THE word ‘moniker’ is a nickname, in a very positive sense, given to someone in recognition of a past personality.
The current leader of the Catholic Church, for instance, takes the moniker of Saint Francis of Assisi, a man also acknowledged as the patron saint for Ecologists — in honour of his boundless love for animals and nature.
Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity after reportedly hearing the voice of God, who commanded him to rebuild the Christian Church and live in poverty.
He is today the patron saint of animals and the environment. Born around 1181, in Assisi, a ‘noble’ man in his native Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi, though revered today, began his life as a confirmed sinner.
His father was a wealthy cloth merchant who owned farmland around Assisi, and his mother was a beautiful Frenchwoman.
Francis wasn’t poor during his youth; he was spoiled, indulging himself with fine food, wine, and wild celebrations.
By age 14, he had left school and become known as a rebellious teenager, who frequently drank, partied and broke the city curfew. He was also known for his charm and vanity.
One day, as legend has it, while riding on a horse in the local countryside, Francis encountered a leper.
According to some religious scholars, Francis, embraced and kissed him, later describing the experience as a feeling of sweetness in his mouth.
After this incident, Francis felt an indescribable freedom. His earlier lifestyle as a rich man had since lost all of its appeal … forever.
There was a time in recent history when we used to describe people affected by severe desert conditions -- and had to flee elsewhere – as ‘environmental refugees’ because they were forced to move to safer ground in much the same way people move from wartorn, or conflict, areas.
Today, the move by some people away from adverse conditions at home is now being described collectively as a ‘climate emergency’ in a new coinage, but they are still refugees, who can no longer live under harsh environmental conditions.
Throughout history, hunger has remained one of the major triggers of massive population shifts; in all these catastrophes, people found solace from accommodating neighbours.
Right now, Somalia finds itself in a new cycle of severe hunger, described as a new ‘humanitarian crisis’ facing an estimated two million people; another three million aren’t certain whether they will go to bed on san empty tummy.
This new emergency comes just two years after world nations responded with food aid for this East African state, and experts now say communities in Somalia are still struggling to recover from the prolonged drought that ended in 2017.
So far donors are said to have promised less than half of the $1bn (roughly 2.5 trillion/-, or equivalent to a ‘big’ ministry’s budget in Tanzania) the UN and other agencies say is needed.
With the current compassion fatigue among donors, we may need a kind of Franciscan response to avert ‘hunger deaths’ in Somalia.
Still worse, the average number of people reached with food assistance from January to May this year was just about half the total over the previous six months, aid officials have warned.
It’s against this backdrop that our retired African leaders are telling us that what we call ‘environmental calamities’ as a fact of life; in other words, we’re not immune to its adverse effects.
And, we’re not using any sophisticated weapons in changing the environment – adversely and irreparably at that – sometimes just because we’ve been unable to give our mothers alternatives to charcoal for cooking and space heating.
Here, I’ve always been quick to make an equally swift distinction: women do not chop down whole trees to obtain wood fuel; all they do is collect twigs with which to make a family meal; so it’s the big commercial men in town who go out to burn charcoal who ultimately fuel unsustainable tree-felling.
At a global level, forests are known as the ‘green lungs’ of the planet, and we’ve only two of them surviving to date: the Congo in Africa and Amazon in South America.
Like the Amazon, the forests of the Congo Basin which covers DR Congo itself, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon and the Central African Republic absorb tons of carbon dioxide in trees and peat marshes – regarded by experts as a key way to combat climate change.
No doubt Africa is key to climate change, and that’s my reading of what transpired at the just-ended African Leadership Forum hosted by Uongozi Institute, Tanzania, headlined, “Promoting good natural resource management doe socio-economic transformation in Africa”.
That’s what we often miss every time we pick up and lift an axe to chop down a tree – we help heat up planet Earth.