Forest dependent people key in conservation

First published Saturday Standard, May 19, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Last week, the Environment Ministry’s spirited #PandaMitiPendaKenya campaign rallied Kenyans to plant over a billion trees and restore Kenya’s depleted forest cover. The excellent campaign comes in the wake of recent reports that emphasize the importance of locally driven forest conservation efforts.

Forests are at the heart of our current economy and future survival. The recently completed Taskforce report on Forest Management and Logging estimates our forests contribute 7 billion shillings per annum and employs 50,000 and 300,000 people directly and indirectly respectively. Trees and especially the Cedar tree is big business for some.

We lose 5,000 hectares of tree cover or if you like, 5,000 rugby pitches each year, to commercial logging, illegal encroachment and infrastructure. Ten counties namely Narok, Nakuru, Kilifi, Lamu, Kwale, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Kericho, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Baringo are responsible for the greatest losses.

Our forests hold our water towers and are directly responsible for all the water that is available for human consumption and our entire eco-system. We lose 62 million cubic litres of water each year due to deforestation. Put it another way, every year, 4,300 Kenyans lose their complete access to water. Left unchecked, Kenya will join Egypt and other water stressed North African countries in under ten years

The Taskforce also found the very agency assigned the duty of protecting our forest culpable of involvement in corruption and widespread logging. In a rare and decisive action, Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko braved the cartels, disbanded the Kenya Forestry Services Board, sent senior officers packing for abuse of office and implemented a 90 day ban on commercial logging.

Contestation over the exploitation and conservation of our forests stems back to colonialism. At the heart of this, has been the rights of indigenous peoples and forest-dwelling communities like the Sengwer and the Ogiek of the Embobut and Mau forests. These and other communities have lived, worshipped, harvested and restored our forests for a century.

Indigenous people are recognized in our constitution and international rights standards. The term indigenous does not mean these communities came first. Rather, an indigenous community lives as a collective, has a spirituality and a culture that depends on their access and rights to their traditional forest lands and natural resources. It also recognizes that they have been historically marginalized by central government. Denying these communities access to their subsistence economy threatens to extinguish their very identity.

Having dominated the January headlines, the forced evictions of the Sengwer were revisited this week in a new Amnesty International report that documents the use of excessive force and state violence by the Kenya Forestry Service. Over the last five months, Government has justified the evictions as a military operation to stop banditry, a forestry conservation program and more recently that the Sengwer no longer strictly depend on the forest for their livelihoods. There is a tragic irony that glares at the nation here.

Since January 2014, Kenya Forestry Service rangers burnt down 2,531 forest based dwellings in 76 incidents, killed at least one person, injured tens of others and made thousands homeless. Suffering, destitution, cutting down of more trees to build new homes and disruption of traditional practices of community based forest management has been the impact. To add more pain to injury, Sengwer attempts to denounce illegal logging by companies and KFS collusion in 2015 were ignored. It is absurd to expect this community, after all that has happened to them, to have a consistent strategy and investment towards conserving the forest

Correcting injustices against the Sengwer must include prosecution of all state officers who abused their office and used excessive force to evict hundreds of families against their will. In the light of the Forestry Management Taskforce, Amnesty International Kenya and the soon to be completed Kenya National Human Rights Commission reports, Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Tolgos must urgently convene an inclusive dialogue of national and county actors.

Community forest management and ownership is globally recognized as the most sustainable model for forest conservation. Asking 47 million Kenyans to plant 1.5 billion trees and not hold the very same communities accountable for their nurture and protection doesn’t make sense.

The forest dependent and indigenous peoples of Kenya are easy allies for the state. Instead of forced evictions, the state must move to create partnerships with them for our forests. The rest of us must continue to plant trees in our farms, gardens and remaining urban green spaces while the rains continue to pound. This is the only way to move Kenya from #Grey2Green.

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It is futile to ignore the youth’s imagination and itch for change

First published Saturday Standard, May 12, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Having spent time listening to global youth leaders over the last fortnight, I received the news that the prolonged lecturer’s strike across our 31 universities may be over, with a sense of relief. Continuous education and safe leadership opportunities are crucial if the youth in Kenya and elsewhere are to play an effective role in shaping our world.

Four in five Kenyans are currently below the age of 35 years. In the next thirty years, this age-group will dominate Kenya’s future 100 million. While passionately patriotic, over 70% would relocate out of the country today if they had the chance. If a boat was available off the coast of Mombasa, they might even queue to avoid underemployment, corruption, erratic education and health services, ethnic patronage and violence. None of the beating, whipping or chains seen in the nineteenth century would be necessary in 2018.

