Climate summit a feather in our cap, but let Ruto walk the talk on forests

President William Ruto make his speech at Climate Summit at KICC in Nairobi on September 06, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

At the outset, let me say congratulations and happy birthday to the management and staff of the Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC).

Thumbs-up for successfully hosting the first African Summit on Climate Change last week. And happy birthday because Sunday was the 50th anniversary since KICC building was opened by President Jomo Kenyatta on September 10, 1973. The building was constructed at a cost of Sh80 million. It would be interesting to find the cost of putting up a similar building today.

In hosting the climate summit, Nairobi lived up to its historic billing as the green city in the sun. For where else do you find a city lying on the Equator and sandwiched between a natural forest (Karura) and a game park (Nairobi National Park)?

At the same time, hats off to President William Ruto. Watching President Ruto deliver his keynote address at the summit, I was proud that he is my president. His speech was rich in content and powerful in delivery. He demonstrated superb mastery of the subject, passion on the issues he spoke on, and great tact in carrying his audience with him.

American diplomat

So moving were President Ruto's opening remarks that when John Kerry, a former US Secretary of State who was President Joe Biden's special envoy at the summit, rose to speak, he said he felt there was no need to give his speech since the Ruto had said all there was to be said. It is not every day a top American diplomat gives a bow to a leader from the global South!

President Ruto spoke of the great irony of Africa as a continent hugely endowed with natural resources yet deprived of amenities that make for a decent living. The expansive Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) best illustrates the contrast of a continent so rich yet so poor! Goma Province, an enclave in the eastern region of the DRC, is home to Virunga National Park, which is the largest and richest biodiversity hub in the globe, with centuries-old flora and fauna. It is also richest in deposits of rare minerals, including uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold - name them! The Congo rain forest is also the second largest in the world. Yet Goma remains one of the most miserable and dangerous places to live on earth.

One word sums up the source of misery in Goma region - exploitation. Data available is that over one million hectares of natural forest were destroyed in eastern DRC in the past one decade. And in the deadly scramble for its mineral wealth, the region is literally a killing field where survival depends on who pulls the trigger quickest. Carting away harvested timber and minerals from Goma goes on hand in hand with removing rotting corpses from the streets.

The insane decimation of Congo Forest - the original home of Kenya's Bantu communities - has irreversible consequences on climate change in the region, Africa and the globe, with the attendant armageddon consequences on human and wildlife. President Ruto, however, was swift in advising that Africa better move from the grieving zone and make hard bargains. Foremost, he said, going forward, Africa must talk and make demands in one voice.

At the closing session of the summit, Ruto eloquently read out what is now Africa's position on the issue of climate change and which is what the continent will table at the November/December Global Climate Summit to be held in Dubai. Secondly, and most important, Africa resolved to demand compensation for what it puts on the table in terms of natural resources, and in tackling climate change. The highlight of it is that Africa be appropriately compensated for being the global dumping ground of dangerous carbon emissions.

Lastly, for Kenya, hosting the continental climate summit had a sense of deja vu. Right on the heels of independence, Kenya demonstrated readiness to be Africa's anchor State when it hosted major regional, continental and global meetings. Check the calendar of gatherings that came to Nairobi in quick succession within the first decade of independence.

Nevertheless, how does Ruto reconcile his passionate remarks at the summit with his decision to allow resumption of logging? He can say we will plant 15 million more trees in their place, but that is easier said than done.

It takes a chainsaw only three minutes to fell a grown tree. For another tree to mature it takes 10 years or more. Is the president preaching water abroad but gobbling wine at home?