I am convinced that most Kenyan politicians are contributing to global warming. I would estimate that each public utterance by a Kenyan politician, emits the equivalent in CO2, as the destruction of 500 acres of old growth forest. Let me explain. Last year, the Minister for Education, Prof. Ongeri, produced copious amounts of hot air (read: verbal gymnastics)in explaining the disappearance of KES 100 million ($1.25 million), earmarked for Free Primary Education (FPE). Prof. Ongeri, in a bid to push the matter under the rug quickly, stated that the 'case' would be dealt with effeciently and ruthlessly.
Note: This clip refers to last years corruption scandal.
Early last week, forensic investigations by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) revealed that KES 5.6 billion ($70 million) had dissappeared from the Free Primary Education coffers. One could say that Prof. Ongeri kept his word, as this year, over fifty times the amount was eaten with 'ruthless' abandon. Once again, a Kenyan politician with the highest academic credentials, has proved that he is no more sophisticated than a hustler on river road (a street in down town Nairobi). Let me add that with a Nairobi street hustler 'what you see is what you get'. On the other hand, Prof.Ongeri, with his fancy titles and Italian suits, has shattered the dreams and aspirations of millions Kenyan children.
What does our culture of 'eating' (read: corruption) say about us? Does the gratuitous consumption of public funds by politicians, reflect our similarly gratuitous eating habits and general worldview?
It is arguable, that for ordinary middle class folk like myself,who are perpetually pursuing the Kenyan dream, modern living is about spending a disproportionate amount of time eating. However, suppose for a minute, we wanted to learn how to challenge our attitudes that disconnect us from our selves and other people. Suppose we wanted to learn how to create communities that were healthier, worked for the whole, because we understand how the parts were interconnected. What would that teacher look like? Who would she be?
Nature has been telling us the same story for thousands of years.Yet, today, it is mostly Indigenous peoples and children that still have the acute ability to learn these profound lessons from nature. Perhaps, it is because their minds and senses haven't been dulled by education and lifestyles that say that money is the only bottom line. If we listen to children, who have been invited into the world of nature,they will tell us of another bottom line.
“I’m ready to abandon my bid for presidency to save the Mau Forest even if it means selling fish in Kibera”
- Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, comments on his resolve to put restoration of the Mau Forest at the top of his agenda.
Britain gave birth to first modern diet fad: William Banting’s low carbohydrate regimen appeared in 1863, at the peak of Britain’s imperial power. Arguably, America, with the Pentagon’s highly subsidized and permanent armament industries with a tangible global reach, is at the peak of her imperial powers. America, however unconsciously, increasingly eats and acts in an imperial manner. The satisfaction of the appetite is everything. Unsurprisingly, America is the fattest nation in the world with a staggering 71.1 percent of Americans being obese. If America wants to curb the 100,000-400,000 obesity related deaths per annum, her people would need to challenge the priorities of the very powerful and very influential corporations such as Big Pharma and the junk food industries, where profits take precedence over the wellbeing of the people they serve. In fact, the American public would need to extend its challenge to the media, coal and oil corporations, all of which are primary funders for politicians, who in turn ensure the corporate agenda takes centre stage globally. The media has played a stellar role in ensuring that the American dream is under attack from the enemy, thus, succeding in creating an ‘us’ vs them ‘mentality’.
While Kenya is certainly not an imperial power, it has certainly borrowed unhealthy lifestyle choices from it’s ‘big brothers’. In Kenya, those who have ‘made it’ have adopted the trappings of wealthy sedentary living, where family life revolves around private transport the latest console games and laptops. As a result childhood obesity in Kenya has risen to 16 percent. By extension, one can say that the affluent in Kenya eat in an imperialistic manner, and perhaps, by extension act in a similar fashion.
While certain health care professional in Kenya are sounding the alarm bells over the health implications of Kenya’s changing eating habits, the nation continues to grapple with a pervasive form of eating that has exemplified Kenyas elite. ‘Eating‘, as Kenyans have dubbed the gorging of state resources by the well-connected, has crippled the country. Invariably, Kenya is currently the 14th most corrupt country globally. What causes this gluttunous consumption of the public coffers in Kenya?
