We have a mountain to climb on eco-justice, says Kenyan Christian leader

By staff writers
12 Feb 2007

During his childhood in East Africa, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, now general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), recalls that he used to see from his home the snow-topped peaks of Mount Kenya in the distance - writes Fredrick Nzwili for Ecumenical News International (ENI).

That mountain - and later the country - is said to have gained its name from the 19th century explorers, Johannes Rebmann and Johann Ludwig Krapf. The two men were amazed to find snow at the equator, and misunderstood the local Kamba tribe who spoke of "Kiinyaa", meaning "white mountain", Kobia noted on a recent visit to his homeland.

"But if another Rebmann came to the area in twenty years from now," says Dr Kobia, a Methodist who now holds a key post in the worldwide ecumenical movement. "I wonder if they would still be told, 'That is the snow-capped mountain'."

The Kenyan Green Belt Movement founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai recently lamented that Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro will lose their ice cover within 25 to 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut.

"What is at stake is life on earth as we know it," says Kobia, who was in the Kenyan capital to attend a meeting of ACT Development, a newly-founded alliance of churches and related organizations that aims at eradicating poverty, injustice and human rights abuses.

The alliance classifies the impact of climate change as one of the world's greatest challenges, alongside poverty, competition for resources and markets, wars and conflicts, and religious dialogue.

"The melting ice-caps of Mount Kirinyaga and Mount Kilimanjaro - both visible from Nairobi on clear days - are telling us that rising temperatures will cause critical water shortages and destroy the web of life that is so critical for the survival of the poor and marginalised," said Kobia.

The United Nations Environment Programme has pointed out that during the last century the largest glacier on Mount Kenya lost 92 percent of its mass, as global temperatures increased by about 0.6 degrees Celsius. On current predictions, further increases in temperatures of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius are estimated by 2100.

The effects of climate change are also being felt in other parts of the continent, says Bishop Mvume Dandala, a Methodist from South Africa, who is now based in Nairobi as general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

In the village of his birth in the hills of Mount Ayliff in the area then known as Transkei, Dandala said, "We used to look forward to the months of October to March. There was ploughing, sowing, hoeing." But now the area is frequently hit by tornadoes. In the village these months, I now encounter people full of fear."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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