Rising Seas Turned A Would-be Farmer Into A Climate Migrant : Consider This from NPR Climate change is a present tense disaster in some parts of the world. In Senegal, rising seas are destroying neighborhoods and once-fertile farm fields.

That's pushing young Senegalese like Mamadou Niang to make the treacherous journey to Europe. He's attempted it three times: twice he was deported, the third time, he narrowly escaped drowning. But he says he's still determined to make it there.

We visit Senegal to see how climate migration is reshaping life there. And we meet a rapper named Matador, who is trying to help young people realize a future in Senegal, so they don't have to go to Europe.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

How Rising Seas Turned A Would-be Farmer Into A Climate Migrant

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Mamadou Niang was supposed to be a farmer. He wanted to work the same land his father did in the town of Gandiol in northern Senegal.

MAMADOU NIANG: (Through interpreter) All of this area used to be fields. We used to grow tomatoes and onions here.

SHAPIRO: But that's not an option for him anymore. The town is near the coast, and rising seas are pushing saltwater into the fields.

NIANG: (Through interpreter) The saltwater runs through the village, and it kills all the plants that are being grown. That's why we can no longer grow anything here.

SHAPIRO: In many parts of the world, climate change is a disaster that's happening right now. And every year, it's pushing people like Mamadou to do what they might not otherwise do - leave their homes and try to make a life somewhere else. For Mamadou, that meant Europe. He's tried three times. The first two times he got deported. The third time in 2020, patrol boats from both Senegal and Spain stopped the boat he was on. Senegal has given Spain's military permission to patrol these waters. Things quickly turn tragic.

NIANG: (Through interpreter) The Senegalese navy tried to scare us by shooting into the water.

SHAPIRO: And then, Mamadou says, the Senegalese navy bumped the fishing boat, and it capsized.

NIANG: (Through interpreter) There were 84 people, only 39 out of 84 were rescued.

SHAPIRO: Oh, my God.

NIANG: (Through interpreter) All of the rest passed away.

SHAPIRO: Are you a good swimmer?


SHAPIRO: Do you think that's why you're alive?

NIANG: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "I'm alive because of God," he says. Mamadou Niang understands how lucky he is to have survived. But now, even after three failed attempts, after seeing people around him drown, he's still determined to get to Europe. And nearly every young man we spoke to in Senegal felt the same way.


SHAPIRO: I met Mamadou on a reporting trip from Senegal to Morocco to Spain. I wanted to see how climate migration is shaping the countries people are fleeing and the ones they are arriving in. CONSIDER THIS - climate change is forcing people all over the world to make an impossible choice between an unsustainable life at home and a journey that could be deadly.


SHAPIRO: From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Monday, November 14.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. COP27 is happening right now in Egypt. That's the annual meeting of world leaders that's often described as the best chance for countries to come up with realistic ways to slow climate change before it's too late. And it's not going that well.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.

SHAPIRO: That's U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opening up the conference. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut nearly in half by the end of the decade to avoid some of the worst consequences of global warming. And most countries are falling short of the emissions targets they agreed to at the 2015 climate summit in Paris.


GUTERRES: We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing.


SHAPIRO: Some of the most dramatic speeches at this conference have come from leaders of countries that are suffering the most from climate change, like Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif. He talked about the devastating floods that killed nearly 1,500 people and cost $30 billion.


SHEHBAZ SHARIF: Despite our very low carbon footprints, we became a victim of something with which we had nothing to do.

SHAPIRO: He called on rich countries to do more since they're the ones responsible for most of the emissions that are making the world hotter. He wants them to provide money to help developing nations transition away from fossil fuels and to compensate them for losses caused by climate change. Rich countries have promised this sort of funding in the past but consistently fallen short.


SHAPIRO: In the meantime, the people feeling climate change's effects can't wait - like Mamadou Niang, the would-be farmer we met earlier whose boat to Spain capsized. To help me fully understand why he was so determined to get to Europe even after narrowly escaping death on his last attempt, he took me up on the roof of his half-built house in Gandiol, Senegal.

