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25.02.2020 Feature Article

What's It With Young Lady Activists?

What's It With Young Lady Activists?
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When the Nobel Prize Committee announced that the 2019 Peace Prize was to be awarded to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Mr Abiy Ahmed Ali, many people were surprised.

For Mr Ali was not very well known. And even in Ethiopia's itself, there were reports of strife continuing between some of the country's ethnic groups.

Another reason why Mr Ably Ahmed Ali's selection seemed unexpected was that it had been widely predicted that the Prize would go to a 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg. Miss Thunberg had stormed the world, attracting tremendous interest by daring to go to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York to ask the heads of state indignantly about their failure to reach agreements that would make the world habitable for her generation, and its children. “How dare you?!” she asked the assembled grandees.

It was reported that she had annoyed some of the heads of state – especially, American President Donald Trump – with her “confrontational manner”. Trump had “tweeted” to mock her, making references to her and her speech. He had even revealed that she was suffering from Asperger's syndrome! He said she should work on her “anger management”.

But wasn't this precisely why she should be given the Prize? In spite of her illness, she was devoting her time – often out of school – to matters concerned, not with herself, but with the possibility of saving the world. If she annoyed Donald Trump, so what?

What did America's young people think of the way Trump was parading himself as a climate-change "denier”? Did that matter to the Nobel Prize Committee? Had Trump not “questioned climate science and challenged every major US regulation aimed at combating climate change?” (as one commentator put it). Did the Nobel Peace Prize Committee not realise that trying to prevent the world's politicians from destroying the Earth's atmosphere with gaseous poisons was as important as preventing a shooting war on the ground?

Actually, if the Committee had been clever enough to award the 2019 Prize to Greta Thunberg, it would have gone down in history as an organisation that had done more to recognise and reward feminine courage than any other in the world. And young females at that – the Future Mothers of Humankind.

For the Committee had won great praise by awarding the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to the Pakistani education activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was only 17 at the time. Malala, a Pakistani campaigner for female education, was shot in the head and gravely wounded in October 2009 by religious fanatics who are opposed to women's education in Pakistan. Two other girls with whom she was travelling on a bus were also seriously wounded. But they all survived.

No doubt Malala's courage was one of a kind, but so is that of Greta Thunberg. Greta's mother, an opera singer called Malena Ernman, has just published a book about Greta's life. (See it on Google)

Malena gives a most moving account of how from a very young age, Greta suffered from a series of illnesses about which doctors and schools could do almost nothing. Her parents gave up hope that she would live – until, miraculously, she discovered and began to focus on a course greater than herself – namely, saving the world from global warming.

Greta’s mother Malena and her father, Svante, are “cultural workers” – trained in opera, music and theatre. Malena writes: “When I was pregnant with Greta, and working in Germany, Svante was acting at three different theatres in Sweden simultaneously.”

With 1,000km between them, they could only be on the phone to each other constantly. Their other daughter, Beata, was born three years after Greta.

Things became difficult: “One evening in the autumn of 2014, Svante and I sat slumped on our bathroom floor in Stockholm. It was late, the children were asleep. Everything was starting to fall apart around us. Greta was 11, had just started fifth grade, and was not doing well.

“She cried at night when she should be sleeping. She cried on her way to school. She cried in her classes and during her breaks, and the teachers called [us at] home almost every day. Svante had to run off and bring her home to [our dog] Moses. She sat with him for hours, petting him and stroking his fur. She was slowly disappearing into some kind of darkness and little by little, bit by bit, she seemed to stop functioning. She stopped playing the piano. She stopped laughing. She stopped talking. And she stopped eating.”

Not eating (Malena writes) “can mean many things. The question is what. The question is why. Svante and I look for answers.....I speak endlessly to the children’s psychiatry service, the healthcare information service, doctors.”

Fortunately, after one meeting with experts, Greta turns round. “I want to start eating again.” (she says). “All three of us burst into tears and we go home and Greta eats a whole green apple. “Greta’s pulse rate [later] gets stronger and finally the weight curve turns upwards strongly enough for a neuropsychiatric investigation to begin. Our daughter has Asperger’s, high-functioning autism and OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

What eventually happened to Greta (writes Malena) “can’t be explained simply by a psychiatric label. In the end, she simply couldn’t reconcile the contradictions of modern life.... We, who live in an age of historic abundance, who have access to huge shared resources, can’t afford to help vulnerable people in flight from war and terror – people like you and me, but who have lost everything.

“In school one day, Greta’s class watches a film about how much rubbish there is in the oceans.... Greta cries throughout the film. Her classmates are also clearly moved..... Greta …. saw what the rest of us did not want to see. It was as if she could see our CO2 emissions with her naked eye.

“The invisible, colourless, scentless, soundless abyss that our generation has chosen to ignore. She saw all of it – not literally, of course, but nonetheless she saw the greenhouse gases streaming out of our chimneys, wafting upwards with the winds and transforming the atmosphere into a gigantic, invisible garbage dump.

“She was the child, we were the emperor. And we were all naked.”

That's how Greta's activism began – first she went on single-person demonstrations, carrying a placard, in front of the Swedish Parliament. Then, with the support of her parents, her movement grew and grew and grew. Till she became a household word throughout the world, after she had challenged the world's heads of state at the New York UN Climate Summit.

I am sure if you asked her whether she minded not being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, she would answer: “The what what for what?”

Yes, there are some people to whom the world does mean THE WORLD. One world. To be saved or lost.

Greta is certainly one of them. She must be applauded by the world, whether the Nobel Prize recognises her or not.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2020

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

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