Why environmental protection should be a concern of all Kenyans

It is amazing how fatalistic some Kenyans have become. Most live recklessly and behave like automatons, easily manipulated by the scheming political class. On Monday this week, hundreds of individuals disrupted traffic flow at Limuru along the Nairobi-Nakuru road, ostensibly to protest against the ban on charcoal burning and transportation in Kitui County. If you ask me, only an ignoramus would believe such an act was spontaneous. As far removed from Kitui as Limuru is, inconveniencing innocent motorists was a manifestation of the chronic myopia that assails the average Kenyan, including those charged with leadership.

Kitui County falls under the classification of ‘semi-arid’ areas which, simply put, means that there is a paucity of water, which in turn hampers plant life. With the imposition of a ban on charcoal burning, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu has sought to salvage the few trees available in her county. Anybody with a modicum of astuteness, given the adverse weather effects - heat waves and drought that inhibit food production - should laud such an action. Unfortunately, intelligence is not a common attribute in Kenyan leadership, and the automatons that most Kenyans have deliberately chosen to become find it a drag.

By whatever yardstick, our leadership is more reactionary than progressive. When the first alarm was raised over the negative effects encroachment on Mau Forest would have on the environment, a senior leader unashamedly said rains came from heaven, not from trees. When more concerns were raised over the Northern Water Collector Tunnels in Murang’a County, they were dismissed as the rantings of a sore political loser, but Mother Nature is telling us something different, and not doing it kindly.

Executive meddling

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It must be fairly obvious by now that Executive interference in sensitive ministerial matters is a way of shielding sacred cows. From where I sit, the Executive has no business giving orders, especially this late in the day, to the newly appointed Cabinet secretary for Environment, Keriako Tobiko, on managing his docket. He should be given time and space to prove his mettle without unnecessary self-seeking directives.

A three-month ban on logging is a bad joke given the magnitude of destruction of forests in Kenya. Days after that ban, I saw a number of trucks transporting logs along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway, and quite a number of trees along this stretch have been felled in the past few months. Where do they end up? The International Institute for Environment and Development states that 75 per cent of African timber exports end up in China, the world’s largest importer and processor of logs. China imports between 40 and 45 million cubic metres of timber annually.

Estimates put Kenya’s forest cover at 5.3 per cent of its total land area. Uganda’s stands at 18.4 per cent, Rwanda’s 29.6 per cent, and Tanzania 39.9 per cent. What is it they are doing right that our bickering leaders cannot see? Rwanda, a county that came back from the abyss barely two decades ago, has overtaken us in virtually everything, thanks to a hands-on leadership not weighed down by corruption and self-aggrandisement. Rwanda, besides national cleaning days, boasts a National Forest Planting Day, a day on which millions of trees are planted each year. The 2017/2018 tree planting day’s theme was ‘Forests-A-Pillar of Sustainable Development’. The target for October 2017/October 2018 is to plant trees on more than three thousand hectares of land.

Role model

The Rwandan Government actively encourages citizens to use less charcoal and adopt alternative energy sources such as solar and gas. Kenya’s capacity in all aspects is several times bigger than that of Rwanda, so what stops us from doing better? Rwanda offers the best example of what political goodwill can achieve in a short time.

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The Government, already threatened by food shortages, should be on the front line sensitising citizens on sustainable food production methods (irrigation) and the need to save and protect our environment. Touted as a flagship government project, the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme has come a cropper. Like most government-initiated projects, it became a sinkhole for public funds.

Despite being classified as a water scarce country, Kenya sits on 200 billion cubic metres of water, according to a 2011 World Bank report titled ‘Kenya-Groundwater Governance Case Study’. Tapping into that can boost irrigation projects, enhance food production, and provide a solution to the growing water shortage in the country. More than 80 per cent of Israel, an agriculture-rich country that produces surplus for export, was initially a desert.

Make it mandatory for every Kenyan homestead to plant trees annually. Part of the Sh200 billion Eurobond money should go towards reclaiming what we have lost through wanton destruction of nature. With people and livestock starving, investing all that money in infrastructure and servicing debt would be callous.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The Standard. [email protected]

environmental managementenvironmental pollutionenvironment and forestry cabinet secretary keriako tobikologging