AFRICA IN OUR LIVES: Kevin Gnagne, 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow

Kevin Gnagne, 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, has over four years of experience working in law enforcement as it relates to the environment and sustainable development. He holds a master’s degree in International Environmental and Natural Resources Protection Law from the Ocean University of China. Currently, Kevin works at the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation as a trans-boundary law enforcement technical committee officer. At the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, he focuses on creating a collaborative exchange framework between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia and analyzes the legal and institutional framework related to natural resources and environmental management. Kevin is also a member of a legal working group that coordinates with the Ministry of Water and Forest to help them improve their institutional and legal framework. Driven by his commitment to fight climate change, Kevin works to strengthen environmental protection law by encouraging involvement by all stakeholders.

Can you talk a bit about what you’re doing professionally at the moment?

Currently, I am working on a transboundary collaboration between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia in environmental and natural resource management law enforcement. As such, I am a Transboundary Law Enforcement Technical Committee Officer at the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF).

I am also an independent consultant in environmental law and sustainable development. To do so, I was a consultant at the Francophone Institute for Sustainable Development to analyze the effectiveness of environmental laws in Côte d’Ivoire. I was also part of the consultant group responsible for drafting the new forest law of Côte d’Ivoire, and which is currently in charge of the process of drafting the implementing legislation of this law.

I have also helped start an NGO called GREEN ANSWERS. Our goal is to help improve the regulatory framework for environmental preservation, natural resource management and the fight against climate change. To do this, we plan to organize awareness campaigns for local populations and training workshops for various stakeholders and to advocate for the effective implementation of environmental laws both nationally and internationally.

What has been the most defining moment of your career thus far?

I must say that all my professional experiences and achievements allowed me to grow, but two, in particular, come to mind in this context.

The first one is when I organized this first transboundary meeting between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia on law enforcement in order to preserve one of the most important forest complexes in West Africa (Taï- Grebo Sapo forest complex). During this meeting, different stakeholders — such as government agencies, ministries, NGOs, and representatives of local populations — discussed to find solutions to fight against illegal activities. At this moment, I realized that I was helping two African countries preserve their environment.

The second moment was during the Mandela Washington Fellowship in Madison, when I was told that our Congress had just adopted the new forestry law. There is a sense of joy that has invaded me because I realized that I had just contributed to the preservation of the forests in my country.

How did receiving the Mandela Washington Fellowship shape your goals for the future?

It was a blessing being in Madison for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The different sessions we had, the people we met with their diversity and individual experience really helped me to understand that there no limit to reach your goals if you are determined, focused, and if you believe in yourself. This fellowship also allowed me to discover some of my strengths and weaknesses.

Today, I have a defined plan to reach my professional and personal goals and it’s because of the time I spent in Madison during the Mandela Washington Fellowship. This Fellowship really allowed me to meet extraordinary people who advised me and shared their experience with me.

I would like to thank Heidi, Kathi, Adrian, and Lisa for sharing their experiences with me, listening to me, and giving advice as to how I can have more impact. I would also like to thank Aleia, Meagan, and the African Studies Program for the time I spent in Madison, it’s an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Can you talk a bit about why international cooperation and collaboration is so important?

International cooperation and collaboration are important to me specifically because the environmental issue cannot be dealt with individually or at the state level alone. Rather, it is a global question that requires a global answer. We really need to share our experiences and find common solutions to environmental threats.

In addition, I believe that collaboration and international cooperation will enable me personally to have a greater impact on my community and in Africa. Indeed, one of my major goals is to contribute to the improvement of environmental laws and natural resource management in Africa and around the world. This is only possible through international cooperation and collaboration.

Finally, at the level of our recently created NGO, I think international cooperation will allow us to gain more experience and impact in that we will not only collaborate with experts from other countries but will be able to share our experiences and actively contribute to the preservation of the environment.

I will be glad and honored to continue to collaborate with experts in Madison and the United States, both by coming there to share my experiences and achievements and also by inviting them to Africa to share theirs.