From visual art to film and music, filmmaker Hayat Aljowaily is among an army of young creatives harnessing the potency of artistic expression to shift the dialogue on climate justice in Africa.
Seth Onyango, bird story agency
As the sun retreats below the horizon, it casts a golden glow over the Red Sea and on the terraces of Aida hotel, leaving a lingering afterglow that seems to infuse the air with a sense of warmth and energy.
Hayat Aljowaily, together with her crew at Crtve Development, is giving direction to that energy by working the terrace and the scores of young activists seated thereby amplifying calls for climate justice.
She is networking and engaging with fellow creatives and activists who gathered on the fringes of "Africa's COP" in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Nearby, a screen is showing climate-related films, and young people from around the world have congregated in diverse, multi-cultural groups, excitedly exchanging ideas and experiences and smoking shisha from hookahs. Aljowaily is talking about art.
"Arts appeals to emotion, and it's something that's very easily understandable but also easily shareable. It's really important for us to change the narrative regarding climate justice in Africa because, at the end of the day, telling our own stories gives us agency and ownership," she added, speaking during COP27 in November 2022.
Aljowaily had been invited to attend Culture COP, a UN platform for discussions on the role that the arts, culture and heritage play in achieving a climate-resilient world. It takes place alongside the annual COP climate talks.
With roots in Egypt and a life lived across Washington D.C., Cairo, Geneva, and New York, Aljowaily is a filmmaker who embodies the essence of a global citizen.
Her multicultural background informs her work as a MENA advisor at Crtve Development, a Pan-African social agency promoting African development issues. Aljowaily works closely with the organisation's creative director in building appealing content, including directing and producing online interview series.
"The world of film is often filled with glamour and glitz, but it is (also) a platform for change and drives the positive narrative agenda about Africa," she said.
Aljowaily notes that conversations on climate justice have been happening for a long time without those most affected by it in Africa.
"Now, it is not only time for us to be having this conversation but to be owning it. We can't let other people tell this story because it is ours. We are the ones that are suffering, but we're also the solution," she said.
Currently based between Cairo and Paris, she spent her formative years immersed in issues of identity, global politics, and cultural exchange, which have all informed her work as a storyteller.
Her academic pursuits led her to complete a BA in Social Sciences focusing on law and Middle Eastern studies at Sciences Po, Paris, Menton Campus, and a BA in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University. Interning with organisations such as UN Women and March Lebanon throughout her university years provided her with valuable insight into social issues, she explained.
Aljowaily's passion for film also led her to explore various internships with film agencies and production companies in Cairo, New York, and Paris. Her bachelor's thesis film, Maybe Next Time, has screened at festivals worldwide and won the Audience Award at the Tripoli Online Film Festival in Lebanon.
After graduating in 2020, she joined Mediawan's documentary international sales team as an intern. Marvel Studios hired her as a director's assistant on their "Moon Knight" series, which streamed on Disney+.
In 2022, she was instrumental in Crtve Development's "We Are" campaign, designed to reclaim the narrative of what climate justice in Africa looks like and what it should be.
"The images we often see regarding climate change in Africa are often controlled by the Global North and tend to be very negative. The "We Are" campaign aims to change this by focusing on the stories of resilience and adaptation and bringing them to the world stage. The form is just as important as the content, with high production value, artistic pieces aimed at resonating with anyone, particularly youth," Aljowaily explained.
The "We Are" campaign focused on five creative hubs across the continent, including Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa, and a travelling circus between Malawi and Mozambique.
Crtve Development partnered with funding collaborative Africa No Filter, which led to the creative hubs being asked to lead in the delivery of a creative installation or pop-up showcase, workshops and mentorship programmes to address climate action in relevant and refreshing ways.
Crtve Development also amplifies African climate justice voices through the "We Are" campaign on TikTok, after inking a partnership with the short video platform to ensure that the stories reach as many people as possible. The campaign has also gained traction on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
The "We Are" campaign also strongly emphasises physical interaction, with art showcases across the continent.
bird story agency