Our national experience mirrors elsewhere in Africa and the world. Declining social services and jobs combine with increasing violence and crime in the Brazilian Favelas, India’s Dharavi and South Africa’s Khayelitsha. There is a direct line that links youth leaders North American Peter Wang (15) Brazilian Marielle Franco (39) and our very own Kenyan Evans Njoroge (23). Their actions to stop civilian gun violence, police brutality and corruption cost them their lives this year.

The words of North American teenager and #MarchForOurLives movement leader Jaclyn Corin continue to resonate in me two weeks after I met her in Lukenya. She was at Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines day. Armed with an assault rifle, a fellow student walked in and shot dead seventeen other students including Peter Wang. “I knew it was now time to stop being silent. We cannot allow one more child to be shot or one more teacher to have to jump in front of an assault rifle to save the lives of students. Our children and teachers are dying and we have to stop this.” she told me.

Jaclyn and the other 150 young leaders from 40 countries that spent time in Kenya last week are a small but rapidly expanding community of brave leaders. They are increasingly challenging the effectiveness of markets, Governments and NGOs for their generation. Their analysis and actions directly question our choices and national complacency.

“Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe, marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be.                                        We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.” – Barack Obama

Two decades of renewed economic growth and investment in human development seems to be slowing down according to Africa’s experts. Across Africa, large infrastructural transport projects are absorbing the lion’s share of foreign borrowing and scarce domestic public finance not medicine and schools. Rapid urbanization is overwhelming local Government’s capacity to provide services and safety. It is worth noting that Africa’s twenty biggest cities are now larger than many countries. There are more people living in Nairobi than Swaziland, Lesotho and The Gambia combined.

Too many of our politicians still divide, demonise and sow fear in communities other than their own. In so doing, they rip our national fabric to shreds. Apart from them, the other influencers that could do this – the priests, pop-stars and promoters – seem too pre-occupied with imparting narrow religious beliefs or selling specific products to offer leadership.

Civic efforts to promote and protect the rule of the law, human rights and diversity are too problem-centered, muffled and under-organised to build aspirational values and visions. We all need new leadership models. For this, we need to turn to those with the imagination and an itch for change. Young women like Mercy Odondo of Angaza Jamii who organizes in her community of Manyatta and elsewhere in Kisumu County to keep women and girls safe from violence. Mercy and her colleagues combine their local commitment with a global eye. Last year she also mobilized hundreds of Kisumu youth to write letters to Governments challenging the denial of contraceptives to South African women and the arrests of Congolese pro-democracy activists. There are others.

Those of us in our sun-set years may have to practice open listening, curiosity and empathy even when we disagree. It is futile, as we found recently in the case of Wanuri Kahiu’s powerful Rafiki love-story movie to deny and stigmatise the experiences of our youth. All that happens is we are caught with our heads stuck in the mud while others watch us make history at the prestigious Cannes Festival and discuss our peculiar habits. I for one, will skip this form of insanity. To support this generation of leaders to powerfully emerge we can do more to act early on their experiences and concerns, shift resources and responsibility to them and collaborate better.

 

 

 

Let apologies come with new actions

First published Saturday Standard, May 5, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Working with pastoralist communities several years ago, I was astonished to find a bridge in the middle of the desert. Baffled, I asked a local leader what was the reason for the bridge? He explained that the seasonal river had meandered soon after the bridge was built leaving it standing all alone. Listening to the 2018 State of the Nation address, there are insights for those that seek to heal us and build bridges for a vibrant, ethical, non-violent and democratic culture.

Geologists call the phenomenon of meandering rivers an avulsion. It is what happens when the river rapidly abandons its original course and forms a new channel. Combine this knowledge with the current anger of the swollen Tana river and nature offers us another lesson how not to fix last year’s toxic politics.

The apology, declaration of a political ceasefire and the call to all leaders to lead the entire country were the most powerful parts of this year’s State of the Nation address. There is always power in apology. To say, “I betrayed your trust and seek your forgiveness” does not lead to a loss of status or indicate inadequacy and incompetence.

I for one accept the apology, if this does not mean that this is the end of the conversation. Those who apologize often know that making an apology is always a good way to have the last word.