It's incredible that in this village of two-story buildings that are squeezed up against one another, there's one four-story building which is paid for by somebody who works in France and sends money back to their family. And then there is one that is just, like, a palazzo with pillars and terraces, and that's paid for by, appropriately enough, somebody who works in Italy and sends money back to their family. Looking at these two houses in this village, who wouldn't want that?

Mamadou points at one of the houses.

NIANG: (Through interpreter) This one went to Europe the same year I tried to go. They let him stay there, but they deported me.

SHAPIRO: So you think, that could have been my house?

NIANG: (Through interpreter) Yeah, of course.

SHAPIRO: It's "Keeping Up With The Joneses," but the Joneses are funded by a relative in Europe. Even if climate change weren't pushing him out, these reminders of the good life are a constant pull.


SHAPIRO: We leave his house through the corrugated sheet of metal leaning against the doorway and walk through the village of Gandiol. Around the corner is a newly built house with tiled walls, paid for by his uncle who lives in Italy.

This house is well finished. There's crown molding, and then there's, like, the circular molding that goes around a chandelier. It's very elegant, very fancy.

When we get back to Mamadou's unfinished house with its bare concrete walls, his elderly mother, Aminata Diouck, invites us all to sit down to lunch, a big bowl of rice, vegetables and fish called thieboudienne. When I ask whether any of her five children are in Europe, she says, not yet.

AMINATA DIOUCK: (Through interpreter) My wish is that he can get to Europe, but I don't want him to take the boat again.

SHAPIRO: The last time he took the boat, when there was that horrible tragedy on the sea, were you afraid that you had lost him?

DIOUCK: (Through interpreter) I was scared, yeah, but he was going in order to honor the whole family.

SHAPIRO: Mamadou's conviction to get to Europe is shared by nearly every young man we meet here in Senegal. And the people who make this journey are overwhelmingly men. It's not just houses that show them how much a man working in Europe can help his family back home. There are also men who fly back to Senegal who get permanent work visas or citizenship abroad. So it's not necessarily a one-way street.

Bonjour, Moustapha? Bonjour. (Speaking French).

Moustapha Dieye is one of those lucky ones, but his journey wasn't easy.

MOUSTAPHA DIEYE: (Through interpreter) Everybody who leaves and goes to Europe on a boat, there's a moment when they wish they hadn't.

SHAPIRO: We meet him up the coast in the city of Saint-Louis. He lives in Spain now, but he's on vacation in his hometown for a few months. Hundreds of pirogues line the water, their long, wooden fishing boats painted in dazzling colors. Moustapha fuels up the motor on his family's pirogue.


SHAPIRO: We head out onto the water. Moustapha is 42. He reached Spain in 2006 and went more than eight years without seeing his family. But now he has papers and a good job at a restaurant. Everyone in town can see he's done well. Moustapha says what they can't see are the people in Spain who are still struggling to get on their feet.

DIEYE: (Through interpreter) I have childhood friends from here. We all left in 2006, and they still don't have their papers.

SHAPIRO: When he comes back to Senegal, he tries to tell young men about the downsides of leaving.

DIEYE: (Through interpreter) The youth, with their problems here, all they see is us coming back and forth, and they say, oh, you have a good life; you have things. But they don't want to see the difficulties that we have. People still want to go, but everybody who comes back tells people that it's very difficult. And it's not El Dorado.

SHAPIRO: The shoreline is teeming with life as we turn around and head back. This time of year, families repaint their boats to get ready for the new fishing season, a season that Moustapha will miss when he goes back to Spain.

You gave up a life as a fisherman. Is it difficult for you not to be painting the boat and fixing the nets and getting ready for the new season?

DIEYE: (Through interpreter) Yeah, it's a little difficult, but that's the rule of life. If you have an opportunity, you have to take it.


