ACHOLA ROSARIO PAYS TRIBUTE TO KENYA’S NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER WANGARI MAATHAI
By Achola Rosario, Contributing Editor at http://www.ATCNews.org
(Posted 07th March 2021)
Legacy is a queer thing: you never know which way it is going to swing. A particular stance or decision can have you being ridiculed as a lunatic one minute and then hailed as a savior the next. Wangari Maathai’s life achievements read like chess pieces moving along a forest bed. She is the manifestation of what most of us think we could never be: BRAVE.
Hon. John Michuki Memorial Park, formerly known as Mazingira Park, is located along the Nairobi River and sits on a stretch that used to be known as a dangerous dirty gauntlet of thieves, to be hurriedly crossed by office workers leaving the CBD via Globe Roundabout to catch the matatus home from Fig Tree Market Taxi Park in Ngara. On the other side sits the National Museum of Kenya, flanked by Nairobi University where Prof. Dr. Wangari Maathai used to teach. Over the last few years since 2008, it has undergone a rehabilitation program, where a total of 20,000 tons of solid waste was removed and a major cleanup of the entire city’s riparian land was carried out. A total of 6,357 indigenous trees were also planted in the park alone. This amazing feat did not come out of the blue. One stubborn, little and very black woman planted the mental seeds more than 30 years before, and has planted more than 30 million actual trees since.
In 2012, the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga renamed the park in honor of the late Environment Minister John Michuki who undertook to ensure the rehabilitation of the Nairobi River and the park. This year’s latest clean-up drive was harnessed in recognition of Wangari Maathai Day, a day designated by the African Union in January 2012 to recognize the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate’s work, deliberately joining it with the already established African Environment Day, a huge endorsement of the tangible effects of The Greenbelt Movement, founded and fired by Wangari Maathai. By the time a country’s army gets involved in commemoration celebrations for a movement one founded, one cannot hope for a clearer seal of alliance and approval from a government one previously protested against.
This woman was not polite in her protest and in this day and age, many find it hard pressed to go out and get beaten up for trees, but that is precisely what she did. One would question her motivations until you get to know her story, how she came back from studying for a degree in Biology from the United States in 1969, and joined the newly minted prestigious Nairobi University as an Assistant Lecturer, a feat unheard of at the time for a woman. Ten years later she broke the gender barrier again by becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Doctorate. That doggedly stubborn character, is what would see her through a series of protests, first to save Uhuru Park in 1989, then making a stand with 6 mothers of political prisoners in 1991, who cursed the police with their naked protest, and finally saving Karura Forest in 1993, and setting in motion a healing “green” movement that would regenerate a city known for being grey, dark and dangerous.
On March 3rd 2021, many of us “Happy-Hippy Environmentalists” stood side by side with Kenya Defense Forces, Airforce pilots, Girl Guides, and Greenbelt Veterans to fish plastics and other waste out of the river and plant new physical and symbolic seedlings of hope in a movement that has grown to mean more than plain good intentions. Real estate value around regenerated riparian land has skyrocketed, becoming some of the most sought after residentials and lovely areas for recreation. Many new organizations have sprung up to creatively address ways of not only educating locals on the benefits of keeping their environment clean, but also tangibly showing them what is possible with the tools and materials they have at their disposal. Teaching that within trash there is gold, if you allow yourself to see it in a different light, which conversely also reduces the chances of someone throwing that same receptacle as “waste”. Habits change when you are able to see that these resources are yours to use and protect. It no longer becomes someone else’s problem but your own. So, in that sense, Wangari Maathai fully won.
The regenerated park is large and organized, full of fresh cut grass, tall trees and Zen bamboo, strong park benches waiting to be deployed to their posts with a view, where they will stand witness to visitors’ conversations with Nature, Life, and each other, like a fly on the wall of this city full of rivers. Wifi is strong and free, unchaining the white-collar worker from his desk in the CBD and offering a safe space for more lateral thinking. Medicinal seedlings take root in the nursery and in the kindergarten strip where they compete to grow into robust plants able to be sold to any interested resident for home-remedies and re-sale. More flowers are needed however for more color and fragrance in my opinion, as well as more litter bins more frequently disbursed.
Green spaces are not only the lungs of a city but also the pressure-release valve for stress brought on by high population density. Space to move, exercise, sit still and meditate, and also feel the energy of the trees is essential in maintaining a peaceful society, one that is mindful of other people’s needs, and their impact on the future generations. Take advantage and visit the park, appreciate and be a part of something greater than yourself, after all it is free. Just remember, when you are done, leave no trace of you being there… And in your daily life, instead of blowing out a candle for each birthday, plant a tree.
Following a Presidential Directive that handed over its management to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). The Cabinet Secretary mobilized agencies within the ministry including the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and from the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage the National Museums of Kenya to undertake a massive rehabilitation, clean up and reconstruction of the park for eventual opening to the public for recreational use.
The agencies assisted by other stakeholders including the Nairobi Metropolitan Service, the National Youth Service, the Kenya Seed Company among other public and private partners have over the last three months undertaken extensive works to rehabilitate the park. The works have included the building of gabions to stabilize the river banks, rehabilitation of the walkways to allow access to the entire park and construction of a modern tree nursery which will stock indigenous tree seedlings for sale to the people of Nairobi. The park will also now boast of a 500-seat amphitheater, a new guard house and events’ grounds- http://www.kenyaforestservice.org/
To watch The F.O.M.O. Travel show Ep62: Greenbelt Movement (S)heroes:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Take it honestly.