Maathai clarion call




Maathai in clarion call to protect commons


There is little to cheer up for this cold and drizzly July morning. It is particularly gloomy if you are one of those people who follow the news well.


From the global financial crisis and the post election violence, both of which have left many Kenyans struggling to make a living, there are the more somber reports of environmental destruction of Kenya’s water towers and the impeding hunger and thirst


The Mau forest has been the most visible in the news and there are claims that between 100,000 and 400,000 acres of this important forest are under siege from illegal settlers. The debate on the forest has been savage and it may make or break some political careers.

There is an onslaught on Mount Kenya Forest as well both from illegal loggers and from the estimated 100000 animals being grazed there by herders apparently due to the drought. The once beautiful glaciers are becoming ragged rock faces.


There is land grabbing in Nairobi, where developers in up market areas are taking the last bits of land in the city,

Maathai and Oprah
Maathai and Oprah

particularly the riparian belt along the rivers flowing through the city.


And there is the dirt too and the poor disposal of waste. The mess and filth in the towering Dandora dumpsite, the Nairobi River valley, the slums and several other places are symptoms of something gone wrong and one keeps pondering, “What were they thinking when messing up like that?”


Kenya has beautiful places. Nairobi has beautiful spots. These exceptions however are disappearing fast.


Thirty years ago our physical environment, from the hills to the river valleys, lakes and the sea were clean and beautiful. The rains were regular and adequate. Bumper harvests were common.  


Professor Wangari Maathai the renowned environmentalist has probably been wondering the same way we have and has called a press conference.

We ponder as we troop there, “What went wrong with our society? Why does it destroy the commons with such impunity? Indigenous communities never destroyed their environment. They knew that their existence depended on a good relationship with nature and protected their natural habitats religiously. “What can be done?” We ask ourselves.


If we had understood Prof Maathai better we would not have gone up the stairs to her boardroom feeling like we have lost the battle to save our environment.


Many people associate environmental issues with Prof Maathai but we jostled for space in the already crowded space without knowing exactly what to expect. In the room were journalists but there were others who had come to deliver messages of  land grabbing and environmental destruction in various parts of the city.


Maathai has long been warning of the impeding effects of the wanton destruction of the environment. Those who had absorbed Kenya’s issues wondered what difference it makes since nothing seems to stop Kenyans from the ever increasing self destruction. Many were at the verge of giving up.


We were pleasantly surprised by the encounter with Maathai. This day she was announcing the beginning of action led by the Greenbelt Movement and assisted by the public, to reclaim land grabbed in different parts of Nairobi.


“The Green Belt Movement is shocked and embarrassed by the continuing reckless and insatiable greed for forests, rivers and wetlands despite the inevitable suffering that is befalling the people of this country. The long term unsustainable management, occupation, exploitation and degradation of these resources has precipitated crop failure, hunger and death,” she said with certainty.


Her clear voice on the matter was such comfort. At last we had met one of the few influential Kenyans who understood our worries, our despair at the apparent loss of control on what is happening around us.


“We can start by refusing to be victims of greed, corruption, arrogance and selfishness. We must not wait until we die of hunger and thirst. We must take restorative action. Let us start wherever we are by declaring, ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’, ” she challenged.


By this time the July morning frost had began to lift from our bones, our spirits were high and once again we felt we could take control of our destiny. This is what Prof Maathai does differently. She refuses to let her spirit be dampened by those who threaten our very freedoms and survival.


Maathai challenged the government particularly the Prime Minister to take action noting, “The Prime Minister lead the way to clear the illegal structures on the land reserved for bypasses around the city when he was the Roads Minister. He can do the same for the riparian land around Nairobi rivers and The Mau Forest,” she said, while decrying the extent of lawlessness whereby even ministers could give public assurances that land would not be grabbed but developers would go on constructing on the same sites as if nothing had happened.


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