Kumi Naidoo

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Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011 crop.jpg
Kumi Naidoo at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in 2011

Kumi Naidoo (born 1965) is a South African-born human rights activist of Indian descent who has served as the International Executive Director of international environmentalist group Greenpeace.[1][2] He was the first African to head the organisation.[2] After battling apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s through the Helping Hands Youth Organisation, Naidoo led global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights. He has served as the secretary-general of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. He was Secretary General of Civicus, an international alliance for citizen participation, from 1998 to 2008.[3] Recently, he has led the Global Call for Climate Action (Tcktcktck.org), which brings together environmental, aid, religious and human rights groups, labour unions, scientists and others and has organised mass demonstrations around climate negotiations.[4]

Early activism[edit]

Born in Durban, South Africa, Naidoo became involved in anti-apartheid activities when he was 15, resulting in his expulsion from high school.[5] He was involved in neighbourhood organising, youth work in his community, and mass mobilisations against the apartheid regime. During the apartheid government, Naidoo was arrested several times and was charged for violating provisions against mass mobilisation, civil disobedience and for violating the state of emergency. This led him to having to go underground before finally deciding to live in exile in England. During this time he was a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford and he eventually earned a PhD in political sociology. Naidoo's doctorate, however, was earned in the late 1990s, after he returned to England from South Africa. He suspended his studies at Oxford to return to South Africa in 1990 in order to conduct literacy campaigns after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and Mandela's decision to run for president of South Africa. Naidoo, like many South African-born Indians, identifies himself as a Black South African. He noted that the completion of his doctorate was absolutely essential given that he was told that he was "the first Indian activist" from South Africa to earn a doctorate at Oxford.[6]

Post Apartheid work[edit]

After Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, Kumi Naidoo returned to South Africa to work on the legalisation of the African National Congress, to lead the adult literacy campaigns and voter education efforts; and was the founding executive director of the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO). From 1998 to 2008, he was the Secretary General and chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world and he was the founding chairperson of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. On December 21, 2017, Amnesty International appointed him as its next Secretary General. From August 2018 Kumi will succeed Salil Shetty, who served two terms as Secretary General from 2010. The Secretary General is the leader and main spokesperson for Amnesty International and the Chief Executive of its International Secretariat. Amnesty International is the largest human rights movement globally, with a global presence including offices in more than 70 countries, 2,600 staff and seven million members, volunteers and supporters worldwide.[7]

Leading Greenpeace International[edit]

"It is obvious that too many corporations and governments do not listen and put power and profit over people, ignoring what is in the best interest of humanity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get their attention – but one thing that we know that works is civil disobedience and peaceful protest. Every act of rebellion – no matter how seemingly insignificant – adds up."

— Naidoo, 2009.[8]

Kumi Naidoo joined Greenpeace in 2009. He had been persuaded by his daughter Naomi, and attracted by Greenpeace's commitment to direct action and civil disobedience. Naidoo saw his role as the executive director of Greenpeace as that of an alliance builder and an agent of change. Importantly, Naidoo saw the intricate connections between environmental justice, women's and human rights as being interconnected, occasionally bringing him much criticism from Western-born environmentalists who tended and tend to see environmentalism as a discrete cause.[9][10]

Naidoo is somewhat notorious for his involvement in acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the Arctic Ocean against Shell and Gazprom who are currently planning to drill in the Arctic's melting ice. In August 2012, Kumi Naidoo, for the second time in the Arctic, occupied Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea for 15 hours, along with a group of Greenpeace volunteers.[11] A year before, in June 2011, Kumi spent four days in a Greenlandic prison after scaling an oil platform owned by Cairn Energy, as part of Greenpeace's "Go Beyond Oil" campaign. He was deported to Denmark where he spent a short time in Danish custody before being released in Amsterdam, Netherlands.[12]

He has been a vocal critic of the failure of bodies like the World Economic Forum,[13] to go beyond "system recovery", "system protection and maintenance" instead proposing a system re-design. Kumi Naidoo uses the WEF to amplify environmental messages to business leaders and politicians and lobby for green business practices and transformational changes in the energy sector.[14] During the World Economic Forum in 2013, while Kumi Naidoo was rubbing shoulders with the world's wealthiest elites,[15] Greenpeace activists were blocking a Shell gas station just outside the Swiss mountain resort demanding that the oil giant drops its ambitions to drill for oil in the Arctic.[16] Naidoo regularly attends United Nations climate negotiations and advocates for increased ambitions from governments to cap emissions and vigorously move towards an energy sector based on renewables meant to help humanity avoid catastrophic climate change.[17] In 2015 Naidoo announced that he would be leaving the post of International Executive Director to focus his work on energy justice in South Africa. Announcing his departure from the role of IED he said; "When I leave, I am looking forward to taking up an even more important role with Greenpeace: as a volunteer." [2]


  1. ^ "New leadership at Greenpeace International". Greenpeace. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Anti-apartheid activist named head of Greenpeace". Associated Press via CBC. 16 November 2009. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Kumi Naidoo bio | Civicus Archived 6 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  4. ^ Tcktcktck.org Partners A-Z List Archived 17 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  5. ^ "Durban Living Legend – Kumi Naidoo". Ulwazi Programme, Durban Public Library. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  6. ^ http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/interviews/kumi-naidoo
  7. ^ https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/amnesty-announces-kumi-naidoo-next-secretary-general
  8. ^ Greenpeace's Shard ascent. Greenpeace Blog. (18 July 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  9. ^ History teaches us... The Guardian. (30 November 2009). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Cold hands, determined hearts. Greenpeace Blog. (28 August 2012). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  12. ^ Greenpeace's Naidoo freed, then deported. Times LIVE. (21 June 2011) Retrieved on 5 January 2012.
  13. ^ WEF 'Unlike' – Davos-bound. Huffington Post. (21 January 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  14. ^ Interview: Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace. Guardian Sustainable Businesses.(15 February 2013). Retrieved on 2013-09-10.
  15. ^ Kumi Naidoo at the WEF 2013 in Davos. Reuters. (25 January 2013) Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  16. ^ Shell fuel station shutdown in Davos, Swtizerland. Greenpeace Blog. (25 January 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  17. ^ Climate change: tears in the desert. Business Day LIVE. (20 December 2012). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.

External links[edit]