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Planting wisdom trees for good shield in times of plenty and lean ones

Peter Kimani
 A woman carries a seedling during a past tree planting exercise in Kakamega County. [Bernard Lusigi, Standard]

Baada ya dhiki, faraja, our people say to intimate that relief comes after tribulation. So you can imagine my relief, after spending nearly two hours driving the half-kilometre stretch on 3rd Parklands, due to its partial closure, when I learnt that today is a public holiday.

I initially thought my friend was pranking me when she revealed that the mission for the public holiday was to plant trees. Ooh, and mourning those who died from the floods…

Alright, alright, I concede we get touchy when we invoke the dead, but we know there should be better ways of memorialising the dead and dignifying the living—starting with those in the Mathare Valley.

I guess we have come to a point where we can scoff at the government and declare: wametuzoea.  The literal translation for the expression is: “they are accustomed to us,” which they possibly are, even though that means something else. There is a hint of contempt, which is probably true, as familiarity breeds contempt.

So, a government that’s contemptuous of its citizens will spring a surprise at will and still hope to get away. Not this time, though. The dead have rested, but the living have not; they are still restless from a combination of man-made crises that roil our land, including forcible evictions in Nairobi’s informal settlements. And the taps are dry, the roads are broken, houses are leaking and many livelihoods have been washed away.

But this is neither the time to find fault, nor speechifying. The only challenge is that, having concluded a proper tree-planting assignment, without being awarded time-off by the government, I think those folks are taking us for bumpkins.

Again, in our colourful lexicon, the equivalent term here is kutubeba malenge, which is to say they expect us to employ other anatomies when we exercise our minds.

First off, do we plant when the rains begin, or when they end? Maybe that’s not a valid question considering no one really knows when the rains will end, same way no one knew when they began. In any case, why should we believe them this time around?

Let’s concede there’s so much that we don’t know about rainy patterns and plant physiology, especially since the government discovered new seedling varieties that grow within 48 hours, just the amount of time covered between a public holiday declaration and planting.

Or, it could be that flood waters are designed for use in irrigation, which explains why walls and buildings and other structures stand in waterways and riparian lands.

As for the claim that the vaunted Kenya Forest Services are busy providing seedlings, I can confirm that the last time I tried, all I received were such famished seedlings, I rejected them all. The few, healthier ones available, I was told, are reserved for that the occasional ceremony by politicos and the much-needed photo-op.

I assume that’s what will be used by Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya in Vihiga and Samburu, two of the counties that she revealed she will tour to ensure trees are actually put in the ground.

I would have assumed that she would start in areas in need of environmental rehabilitation such as the river banks in Mathare slums, and which were flattened to kick out hapless citizens who have been inhabiting there, under the guise that their relocation would be facilitated by the government at the princely sum of Sh10,000 to start life afresh.

And do you know how much the gracious Waziri Soipan will spend to hop from one county to another in a chopper to plant two trees? We have a whole day to work out the math, and reflect how we got ourselves in the mess that we’re in.

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