America’s eating habits might provide an insight into Kenya’s ‘eating’ habits. Between 1970 and 1994, the USDA reports, the amount of food available in the American food supply increased 15 percent from 3300 to 3800 calories or about 500 extra calories per day. One could argue which came first, the appetite or the bigger burger. Kids had come to see bigger everything- bigger sodas, bigger snacks, bigger candy – as the norm. There was no such thing as fixed, immutable size for anything. There was more to all of this than just eating more. Bigness: the concept seemed to fuel the marketing of just about anything from homes (mini-mansions) to cars (SUV’s) to clothes (super baggy) and back to food as in the Del Taco Macho Meal which weighed four pounds.
Social scientists,observing these rapidly changing trends concluded that “Bigness” is addictive because it is all about power. While few teenagers can actually finish a 64-ounce Double Gulp, it is empowering to hold one in one’s hand. The pioneers of supersize had in effect banished the shame of gluttony. Similarly, the shame of gluttony has been banished from the minds of Kenyas “Big Men”, as their primary goal seems to ‘eat’ as much state resources as possible. particularly in Kenya’s biggest forest, the Mau Forest.
Unfortunately, the eating is always an exclusive tribal affair, thus providing a stumulus for ethnic tension. Inevitably, the Mau Forest is a means to an end, it is a commodity that can be used to make millions, and it has.
When Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga stated that he would go after the big fish (‘mbuta’, or well connected politicians and businessmen with land in the Mau) and the small fish (small scale farmers with one acre or less), he lived up to the latter half of the agreement. Over 5000 poor small-scale farmers were evicted from the Mau Forest during the course of last year. However, the big fish were having a field day. In May of 2007, the European Union donated KES 24 million for the conservation and mangement of the Mau Forest. The money was given through the Constituency Development Fund as a joint venture between the EU and the Government of Kenya. In July of 2007, UNEP donated KES 100 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of the Mau Forest. Approximately two and a half years later the Spanish government donated KES 97 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of East Mau Forest and in April of the same year, the American government gave KES 500 million (approximately USD 6.2 million).
Coincidentally, this 721 million shillings (approximately USD 9 million) that was allocated to the restoration of the Mau Forest over the last three years and is also approximate value of a ‘big fish’ property. The former president’s Kiptagich Tea Factory estate, which was acquired illegally in the Mau forest and comprises the largest section of the Forest ‘eaten’ by an individual. While the large land owners continue to ‘eat’ the millions from the Mau Forest, the well connected who have been given the responsibility to restore the forest are eating at the same table as well.
It is therefore unsurprising that the government has failed to respond to the forest fires that have been consuming parts of Mau Forest since October last year. Inevitably, the occurence of forest fires spread to forests in Nakuru, Busia, Meru, Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya and Nairobi. The government then declared this season of drought a National Fire Season. In my mind, duck hunting season means that one can hunt duck, does National fire season mean that people have now been given free reign to burn forests?
This youtube video drives says it better than I can, entitled; (If this Country Burns, We Burn with it: Kuweni Serious)
In closing, recently Sarah Palin ridiculed Michelle Obama’s suggestion that children should eat less dessert because it is bad for them. The First Lady’s comments came as a response to a report showing childhood obesity had risen and was causing early deaths amongst them. While searching for marshmallows, crackers and chocolate from her kitchen cupboard, the former governor of Alaska said, ‘where are some more ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama who said the other day we shouldn’t have dessert”. It would be good if Mrs Palin rejected the masculine competitiveness and male-oriented petty politics that tries to smear and destroy one’s opponent and join Michelle Obama in her campaign to not only to eradicate obesity but to make sure the millions of women who are invisible and voiceless are heard. Amongst numerous indigenous communities around the world, women have tempered men’s need for irresponsible conquest, by including a worldview that consists of humanities responsibility to properly nourish and care for the earth and its children and end the senseless violence and wars. The voices of the women who have embraced a women-centered social, political and cultural order is needed now more than ever.
Approximately 50 kilometers downstream from East Mau Forest, lies the dusty bustling town of Narok. Narok has experienced flash floods 4 times over the last two weeks. The floods continue as I write this.
Despite the fact that Narok County Council gets between USD $ 350,000 and USD $ 750,000 in revenue per month from Masai Mara, the town was largely unprepared. In a town where 97% of the residence experience water shortages, the poor drainage facilities compounded the problem. The town continues to suffer from water shortages.
