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Logging decision critical to saving our dying forests

OPINION
By Faith Munuhe | December 24th 2019

Last month's Cabinet decision to extend the ban on logging for another year received few headlines.

It was largely met with a collective shrug by many, except those directly affected by the decision, especially the loggers.

Whether one agrees with this decision or not, it can be put down to whether it is better to ensure short-term economic stability or long-term sustainability.

The recent spate of landslides across the country tell the story of Mother Nature unleashing her anger after being tested for far too long. Homes were swept away, lives were lost and many maimed as torrential rains pounded the country. Before that, there was widespread drought that was largely blamed on lost tree cover. We have never had warnings about heat waves before in the country until this year.

Saving the country's tree cover is, therefore, crucial.

Kenya’s forests and other woodland areas are our inheritance for our children.

In Brazil, there was an uproar when the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) announced that deforestation had reached 9,762 square kilometres, up by 30 per cent for the 12 months through July 2019. This was in great part attributed to a change in policy by President Jair Bolsonaro, who came into office at the beginning of the year.

Amazon forest

President Bolsonaro openly favours developing the large Amazon area economically. He has allowed commercial logging in the tropical rainforest, overturning his predecessor’s decision to limit this because of its environmental effects.

Over-logging can have severe ecologically effects on the immediate environment and beyond. It can depreciate the soil and impact on wildlife, which many Kenyans rely on for their livelihood. It also has an impact on climate change by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gas effects can be further compounded when more carbon dioxide is released into the air, sometimes as a result of fires, which frequently go hand in hand with logging and deforestation.

These disastrous environmental and ecological effects will probably not be fully felt by many, possibly not even during our lifetimes.

However, the cost for future generations will be immense.

We have to make a decision whether to go for the immediate win and allow logging, which might help buttress the economy and industries that require wood in the short-term, but darken the clouds for our children’s future.

The decision by the Cabinet was therefore the right one, even with all of its implications, especially for loggers.

Whereas it is hard to praise politicians, one must recognise President Uhuru Kenyatta’s efforts here. One must acknowledge that leadership is not a popularity contest and that Uhuru chose to stand with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.

Far-reaching consequences

While the anti-logging decision might not have been the most high profile one made recently, it is certainly one that will have far-reaching consequences for years to come. For example, a decimated forest cover poses food security risk besides the dangers those living downstream must contend with whenever it rains.

The decision not to lift the suspension on logging breaks the paradigm. The criticism surrounding such decisions are rarely substantive but mere slogans. 

Indeed, we have far too few visionaries who look at the bigger picture and are not bound by the time constraints of their office; who do not feel beholden to the people who voted for them, but also to their children and their children’s children.

We should see in this decision something very interesting about policy decisions.

Most politicians see the short-term. They know that they need immediate credit to win support for re-election or to create a legacy of some sort. They rarely are interested in long-term strategies because they might not be in office to reap the results.

Prof Maathai demonstrated to us that a leader ought to see beyond their own personal and political needs by focusing on what is necessary to improve the lives of the people they govern, today, tomorrow and in the future.

When it comes to a hot topic like protecting the environment, a leader must leave a benchmark for the next leader. He or she ought to act differently and deal with issues rather than press for day-to-day wins for the sake of headlines.

Ms Munuhe studies International Relations at the University of Nairobi

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