SHAPIRO: I also met people in Senegal working to create opportunities at home. They're trying to help young people realize a future in Senegal so they don't have to go to Europe. One of them is a man who lives in Dakar in a neighborhood called Pikine. His birth name is Babacar Niang, but everyone knows him as Matador. He's a legend in Senegal's hip-hop scene, and he's also an activist. In 2005, when an especially bad flood hit this part of Dakar, he threw a concert to fundraise. That grew into an organization, which grew into this place - a cultural center in Pikine called Africulturban.

MATADOR: (Through interpreter) So it all started with climate change.

SHAPIRO: I ask Matador about one of his best-known songs, "Catastrophe," or "Catastrophe," and he starts reciting the lyrics.

MATADOR: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "Clouds piling up from the north announce the rain to come," he says. "People's faces read worry first, then fear. With the first rains come the first wave of departures. Those who prayed for rain sure got their prayers answered."


MATADOR: (Rapping in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: When you perform that, how do people respond?

MATADOR: (Through interpreter) They find themselves in what I'm singing because they encounter those difficulties, too.

SHAPIRO: If "Catastrophe" describes the way climate is changing people's lives here, the song "Tukki" talks about the way young people are responding to those changes. They leave on boats for Europe.


MATADOR: (Rapping in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: The song lists the countries - France, Belgium, Italy, Spain. All of these places are great to earn a living, he sings, but after you travel, come back. Senegal is still your home.

When you perform "Tukki" and you say, travel is good, but it's better to come home, do people believe that also?

MATADOR: (Through interpreter) Yeah, because I'm an example of that. Every time I travel, I go, I do what I have to do and then I come back.

SHAPIRO: In the late '90s, Matador was part of a popular Senegalese hip-hop group called BMG 44.


BMG 44: (Rapping in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: They toured all over Europe. Everyone else in the group stayed there, but Matador came back to Senegal and started this organization. Now, it's a buzzing hive of artistic activity. There's breakdancing classes, rap battles. Matador points out a stage they're building in an empty lot.

MATADOR: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: Behind us is a brightly colored mural painted by another one of the center's stars. Dieynaba Sidibe goes by Zeinixx. Inside Africulturban, we pass a music studio and art gallery and an open-air hall where chairs are set up for an event later on. And we enter the graphic design room where we find Zeinixx herself. She's 32 and started tagging when she was just 18. At the time, she says, there were no other women in Senegal doing graffiti.

ZEINIXX: They had reaction like, whoa, a girl who painting graffiti.

SHAPIRO: Hundreds of cans of spray paint are sorted by color along the wall.

ZEINIXX: My dream was to be a globetrotter with my beret and my spray, and...

SHAPIRO: You have the beret, and you have the spray.

MATADOR: Yeah, now - and yeah, travelling a lot and sharing my art.

SHAPIRO: And you now travel the world?

ZEINIXX: A little bit.



SHAPIRO: And do you want to stay in Senegal or would you like to go live in Europe?

ZEINIXX: Senegal is my country, is my first love. I'll stay in Senegal.

SHAPIRO: A lot of young people do not see a future for themselves in Senegal. Why do you think you feel differently?

ZEINIXX: For me, youth is the future. I am young. And for me, I can change many stuff. We travel, and we go back here. We come back. We are always trying to show them how they can stay and work and to just create by themselves what they cannot do. But we are always trying.

SHAPIRO: Before we left Africulturban and said goodbye to Matador, the rapper and activist who created it, I realized there was one question I hadn't asked. How'd he get his stage name?

MATADOR: (Through interpreter) The matador fights the bet noir, the black beast. The black beast, for us, is the system. So I'm fighting the system. But I don't fight it alone. I give young people weapons to combat the system, to combat poverty. These opportunities are their weapons.


MATADOR: (Rapping in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: This Matador is sharpening his blade.


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