lay eggs.

“It is no longer to be seen. The turtles have moved on to the beach on the mainland. So you have so many of these examples of sea level rising experiences. We have snows in Mount Kilimanjaro declining.

“When I was growing up, in many parts of our country, we had rivers, small rivers that were perennial. These days, those river are dry. They’ve just become seasonal rivers.”

Mr Kikwete also served as the founding chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, with the deadly mosquito-borne disease a threat throughout most of his country.

“We used to not have malaria in highland areas in Tanzania. Now there is malaria in highland areas because it is warmer, because it was too cold for mosquitoes to thrive.

“Now, it is warm enough for mosquitoes to thrive. In places where there was no malaria, now they are malaria-endemic. So, the effects of climate change are real. You cannot dispute that.”

Mr Kikwete, a former African Union chairman, said climate change was affecting family life.

“The ability of these families to take care of their children is being debilitated. So, of course, this is the collateral effects of climate change when the families are affected.”

Educating children about climate change was most important, to help them to understand “the things that need to be done for mitigation, and for adaptation”

“So I think it’s a critical thing, global warming. We’re cutting our trees, we’re reducing the areas for carbon sequestration.

“Climate change is real. We should educate them about climate change, its effect, so that they don’t do the mistakes that we have done.

“Climate change is not God sent. Climate change is a function of human action, irresponsible human action that has led to this effect.”

Updated: August 07, 2021, 6:15 AM