Phyllis Omido: The Kenyan woman on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list

Kenyan environmental activist Phyllis Omido is among only few Africans on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list, alongside a star-studded list that includes the likes of Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

Omido, a single mother, got the nod after spearheading a campaign against a battery smelting plant that was poisoning the Owino Uhuru community in Mombasa with lead.

She took the fight to the doors of the Kenya Metal Refineries, where she was employed at the time, after realizing that her baby had high levels of lead in his blood following multiple tests.

When she made the company aware of her concerns about the dangers of battery melting which was emitting toxic fumes into the environment and nobody listened, she quit her job and started writing to relevant government agencies seeking action.

They too were unwilling to listen to her, matter of factly, she previously told the BBC in an interview that the National Environment Authority (NEMA) “wrote back to me and said what I was saying was fictitious and they were ready to defend it in a court of law.”

Omido, still, would not back down, and kept organizing more lead poisoning protests and spearheading community efforts against the battery smelting plant.

Eventually, in 2014, her efforts bore fruits when the plant was closed, but that was not all; in 2020, a landmark court ruling awarded the affected community that she had been fighting for a settlement of $12 million.

They are yet to see the money, which is meant to go to covering expenses of treatment and medication, but Omido ha nevertheless vowed never to remain silent.

The Executive Director of the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action in 2015 won the Goldman prize, that recognizes efforts of community activists, and pocketed $175,000 (£117,000) along with it.

She was nominated into Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list by renowned American environmental activist Erin Brokovich who described her as a hero.

“People say you can’t fight city hall; Phyllis Omido proves that not only can you fight, you can win,” wrote Brokovich on the Time.

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