How I Made it From Uganda to Rio with the U.N.

Written by: Kaganga John
Crossposted on 99 Problems. Read the original story here.

I am Kaganga John, a Ugandan farmer, leader and environmentalist. I run an environmental organization in rural Uganda. 

This June, I was at the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. It is amazing that I made it there because I spent quite a number of months thinking about how I can get to Rio. I had wanted to go for years, because I was very interested in the first conference in 1992. I tried by all means to get funding, applied some places, but I had no luck.

When Heather Box, founder of the Million Person Project, came to Uganda with her partner, Julian Mocine-McQueen, I reluctantly told her about my desire to attend Rio+20. I had been following the UN climate process since it started in 1992. As she was leaving Uganda, I requested her to assist in fundraising some money to fund my journey to Rio. She frankly told me that, it was difficult, but promised to try because she understood important connections could be made for my work there and thought my perspective would be critical in the process.

I kept on following the preparations of Rio+20 online, sending e-mails, articles, and views to the secretariat. I decided to pre-register, although chances to go were so limited because I had failed to get funding. I kept on consulting Heather and she kept informing that she was trying.

Two weeks before the summit when I had almost given up she informed me that she had secured some basic funding for everything. She told me to get set for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and be prepared to share my story because she had lined up speaking engagements.

At Rio+20 I saw, learned and did many things, and according to my perspective as a Ugandan, Brazil is far more developed in terms of its infrastructure. In roads, rail lines, buildings etc, it might take Uganda more than 50 years to come to this extent.

In the side events I attended at the conference, we discussed so many things which hinder sustainable development, such as inadequate funding, climate change, poor health, bad governance, corruption, selfishness, human greed, global leaders not fulfilling their commitments, and inadequate education. I got a chance to be among those who spoke in one of the formal UN sessions on the human security and sustainable development panel organized by Initiatives for Change International, which lifted my profile. I was able to share my personal story and share the challenges faced by the small-scale farmers which need to be addressed. We discussed the need for friendly policies which favor small scale farmers, food security and a focus on the energy and water crisis.

Attending Rio+20 did not just lift my profile, but made me meet a different category of people who can have more influence in my sector and my community. I have met people from government, the United Nations secretariat, different big international organizations, and heads of foundations. I also had access to people whom I would normally have access to, such as ministers from other countries and people from global research institutions. I have also made many friends.

I am coming back with a lot of knowledge to apply in the field. I came home with a lot of ideas and a broader network. I connected with people who expressed interest in supporting my community and our projects. And I got people from the government of Brazil to link to the government of Uganda for support and collaboration. Connections around the world are a very important part of sustainable development. We must all work together.

There will be a fundamental change in my organization in its management and the implementation of the project.

Whatever I am doing here in Rio, I am not doing for myself, but I am doing it for my country. I am working hard to show my commitment to help us develop sustainably.

Please reach out to me for more information on my work: and send me a request on facebook to stay connected. 

Rio Conference, also known as the Rio Summit or the Earth Summit, is a conference of the United Nations which first took place in June 1992 which had several outcomes. Besides Agenda 21 signed by 178 UN member states, and the Rio declaration which outlined guiding principles ,the conference adopted a statement of principles for the sustainable management of forests, and launched three conventions on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification which all came in force. I have been following since then because my work is sustainable development.

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