This is not the first national apology. The 2015 State of the Nation speech took responsibility for historical injustices, human rights abuses and exclusion. It was backed by a call to implement the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report and establish a Kshs 20 billion restorative fund. The fact that these promises have not been kept by State House and both houses of Parliament three years on should concern us. So, what needs to happen next?

To fix what ails us requires an honest reflection. Last year, party electoral campaigns demonized opponent’s supporters, State Officers illegally tapped public finances and pierced the integrity and independence of our key public, civic and business institutions. Consistent calls for dialogue to replace grandstanding and hardline abuse were ignored for seven months. We literally allowed our constitution to be raped.

Back to today’s bridge-building exercise. Bridge construction is based on science. This is especially so when the waters below them are deep and destructive. Still missing from the President’s speech or the announcement of the national dialogue team is how many bridges do we need and where do they plan to lead us?

The silence since the March 9 handshake has left the national village confused. Predictably, the same narrow political arguments fill this void. Calls to change the constitution to remove presidential term limits or create the position of the Senior Cabinet Secretary (code for Prime Minister) seem to be testing the waters. Changing the constitution at such a low moment is unwise.

The lack of respect and enforcement for the constitution and not the constitution was the problem last year. These calls are an attempt to extend the electoral season by other means. Sadly, once again, the nation is being distracted from what really ails us.

Another sign on what kind of bridges to expect comes from the choices made in the National Dialogue Team. Thankfully, the two Principals excluded the hardliners that pressed us to the brink last year. However, the absence of young male and female professionals with demonstrated experience of deep social listening, election-management, security sector reform, mass communications and inclusive economies is an obvious weakness. Rather than relying only on personal emissaries, the sponsors also needs a technical team embedded in national professions, labor and community associations.

Apologies and handshakes between politicians are no substitute for a national dialogue and action strategy that promises change for those affected by political violence. This road is clear for several of us. Let hand-shakes and promises start happening with those families also. Can Kenyatta and Odinga jointly visit some of those homes? Can we see their new team publicly listening to whistle-blowers, journalists, judges, doctors and communities on what needs to happen before 2022?

My best apology this week was the Energy Cabinet Secretary’s belated admission that Kenya Power and Lighting Company has been inflating our bills and their promise to give relief to affected customers.

If apologies without new actions are meaningless then new actions without an apology have no integrity. Our leaders must do both to ensure they don’t build bridges over rivers that have moved on.

Forced evictions are inexcusable

First published Saturday Standard, April 28, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

It rained heavily last night and all I could think of was the families of City Carton. The City Carton community face imminent eviction from a road reserve. They represent the unplanned side of national and county rapid infrastructural development plans. They and the many other communities who currently face forced eviction seemed largely forgotten in the headlines from the Devolution Conference this week.

City Carton is a people’s settlement of 400 households currently living on a road reserve nicknamed ‘Kismayu’ behind Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. Like the Kwa Jomvu Mombasa and other communities in Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi, these communities are under renewed efforts to evict them without alternatives. For City Carton, this will be the third time, this is happening.

The renewed efforts echo the experiences of 2009 and 2014. Political cynics might point out that once the business of securing votes from these populous communities is done, the process of displacing communities begins. Rapid urbanization, rising housing demands, infrastructure upgrading and the lucrative tenders drive the momentum. Road construction is also one of the pillars of the Jubilee Big Four. For the urban poor living on road reserves and public land, these initiatives may spell the end of their communities.

More than half of the country’s urban population live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions and have no security of tenure. Many communities have lived this way for decades. The persistence of their conditions is the forgotten side of Kenya’s rapid growth story.

Left largely unplanned for, they consistently face forced evictions by increasingly well-resourced and effective Government agencies. Diggers and cranes have long replaced hammers, chisels and crowbars as demolition tools of choice. Often, the presence of armed administrative police and absence of County officials leaves the community with little options for dialogue.

Forced evictions is an international and national human rights violation. The displacement and indignity it creates, offends our Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 43 of the constitution states that all Kenyans, not just affluent and rich Kenyans, have the right to all basic needs including shelter.

That this should be happening in 2018 is inexcusable. Laws and guidelines like the 2009 Evictions and Resettlement Guidelines and the 2016 Mandatory Procedures Land Laws Amendment Act protect Kenyans from forced evictions. They require authorities to give written adequate notice, conduct genuine community consultations, offer compensation for any loss of property and most importantly, provide alternative resettlement housing.

