News 2008


Mau saga proves Kenyans do not care about environment




THOSE RIOTING OVER THE Government’s plan to comprehensively restore the Mau complex should be understood within the context of the typical Kenyan’s contempt for environmental conservation.

This contempt is underlined by the fact that one’s transfer or appointment to the Ministry of Environment is treated as demeaning to the individual and the community from which he or she hails. This explains why since independence, no Environment minister has left a mark in that docket.

In the 1980s and 1990s, we would roar with laughter at President Moi’s vilification of Prof Wangari Maathai’s environmental conservation efforts as the antics of a mad woman.

Looking back, this collective indifference to Mother Nature is all the regime needed to wage a scorched earth war against our natural heritage, with the Karura Forest and the Mau as the most outstanding examples.

THE VENOM WITH WHICH SOME Rift Valley MPs greeted Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s putting his foot down over the Mau is not surprising.

Indeed, Raila should take the legislators’ threat to withhold their support for him and ODM seriously because, to their minds, their political here and now matters more than the country’s survival.

But this proposition could be wrong. The MPs, like the majority of Kenyans, honestly cannot see what is wrong with their kinsmen/women exploiting one of the most fertile agricultural lands in the country. Looked at from this prism, Raila is an agent of hostile forces on an evil mission to “finish” their people.

The argument that the Mau settlers hold title deeds to their pieces of land is most incongruous because it cynically ignores the bigger question of the survival of an entire region, with Kenya and Tanzania as the most immediate casualties.

Still, since these Kenyans are merely victims of political myopia, they should be handled with care. They should be offered attractive incentives, including commensurate financial compensation.

To begin to address the question of environmental concerns, a deliberate, continuous public education on the virtues of preserving the environment should be carried out throughout the country to sensitise Kenyans on the link between famine, disease, poverty and natural disasters and environmental degradation.

The need for an integrated governmental approach here cannot be gainsaid. Mr Odinga cannot leave a better legacy than leading Kenyans into a safer environment. This job should not be hard for the Premier given that he has on his side two result-loving ministers – Mr John Michuki (Environment) and Dr Noah Wekesa (Forestry and Wildlife).

Environmental care has assumed central importance globally, and governments are taking the lead. Kenya can borrow from some of the best examples internationally, one of them being China.

Though pilloried as the world’s chief polluter mainly due to rapid industrialisation and population pressure, China, after perennial disastrous floods and famines, has adopted policies which aim to restore its environment.

The country has invested billions in two programmes named China Natural Forest Conservation and Grain to Green. The former is aimed at rectifying the damage caused by years of unbridled logging which has led to soil erosion. It bans logging and replaces forests through a plethora of incentives to forest enterprises.

The Grain to Green approach works to convert crop land on steep slopes to forests and grasslands by providing affected farmers with grain and cash subsidies.

KENYA CAN GO FOR A SIMILAR APproach by adopting a one-adult-one tree policy where each living Kenyan adult is required by law to successfully grow one tree in their life time. Secondly, the Government can pay Kenyans a token to turn portions of their farm lands into forests.

But forests, important as they are, are not the end-all in environmental care and management. Pollution, the other area Kenyans excel in, is equally worrying, and here is why.

Millions of tonnes of plastic materials litter the entire country. The few surviving rivers flow with water which is dangerous for human consumption. Those who live in cities like Nairobi will confess that pollution due to a combination of industrial activities and motor vehicles is making life unbearable.

The country’s over-reliance on fossil fuels should be checked and the spotlight turned instead on environment-friendly renewable energy.