What Africa can learn from ever-green Sweden

What Africa can learn from ever-green Sweden
Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and the Swedish city of Örebro.
Bukenya Charles, an NFGL student in Örebro, discusses Sweden’s environmental policies – and why Uganda, and Africa, haven’t followed the same path.

Green Sweden, you say? How green?

 Well, if you have any doubts, according to The Huffington Post and many other independent environmental researchers, Sweden is ranked the fourth greenest country on the planet, and it has set a goal of being fossil fuel free by the year 2020. Put the rankings aside, Sweden is beautiful –  my eyes are my testimony.

I am a Masters student from Uganda, Africa’s crossroads, where the Savannah, tropical forest and desert all meet. In fact, my country is in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres since it lies at the equator.

In this little country, every citizen takes pride in the rich diversity of our environment. I’m not joking about diversity – Uganda over 550 tree species, more than 800 animal and insect species, and 1,060 bird species. These birds constitute 67 percent of Africa’s and 11.1 percent of the world’s total bird population.

Winston Churchill described Uganda as the “pearl of Africa”. It’s also home to Lake Victoria, the second-largest fresh water lake in the world, and the source of the mighty Nile River.

Now I know that sounds like a tourism advertisement. But it’s not. Because the story has changed.

The current situation is nowhere close to any of that. Much of the forest cover has been destroyed by human settlement and less productive subsistence farmers. The water levels in lakes and rivers have fallen to their lowest in history, and the desert is expanding south so quickly. Some of the bird and animal species are on the verge of extinction.

This is the story of my country, but also widely Africa’s story at large. How can a continent so endowed with nature do so little to preserve it?

Since I arrived in Sweden I have been exploring the towns and country side. The amazing beauty I have seen is so spectacular. A 20 minute drive from any Swedish city leads you to a natural wonderland of untamed nature.

 Even the cities are so green. Let’s say the truth here – Sweden’s nature is nowhere near as diverse as Africa’s. Sweden has only a few animal, birds and plant species. But there is an incredible awareness to preserve the environment in the Swedish public.

I have been in Sweden for only a month, and already volunteers have knocked on my door three times to remind me of the importance of nature. Not even once in my own country has this happened, for the 25 years I have lived there.  The Swedish Green Party has also just entered into government for the first time.

Buses in Örebro, where I live, use trash (bio fuels) as a source of energy. Garbage is sorted in Sweden, and over 80 percent of it is recycled.

Everyone is everyone’s keeper to avoid pollution. And the result of all this is a green Sweden, a Sweden so beautiful to see and live in.

Bukenya Charles in Örebro.

How can Sweden get everything right that we have all got wrong?

Well, we didn’t get it wrong exactly – we just refused to learn. Everything Sweden has done is even more possible in Africa, for example. We have the sun every day of the year but there is minimal investment in solar energy on the continent. We are almost solely dependent on fossil fuels.

Apologists will say, “Africa is poor. How can this be done?”

Well, how much does it cost to put paper, tins and foods into separate bins when you dump garbage? How much science does one have to study to know that plants make rain and oxygen for humans? Maybe our leaders lack exposure – but no, my president (and his former prime minister as well) lived in Gothenburg before becoming president.

Why do African governments have so huge military budgets? Will guns protect us from the invisible enemy, climate change?

One answer is true to all these questions: We refused to learn again. 

This article is part of the In My Voice series, which allows NFGL students to share their opinions, reflections, and reactions to life in Sweden and to viewing the world's events from a Swedish perspective. Contact us at SI News Service if you are interested in contributing. 

All photos in article taken by Bukenya Chares (with exception of headline pictures).

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