County authorities must be present during the evictions to ensure no excessive use of force, arbitrary destruction of property or loss of life happens. Evictions cannot take place in bad weather, at night or over a weekend.

These legal provisions have been invoked in a court of law. Ruling on the case of Susan Waithera and four others Nairobi City Council in 2011, Justice Daniel Musinga noted that evictions should not result in homelessness, vulnerability or the violation of human rights.

The State must ensure adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land. Our obligation to international and national laws and our basic decency as a nation requires our county and national governments to hear the cry of community leaders like Deep Sea’s Caroline.

A mother of four children, Caroline was born in an informal settlement. She has rebuilt her life and home three times after forced evictions. She is now part of the team negotiating with the Kenya Urban Roads Authority on the community’s resettlement from the Parklands area in Nairobi.

It is through resettlement discussions like these and not the arbitrary, forced evictions that development does not displace the most vulnerable in our society. As she says, “Even if I am poorer than others, is it fair that we should sleep in the cold while those who seek to evict us, sleep soundly in their homes at night?”

Over the last month, national flash floods have claimed the lives of tens and left thousands displaced. The spate of forced evictions in City Carton and across the country must be halted until the rains subside and alternative resettlement housing or land is availed for communities. To do otherwise, is to subject citizens to inhumane and illegal treatment. Homelessness and the destruction of livelihoods cannot be progress for any nation, and certainly not ours.

We must go beyond exclusive planning for the middle class only. County and national governments must involve working class communities in realizing their right to adequate housing.

Postscript: Eleven days after this article was written, the Government of Kenya demolished City Carton on May 9. Over 60 heavily armed police officers ambushed residents of the City Carton informal settlements near Wilson Airport on the morning and oversaw the demolition of the homes of over 250 families. Bulldozers on-site flattened all houses and left over a 1000 people homeless. Amnesty has called for the County of Nairobi to provide emergency housing. This call has been ignored to date.

 

Kenneth Matiba was a Man of Conscience

First published Saturday Standard, April 21, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group. My Sunday column has now moved to the Saturday Standard

Ken Matiba died last week. The legacy associated with this man’s life as a businessperson, a government minister and a political detainee has dramatically expanded with his passing. His contribution and sacrifice has earned a chapter in our national history. He also leaves us with a few lessons in public service.

A year ago, I wrote that all leaders cannot be separated from the context of their time. Kenya was its darkest in the 1980s and 1990s. The state was incapable of protecting its own public resources. The Presidency operated with neither public or legal accountability. The judiciary cannibalized laws at the whim of the Executive. Most State Officers remain tainted to this day by their silence or complicity with human rights abuses.

Hundreds chose not to confront the violence, suffering and destruction that came with the one-party system. Dissent and acting in the public interest therefore was a dangerous path to take. Only the few that stood up against this tyranny will be completely absolved by this history. The family of Matiba can be proud today that he will be remembered as one of them.

The open discussion and preparations for a state funeral this coming week is remarkable given his history. Matiba had been a guest of the state before. The last time, it almost killed him. Digging into Amnesty International’s archives, it is possible to recreate what it was like for him and other prisoners of conscience in 1991.

Matiba was a privileged part of the inner political elite in the 1980s. The disastrous 1988 “mololongo” queue voting experiment fueled his disillusionment and abrupt resignation from President Moi’s cabinet. It is hard to understand today the fury this caused, but in a context where our laws gave the Presidency absolute power over the criminal justice system and courts, politicians served at the pleasure of one individual.

At the time, President Moi, Internal Security Ministry Minister Wilson Ndolo and the late PS Hezekiah Oyugi were primarily responsible for state security interests. Matiba was at the center of a growing public dissatisfaction with the one-party state and the emergence of a formidable call for our second liberation. He soon became the focus of their state attacks.

After a couple of vicious mysterious attacks, one that left his childhood sweetheart and loyal wife Edith with a cracked skull, Matiba was arrested, detained without trial and placed in solitary confinement. On May 26 1991, he suffered a stroke in maximum security Kamiti prison. Denied medical treatment by prison staff under the management of Commissioner of Prisons J. Mareka and Dr. Mwongera of the Prison Medical Service, his condition deteriorated. He never recovered.

For a man that loved adventure, actively played football and squash and had climbed Mt. Kenya 18 times, the physical cost was great. He would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. According the judgment in his favour, Justice Isaac Lenaola noted the Matiba family had lost more than Kshs 4 billion in commercial real estate and company stocks and shares.