A truck clears the soil from surrounding farms from the first flood on 24/12/09.
By early December 2009, 130,000 people in the Narok area were facing starvation while 25,000 heads of cattle had died during a devastating 3 year drought.
In March 2009, over 4000 acres of the forest in East Mau was destroyed by arsonists. The East Mau Forest is within the jurisdiction of the Narok County Council. The Narok Council called in the Kenya army to fight what was the largest forest fire to engulf the Mau Forest in living memory. The only equipment the council could provide were twigs and brush. In other words, the Narok County Council has made mediocre provisions in its budget handle environmental issues in the East Mau.
One tree can absorb as much as 57,000 gallons or 216,000 liters of water from 10-12 inch flood. We must restore the Mau Forest.
Margaret Mead once said that ‘a small group of thoughtful people could change the world, that it is the unrelenting passion of individuals that has made the difference’.
The Chairman of the Interim coordinating secretariat on the Mau Forest, Mr Noor Hassan Noor, on the left, assures the peoples, during a tree planting initiative on December 17th 2009 in Naisoya, that the Mau Forest issue is under control. (Naisoya is approx. 220kms from Nairobi ) The CEO of Kenya Breweries (with arms crossed) looks on. According to an article in the Daily Nation in July 2007, UNEP donated USD 1.3 million to a reforestation project. This project involved restoring degraded tracts of the forest, particularly in East Mau Forest. The article indicated that Mr. Ahmed, the District Commissioner for Narok South, was to lead the initiative. Locals in East Mau claim the project did indeed take off, but with an emphasis on exotic seedlings to reforest the Mau. If this is indeed true, the restoration of the Mau Forest presents itself as a complex issue.
The CEOs arrived in style to plant their ceremonial seedling for the tree planting ceremony in Naisoya. The one day initiative drew a good number corporates, such as Kenya Breweries, Equity Bank, KWS, DHL, Nation Media Group and the Green Belt Movement. The aim was to plant 15,000 seedlings in this section of the East Mau, the Maasai Mau.
The turnout was impressive, with 500 people attending the initiative, at least 350 were cooperate staff members. The local community mingles with Nairobians’ as they learn how to plant a tree in their own backyard. The local community remained largely uninvolved in the tree-planting exercise as this is not a community based initiative The only way to break the vicious cycle between the community and environment is to provide opportunities to the community such as these.
Unfortunately, close to 30% of the seedlings that the corporates provided were dead or dying. Here, I try to resuscitate a dying seedling in the parched ground. It looked like Kenya Forestry Service saved on a good chunk of money buying tiny malnourished seedlings that will probably grow slightly bigger than a shrub. If we want to restore an indigenous forest, we need strong seedlings that will grow into large tree.
A handful of robust indigenous seedlings were kept aside for the 5 or so dignitaries.
If members of the local community were given a chance to speak at the event, the day would have turned out very differently. As the communities in the vicinity of the tree planting exercise face the daily struggle of putting food on their plates,the views of the community take precedence over the grand speeches of the dignitaries.
Seven days later, Narok town, 60 kms from East Mau Forest, experienced the worst flooding event in its history. Above, a bulldozer clears the layers of topsoil from the main street at 10 am on 27/12/09. The locals say that dramatic deforestation in the higher surrounding areas resulted in the worst flooding event in Narok history. Narok is 170 kms North West of Nairobi and 50 kms from the Mau Forest. 1 person died in the 30 minute flash flood.
Two weeks prior to the floods, Narok town had experienced it’s worst drought in decades. It had not rained in 3 years. As a result 25,000 heads of cattle had died, while 130,000 people faced starvation.
In 2004, a 300 page Ngung’u Report on the irregular and illegally acquired land was released.The report read like a role call of who is who in past political power. The report claimed 200,000 title deeds were illegally created in the last 40 years. The report stated explicitly the substance of land issues in the Mau, one of which being tea farms of Mr. Moi on the western side of the Mau Forest. Since the release of the report Mr. Moi has made millions of shillings. 5 years later civil society activists are up in arms about the issue,with the Prime Minister leading the environmental charge. This is a ridiculously long time to react to facts that have been on paper for half a decade. If we want to solve the issues of the Mau Forest, we must dig very deep and uproot the system that nurtures and rewards greed.
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