Environmental activist Gloria Majiga-Kamoto was recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa—the world’s leading award for grassroots environmental activists.
The Yali-Mandela Washington 2019 Fellow, who is a programme officer for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa), received the award for her efforts in advocating for reforms and enhanced implementation of the environmental and natural resource management policy and legal framework.
This is the first time Malawi has received the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa, and Majiga-Kamoto was one of only six winners across the globe to get the award. The five other winners are from South and Central America, North America, Asia, Europe, and Islands and Island Nations.
Reacting to the news, the environmental activist says: “I cannot express how thankful and blessed I feel to represent so many people that have, and continue to fight plastics and its impacts in Malawi, across the continent, and across the world.
“There are so many people that have poured themselves into combatting the plastic industry and so to represent all these amazing individuals and my country in this prestigious award is a great honour and humbling.”
Overwhelmed by the support pouring in from across the country and across the world on the excitement for the prize and Malawi’s recognition, the activist says she is especially grateful that many peope have taken ownership of this win for Malawi and for Africa, and are committing to doing more to support the ongoing efforts towards fighting plastic pollution.
She explains: “This is OUR win, and it is OUR prize — we absolutely brought it home. So we should all be celebrating such an honour by coming together to stand against environmental degradation and support the enforcement of the ban.
“The government has done its part; it is now time for citizens to make this ban a reality and take action. The Goldman prize is about telling the story of a nation through an individual’s lens, to show the power every one of us holds in changing the world.”
She asserts that small actions make a big difference and that everyone can do something from where-ever they are; and hence calls on the public to join hands and hold companies accountable and support government to make Malawi a better place for everyone now and for future generations.
Asked to explain more about the efforts she made in supporting the government ban on single use plastics, Majiga-Kamoto says it all started with them coming together because of their concern on the increasing levels of pollution from such plastics.
This was a build up from Cepa’s previous work with the Association of Environmetal Journalists; Wildlife and Environmetal Society of Malawi (Wesm); Coorditaion Unit for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (Cure) and other organisations in environmental activism, on a project related to the review of the Environmental Management Act.
The organisations took action as a way of contributing to better management of the country’s natural resources — at times even with their own personal funds.
“We had several meetings and we decided together that we would do more than just wait for the outcome, we would push for urgent action and also join the case. We could never have imagined that it would result in such a huge recognition of our work as well as government’s efforts to do away with the plastics problem in Malawi,” explains the young woman.
Majiga-Kamoto has always cared about people and inclusion; and is always mindful of how she can be valuable to her society and its development.
She says: “Naturally, I was drawn to a career that works towards improving people’s lives through policy. I found myself in the environmental sector by chance, because of an interest I took up in the extractives sector during the time communities and the governemnt were at loggerheads because of the Kayelekera Uranium Mine.
“I recognised a gap in the governance of natural resources and I took up an interest in playing a role in contributing to civic engagement in natural resource governance for sustainable development.”
Majiga-Kamoto grew up in Blantyre where she was raised by a single mother following her father’s death. She studied public administration at the University of Malawi (then Chancellor College) with a strong interest in public policy and development.
She is currently a Canon Collins scholar studying for a master of laws degree (LLM) in Environmental and Natural Resource Law with the University of London, United Kingdom.
In 2019, she was awarded the United States Government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali) Fellowship, for which she says she had applied to enrich her leadership experience and develop her abilities and talents for the benefit of Malawi and the continent at large.
Says Majiga-Kamoto: “I learnt so much about what leadership is and what it is not—especially that it is less about authority or power and more about purpose and relationships. It helped me to see myself as a leader and I discovered my strengths and my edges and how to be more self aware instead of self conscious.”
Majiga-Kamoto admits that as a woman, one of her biggest challenges was breaking free from the perceptions and expectations on what a woman or girl should be.
She says some of the toughest times of her life were during her teenage years when she felt like everything was consequential, but that she now realises that most life challenges have little significance, but only provide lessons to look back on.
The environmental activists thus encourages young women to keep fighting and pushing for their dreams, adding: “Things may seem impossible and unattainable now, but if you focus on your goals, you will realise that there is still so much ahead of you and its all worth fighting for.”
“I am fortunate that my mother was liberal and my brother always challenged me to reach my full potential. I have experienced failure and have learnt to learn from it. You also quickly learn that the systems have been built to serve the patriarchy, so sometimes it gets frustrating to break through or be given the same respect and recognition you deserve,” she says.
However, she cites how priviledged she is to have grown up at a time when men and women have become increasingly aware of that, and continue to strive to create growth opportunities and platforms for everyone.