Amnesty International declared Kenneth Matiba a Prisoner of Conscience in 1991. He was merely expressing his fundamental right to a non-violent political opinion. Hundreds of human rights defenders globally wrote letters calling for his immediate and unconditional release that year.

In his memoirs “Aiming High: The Story of My Life” Matiba makes the distinction between a politician and a person in politics. The former join politics for their own interests, the latter maintains their political principles regardless of the personal cost. After seeing the political rot in the leadership, he chose the road less travelled and more dangerous. Reflecting on isolation and economic sacrifice, his wise wife Edith noted that money is like a flock of birds that land and fly off together. Human decency and humility has kept them sane over the years.

Amnesty adopted over hundred men and women as prisoners of conscience in Kenya and globally over the same period. The late Winnie MadikizelaMandela was also one of them. Many of them were even more daring than the late Matiba. Most sacrificed their studies, careers and some, their lives. Most of them are unknown to today’s generation. In celebrating the contribution and resilience of Matiba, we must celebrate them also. Their powerful choices earned them the status of prisoners of conscience. Collectively, they sought to create a country of conscience. We owe our gratitude to them and today’s BRAVE activists, for the freedoms and rights that we currently enjoy.

Errata: An earlier version of this article perpetuated an online error, Kenneth Matiba’s widow is Edith not Edna. Apologies to Edith Matiba and family. I salute your courage over the years.

Civic Actions in the Public Interest: A 2017 score-card

First published Sunday Standard, December 24, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Walking in the beautiful mangroves of Funzi Island this week, our guide declared he will never vote again. The system is too corrupt to be trusted. Sadly, his voice is echoed by many. I was left wondering what hope+ is00l000 there for Kenya when many men and women believe that voting, the easiest of civic actions, doesn’t really matter?

As we complete 2017 with our economy battered and society divided, it is worth remembering that this year also saw a number of powerful civic actions in the public interest. These and others leave a powerful legacy for brave and patriotic citizens to build on in 2018.

Citizens and civic organisations scored two firsts this electoral year. For the first time, Chapter Six became an electoral justice issue. The EACC, religious and civic organisations and a handful of citizens in Bungoma, Makueni and Machakos raised red flags to stop corrupt aspirants from being cleared by the electoral commission. Voter rejection of several candidates at the polls was the response.

Based on evidence by parties and concerned citizens, the Supreme Court also nullified a Presidential election for the first time in Kenyan history based on irregularities and illegalities committed by the Electoral Commission.

Currently, Kenya has 6,000 inmates on prison death row. They have been convicted for terrorism, murder, armed robbery and other crimes that attract the death sentence. Like over 150 countries in the world, Kenya has been slowly moving away from state sanctioned executions.

The last time the Government executed someone was in 1987. This year, Karioko Muruathetu, Wilson Thirimbu and the Katiba Institute struck another blow and the mandatory provision of the death penalty was declared unconstitutional.

Only 47 elephants lost their lives this year. It may seem odd to say “only”. Surely #AllElephantsLivesMatter too? Yes, but consider that we lost twice as many elephants last year. Five years before WildlifeDirect, Kenya Wildlife Services, NTV Wild and the Environment Ministry started working together, we were losing close to 400 elephants a year.

Consistent media messaging, edgy advocacy and some litigation has created deeper public awareness, stiffer sentencing and stronger protection. We are beginning to win the war for wildlife conservation.

On the furthest opposite end of the coast from the mangroves of Funzi lie others just as beautiful. The Lamu coal plant fundamentally threatens the beauty of the immediate environment and the planet.

Research and arguments by deCOALonise and Save Lamu demonstrated that the Kshs 200 billion Lamu coal plant could be one of our greatest environmental and financial disasters yet. The plant is not yet abandoned, but the case to close it down still remains.

Over one thousand public schools across fifteen counties were awarded land titles in 2017. Another fifty schools were rescued from the clutches of land-grabbers. Public-private-civic partnerships were at the center of these efforts.

Driven by the Lands Ministry, National Land Commission and the ShuleYangu Alliance, school boards and head teachers now have the support and solidarity to resist the “grabbiosis” that afflicts us. While we are far from the universal titling promised by President Kenyatta, the foundation to declare that public school land is not for sale has been built.

