“The rains that have been falling constantly in Lekki is the work of a rainmaker that hasn’t been paid all his fees by one of these big folks living there. That is how they behave” These are Oloruntoba Adegoke’s words. Oloruntoba is an indigene of Ile-Ife community in Osun State, living in Lagos. Clearly, there is no climate reality for him. This is his reality.
Every community is built around a story, human spaces are characterized by stories. In some cases, the first tellers of these stories cannot be identified, the origins of the narratives are foggy, and so outsiders easily conclude that they are myths, unjustified claims, but for the community dwellers they are real. This is even more pronounced with semi-urban and rural communities that are considered patrons, vicars and habitués of these age-long and much respected traditions and beliefs. Communities across the African continent are prime examples of societies built around stories; folklore, mythical narratives and traditional storylines. This is no different in the Ile-Ife community of Osun State, where there is a strong belief in the supernatural, and that mostly everything originates from there. punishment
Funso Adepetun is a 25 year old seamstress in the Ile-Ife area of Osun State. Funso believes that the recent flooding in various parts of Nigeria are an act of God and that if anything was destroyed during the process, it was God’s way of punishing people for something they had done wrong. Nearly all of the indigenes of Ile-Ife community share similar sentiments. Narratives like this have continued to seep through the community from one generation to another.
Traditional knowledge and stock stories continue to hamper the work of climate advocates all over most of Africa, with the belief that natural disasters are punishments from an ethereal being. In an interview with an indigene of Oniru community in Lagos, who preferred not to be named, he quipped ‘Can’t you see all the disasters America has? Hurricane, volcano eruptions, landslides, earthquakes? It is because of all the evil things they are doing’. These beliefs have formed the linen and fabric of the understanding of the world around them in these communities. A factor that plays a major role in the antagonism to the message of climate change and the call for a change in habits, and adoption of adaptation or mitigation strategies, is the literacy level of the population. For a population that has no formal education, and who has known a particular story or string of stories all their lives - made to believe that the rainmaker is the one who makes or stops rains- they believe that the gods of fertility and harvest when appeased will cause the weather to favour agriculture during the planting seasons, and they are rest assured that weather patterns that destroy things or hurt people are chastisements or reprimands from an angry supernatural being for one evil thing done or another.
In August 2017, Climate Journalists from across Africa met in a small ideation space in Adawa, Addis Ababa to brainstorm these issues and the possible solutions to them. Enthusing on these communities and the precarious situation they find themselves, Theri Lehtinen, delegate from the European Union (EU) to Ethiopia said ‘ They don’t have a clue why it’s happening, but they are the ones paying for it, and it’s a price they cannot afford’. Mr Binyam Yakob, another discussant at the meeting and an International Climate Negotiator from the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment highlighted the bottom-up approach as a pivotal solution. By working with these communities through an integrated bottom-up approach, rather than confrontational, there is a possibility for changing these stock narratives.
Yenagoa is, again, an example of such communities and is one of the coastal settlements in the Niger Delta part of Nigeria, with an average height of below 15 metres above sea level. The city’s topography makes it susceptible to flooding and it is seriously threatened by sea level rise occasioned by global warming. Therefore, people’s perception of climate change there, as being largely caused by human activities may be the most important factor and the key to any behavioural change whatsoever. In this community, recent research showed that 48.3% of the people believe that the cause of climate change is divine providence and nothing caused by their human activities.
In a 2014 research by Christian Nche George of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he pointed out certain points of convergence between African traditional stories and climate change. He mentioned that African religion has an intricate connection with nature, and as religion has a strong foothold in Africa, it forms a lot of the stories and beliefs that directly oppose climate studies. He also pointed out, as have many other climate researchers, that, the process of changing the perception of these communities is a gradual one and not one that can be done by an ‘activism-centered’ approach. Professor Ejembi of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, has remarked that the traditional knowledge already provides a platform on which to re-engineer the perception of community dwellers, because in spite of their beliefs, many of them have developed local mitigation and adaptation strategies, and have a very seamless means of communicating beliefs from generation to generation through music, poetry and folk stories. There is no doubt that changing these stock stories is a lot of work, but if done subtly, as though introducing a new product to a buyer, then the narratives in these communities may start to change.