Background image of Landry Mayigane giving a talk at Ecotrust.

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Living resilience in Rwanda

It would be perfectly alright for Landry Ndriko Mayigane to celebrate normalcy. He could clock in and out at his government job monitoring diseases and expansion in the Rwandan poultry industry. He could sit back and marvel at how Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, his home, is becoming liveable — expanding and cleaning up, as President Paul Kagame aggressively pushes modernization. He could find a wife and settle down. And given his country’s past, that would be enough.

Instead, Mayigane, 31, is in constant motion. A trilingual veterinary doctor whose passport is thick with stamps, he has ambitions to be a world leader. “One of my goals is to be the UN Secretary General,” he says unabashedly.

Landry Mayigane
Landry Mayigane. Photo by Sam Beebe

He’s not wasting any time. A respected avian influenza authority internationally, he’s part of the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s worldwide network. And he moonlights as one of the global climate movement’s top young exponents in Africa.

He’s organized rallies across Africa for the likes of 350.org and is a serial founder of organizations and chapters on the issue. His latest two groups seem to have staying power and resonance in a world where climate change consequences are quickly piling up: the nonprofit Rwanda YACA aims to turn Rwanda’s ballooning cohort of jobless youth into renewable and appropriate energy entrepreneurs. His African Youth Initiative on Climate Change works to network young people all over the continent with educational and professional development opportunities that will help them approach the continent’s problems from a resilience perspective.

In a wounded country, in a battered region of the African continent, Mayigane is a walking testament to resilience.

“Like our president, I want to dignify Africans,” says Mayigane, who is at Ecotrust for a four-month U.S. State Department-sponsored fellowship. “We need to think and learn globally and act locally.”

Though that’s nearly a worn-out phrase in the West, it’s a more pithy pair of ideas to swallow in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda, where global problems are exacerbating local ones in a small, landlocked and heavily agriculturally dependent country.

Mayigane knows this first hand.

His father was one of 20 children born on his grandfather’s land in the northern part of Rwanda. With land now being distributed to Mayigane’s generation and the next, there is simply not enough to go around. This is happening all over the country; He quotes a figure that 200,000 young Rwandans migrate to Kigali and other cities from rural areas every year.

Meanwhile, global warming alters weather patterns and touches people across Rwanda. In a visit to villages in the eastern part of the country last May, he says that roughly 20% of the poultry he inspected was suffering from heat stress. The chickens were lethargic and panting to reduce their core temperature and egg production was off. Rwanda is also expecting livestock disease to spike along with temperature and rainfall changes.

“It’s going to be a challenge to feed the population in the face of climate change,” Mayigane says. “And that’s where resilience comes in. How can we make cheap technology available, create jobs, and fight climate change at the same time?”

If Rwanda YACA is successful, it will quickly begin employing people to spread cheap energy technologies, from solar panels to charcoal made from food waste. They’ll also begin tree-planting campaigns, to help alleviate wood shortages in villages, in addition to controlling flooding and erosion.

But Mayigane will also seek to boost the social entrepreneurship of group members, through training programs that teach them to creatively seek out and solve problems in their own community.

His own spark came from the seven years he spent at vet school in Senegal. After that, a world of possibilities opened up to Mayigane, beyond the comfortable confines of a good student who cashes in for a government salary and pension.

“My dream,” he says, “Is to help Africa become more competitive so that African youth will be proud to call it home.”

Mayigane on Rwanda YACA (Youth Alliance for Climate Action: