Tree-planting holiday was not necessary amid economic crisis

For the first time since Adam, Kenyans did not like the holiday that the government granted them on November 13, 2023. Kenyans wondered how on earth we afford an unplanned holiday amidst the economic crisis.

November 13 is usually World Orphans' Day, Odd Socks Day, World Kindness Day, and, to some, National Hug a Musician Day, among many other holidays worldwide. But it is not a gazetted holiday in Kenya.

On November 7, 2023, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared November 13, 2023, a de facto public holiday. The unplanned and unscheduled holiday, announced on the eve of a weekend, caught many employers, employees, and entrepreneurs unawares.

While there is no problem planting trees, many employers, at the end of this month, will be required to pay workers for a day that productive activities were halted. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when all employers are struggling to catch up with increased monthly employer contributions for their employees.

What was more ironic, and disturbing was that as part of the government's tree planting drive, Cabinet Secretaries and other top state officers used helicopters and high-end vehicles to go and plant trees across a hungry country.

Why didn’t the government take time and coordinate local leaders and citizens to plant the trees?

As was the concern on social media, most Kenyans watched in amazement as strangers landed in their localities, some in military fatigues. The strangers planted a few seedlings, took some photos and videos, and hopped off in helicopters to another location.

We all know tree planting is futile unless it graduates to a growing culture—state officers cannot grow trees; only locals can entrench a sustainable culture of planting and nurturing trees.

The November 13 tree-planting holiday was an exercise of excessive impulse consumption and a day of halting productive economic activities across the country.

The holiday also caught the government itself unprepared. For instance, changing the calendar for the ongoing KCSE examinations was impossible. Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu could not defer the exams scheduled for Monday, so they went on despite the holiday.

The unplanned holiday also came on the eve of the 14th day of the month when Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority reviews the fuel prices. In most cases, the prices are reviewed upwards, or in rare cases, the existing prices are maintained. 

Apart from the millions of shillings state officers spent on November 13 bounding across the country, a planned holiday is estimated to cost the Kenyan economy over Sh10 billion. How much, then, does unplanned one cost?

While there are approximately 12 gazetted public holidays in Kenya, any holiday that falls on a Sunday is extended to a subsequent Monday—this results in a year of too much resting, especially the fourth quarter of the year, where most holidays are concentrated.

Moreover, experience teaches us that most citizens waste their holidays watching military personnel marching and listening to presidents’ speeches on TV and other news media. Sometimes, the holidays are the rare platforms where the president gives the state of the nation address.

Instead of surprising the country with a holiday to watch top state officials planting trees, the government should innovatively blend all our holidays with worthy causes like tree planting and growing.

So, while Kenya Kwanza government has attempted to spur microeconomic growth through affordable loans, which are already dwindling, they need to do more to encourage all Kenyans to be productive.

It is time the government encourages citizens to always to grow trees. It is a culture that requires effort to entrench. Otherwise, we will have holidays like November 13, when most Kenyans stay at home, trying to figure out what to do and why they are at home in the first place.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Kabarak University.