Today, there is also a secondary school student who knows the benefits of patience and how long the arc of justice can take. She waited two years for her dignity to be restored. In 2015, police officers took semi-naked photos of her during that famous arrest of 45 children on a Nyeri bus. Supported by child rights organization CRADLE, she’s been awarded Kshs four million by Justice John Mativo.

Campaigns like this work against a stiff statistical curve. One in ten minors continue to experience sexual abuse and violence. One in three don’t feel safe. We must do more.

There are few countries in the world where private profits clash so openly against public and planetary interests as Kenya. Revolving doors of business and state elites keep our public resources rotating like the children’s game of pass the parcel. Yet, the lack of political will is not just that they have too much and are too arrogant. It is also that we do not hold them accountable enough.

As we complete 2017, we can draw confidence that the only way we can make our country safer, dignified and just is by getting more personally involved in the public interest.

Happy new year to all.

Our Nairobi National Park is threatened again and we must speak up

First published Sunday Standard, April 8, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

If we are not careful, we may lose the big five in the rush to deliver the big four. Last week, the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) gave us until April 28 to give our views on yet another proposed encroachment into the Nairobi National Park.

Kenya Railways is preparing to construct a 4,153 kilometer access road through the park from the Nairobi Inland Container Depot through to the Southern bypass. Early signs of a construction site in the park suggest the proposed Environmental and Social Impact Assessment may be a ritual without a purpose. Ironically, the very agency assigned to manage our wildlife and national parks, Kenya Wildlife Services appears to support the proposal.

The struggle to keep our national heritage safe from the railway, highways and human settlements is older than the 72 year old park. Hundreds of species of animals, birds, trees and grasslands are scattered across its 28,963 acres. Among them is the black rhino. The park has supplied over half of the founder black rhinos to all the rhino sanctuaries in Kenya. Thanks to new initiatives like the popular NTV-Wild show and others, 100,000s of Kenyans and tourists now visit the park each year.

Public voices and action is growing to protect the park from the loss of another 20 acres. Under the hashtag #SaveNNP, they argue that the two phases of the Special Gauge Railway have already damaged the eco-system and the annual migration corridor for thousands of animals. In this sense, the lions that took a stroll in Kibra and South C recently were Internal Displaced Animals (IDAs) roaming in search of their rapidly disappearing natural habitat.

Left unprotected, our park will soon be no more than a zoo. A prison that is too restrictive to allow animals to feed or breed naturally. When that happens, Nairobi will no longer be the only city in the world with its own national wildlife park. We can then start planning to hold more memorial services like the one we held last month for Sudan and the entire northern white rhino species.

In this sense, the silence of the Kenya Wildlife Services, Tourism and the Environment Ministries is puzzling. Civic organization Africog has called on KWS international partners to suspend funding to the agency for mission failure. Perhaps it is also time for our artists to organize a vigil for our wildlife or our citizens to dramatize a Nairobi without the park.

Transport Cabinet Secretary has reportedly dismissed these critics as “busy-bodies”. It is worth reminding him that busy-bodies are still citizens. They are still entitled to a view and a say on everything +254. The distinct exasperation in the tone of our public officials worries me. A leadership that no longer listens is lost. It loses the opportunity to offer options, discuss trade offs and host a skillful public policy conversation first. It then loses public confidence and ownership.

A society that no longer cares, on the other hand, is unconscious and comatose. Too numb, as Mavuno Pastor Linda Ochola powerfully reminded us over Easter, to change the injustices in our lives. Bodies that are busy and actively engaging Government is what Kenya really needs now.

Busy-bodies are sometimes our only savior from poorly planned infrastructural projects built rapidly on the quicksand of tokenistic consultation. Ironically, state officials don’t seem to have a problem with the same busy-bodies who rose this week to thank the same ministry for their Bus Rapid Transport lane initiative.

Large infrastructural projects that permanently disfigure our national heritage must be honestly and openly debated. To allow them to proceed will inevitably drive the country towards ecocide, the deliberate and extensive destruction of our wildlife and environment.

If Margaret Mead were alive she would remind us that without the environment, there is no economy or society. I would go further. Jobs, housing, health and food security cannot hang in the air. Destroying our forests, rivers and now parks is a sure way of losing everything that really matters to us. If you and I cannot stand for anything, nothing really matters. Bodies, get busy.

It is time all busy-body citizens who value the park to exercise their right to email dgnema@nema.go.ke on their views. Dear NEMA, kindly consider this to be my open letter in complete opposition to the proposed access road across our Nairobi National Park.