KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
THEY started off in Kafue town, and by the time they were reaching the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) offices at Ecumenical Centre on Bishopâ€™s Road in Lusakaâ€™s Kabulonga, they had covered a distance of about 80 kilometres, having rode past State House, through Manda Hill and airport turn-off.
But they were not done, the following day, they were expected to go back to Eureka on Kafue Road and then back to town, then cycle around various spots in Lusaka, before heading down the Great East Road, all the way to Mchinji, on Zambiaâ€™s border with Malawi.
To reach Mchinji, they had to cycle through Lusaka, Rufunsa, Kacholola, Petauke and Chipata.
But the starting point for the cyclists was not actually Kafue, but Kariba, where they had taken over the cycling responsibilities from their Zimbabwean counterparts, who in turn had taken over from their Botswana counterparts.
The starting point for the cyclists was Maputo in Mozambique and the end point is expected to be Nairobi, Kenya. By the time they reach Nairobi, they would have passed through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, passing through such places as Pretoria, Rustenburg, Gaborone, Francistown, Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare, Chirundu, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Morogoro, Dar es Salaam and Arusha.
Although some of those participating in the cycling caravan are professionals, none of them has participated in, say, the Tour de France, the annual multiple stage bicycle race held in France and its neighbouring countries.
The Zambian cyclists included those from the Twin Palm Bike Club.
The club was only too happy to participate.
â€œAs a club, we are proud to be associated with the noble cause to raise awareness for the challenges of climate change particularly in Africa ahead of the United Nations Climate Change summit in Paris scheduled for December,â€ the club said in a statement.
â€œThis is particularly as Zambia has seen direct impacts of climate change affecting our rain patterns, resulting in countrywide load shedding and poor food production, which in turn has negatively impacted on our economic growth prospects.â€
But what is this cycling through all these countries, covering a distance of almost 6,000 kilometres, all about?
It is for the new buzz in town – climate change.
The organisers of the cycling caravan believes that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) negotiations that will be held in Paris in December this year have the potential to provide a lasting and sustainable solution.
So, in order to put pressure both at national and regional levels for urgent action at the Paris conference, they have employed some key strategies including what they are calling Africa peopleâ€™s petition.
The organiser, We Have Faith: Act Now for Climate Change, which brings together faith-based organisations, youth movements and other civil society organisations from East and Southern Africa, have drawn support and inspiration from the global climate justice campaign under the â€˜Act Now for Climate Justiceâ€™ banner.
â€œThe â€˜We Have Faithâ€™ campaign is anchored on the moral responsibility to care for the earth, and a strong ethical message for climate change in the African region.
â€œThe campaign believes that the UN negotiations that will be held in Paris, France, in December 2015 have the potential to provide a lasting and sustainable solution to protecting people and the planet from the adverse effects of climate change and preserving the environment for future generations,â€ according to the groupâ€™s campaign document.
The We Have Faith clearly knows the problems that climate change negotiations have had.
They know that climate change negotiations within the UNFCC have for a long time stagnated or yielded minimal progress owing to non-consensus among parties and lack of political will.
â€œWhile this is ongoing, climate change continues to exacerbate the already precarious social economic conditions in Africa and other vulnerable parts of the world.
â€œThe weaknesses in the Kyoto protocol in terms of ensuring that member states are legally held accountable to meet their commitments to reduce emissions reduction has been one of the key challenges cited as a hindrance to the fight against climate change.â€
Therefore, they want efforts to be employed to ensure that the new climate regime that will be adopted during the Paris conference is legally binding to all member states, and ambitious enough to limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as guided by science.
But why employ a cycling caravan?
â€œWe planned a cycling caravan because we realise, according to UN reports, that carbon emissions are a major contributing factor to climate change. So, we decided to cycle in the sub-region as a symbolic way to demonstrate the practical action that the common citizen can adopt to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector,â€ says Abraham Chikasa, head of programmes and acting regional coordinator at We Have Faith.
But other than the cycling caravan, there is also the collection of what they are calling climate justice petitions.
â€œFor us, climate change is a matter of justice because it takes away from peopleâ€¦we have seen conflicts in the Horn of Africa where people are fighting each other over land because they have to move their animals to a place where there is good pasture,â€ Mr Chikasa says.
Therefore, the campaign is relying on petitions to put pressure on the national and world leaders to deliver on climate change.
The petition, addressed to world leaders, reads: â€œWe are deeply concerned by the threats posed by climate change to the peoples of Africa. We have seen and experienced the impact of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events in our region.
â€œMother Earth, our common home, has been pushed to the brink. We call on you to prevent catastrophic climate change by committing to ambitious actions to reduce carbon emissions. We call on the governments of Africa and the world to stand with people on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and in particular, the vulnerable communities whose voices need to be heard.â€
But what does it mean for the person signing the petition?
It is a kind of commitment.
â€œI have taken action to reduce climate change by signing in this petition for a better sustainable world free from threat of climate change,â€ the petition ends.
Hopefully, there will be commitment and action in Paris in December.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka