Story at a glance

  • Vanessa Nakate was cropped out of a photo of young climate activists protesting in Davos as the only non-white person in the image.
  • The Associated Press has since issued an apology for the cropped image.
  • Nakate is using the incident to raise awareness of how climate change is hurting African countries.

At 23 years old, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate takes Fridays off from working at her father’s shop to strike. 

She was inspired by Greta Thunberg's strike outside the Swedish parliament in 2018, Nakate told BuzzFeed News, and has been striking since January 2019, joining the global #FridaysForFuture movement. She founded the Rise Up Movement, which has representatives in 10 African countries, and attended the UN Climate Action Summit and Youth Summit in New York in September 2018. 

But it wasn’t until she was cropped out of a photo of a group of young environmental advocates at the World Economic Forum in Davos that her name began appearing in headlines. Nakate was the only non-white activist in the photo, and when she saw the cropped image, she said in an emotional video on Twitter that she understood the definition of racism for the first time. 

“Does that mean that I have no value as an African activist or the people from Africa don’t have any value at all?” she asked. 

The Associated Press changed the image after Nakate first noticed the crop without explanation. 


Later, the agency offered an apology

“My hope is that we can learn from this and be a better news organization going forward,” Sally Buzbee, the AP's executive editor and senior vice president, said. “I realize I need to make clear from the very top, from me, that diversity and inclusion needs to be one of our highest priorities.”

The next Friday, Nakate participated in a press conference along with Thunberg, who came to her defense

“It’s quite obvious I get a certain kind of media attention. If I say something, it turns into a headline. Of course, that is not the case for pretty much all other climate activists, especially from the global south, unfortunately,” Thunberg said, adding that she wanted to share her platform with African activists and scientists. 

Nakate, who has since gained thousands of followers on social media, attended via a video chat. She said that while she had initially been hurt, she now felt more optimistic. 

“It’s really sad that the incident happened,” she said. “But when I look at it in a more positive way, it has actually made the world set their eyes on the activists in Africa and try as much as possible to listen to their stories. So I’m actually very optimistic about this, and I believe that it is going to change the stories of different climate activists in Africa.”

Nakate told Buzzfeed she hoped to capitalize on this opportunity, launching a tree planting campaign in Uganda, opening up chapters of the Rise Up movement in schools and continuing to install energy-efficient institutional stoves and solar systems in schools to reduce carbon emissions. 

“In the beginning I didn’t know how I was going to do this,” she said. “But I just believed that it could happen in one way or another and after all this, this incident that has happened, I can say that there’s an opportunity for me, because of the audience I have right now to help tell the stories of different activists from Africa.”

Published on Jan 31, 2020