AGEYO'S ANGLE: Backing the wrong tree in the forest saga

  • The big fight is about changes sought by Langata MP Nixon Korir.
  • These include a requirement that any attempt to take land away from forests must get the nod of KFS.
  • Now environmentalists and other forest lovers have already made a strong case against this proposal.

This week there has been a huge hullabaloo about forests in this country. The big fight is about changes sought by Langata MP Nixon Korir, which include, among other things, a requirement that any attempt to take land away from forests must get the nod of the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS).

Now environmentalists and other forest lovers have already made a strong case against this proposal. And I agree with them, because as a student of environmentalism I know that any public resource left to the whims of politicians rarely survives the onslaught that follows.

You see, over the years, our forests have been the unwilling victims of what I see as a wave of national madness that creeps in every election cycle. We are a country that attempts to suspend common sense every time an election comes around. We propose things that we would never even think about during ‘normal’ times. I can almost bet that the Lang’ata MP, just like many of his fellow politicians has his eyes on the August 9th election, and at this point they can promise anything, attempt anything, reject anything – if it has the slightest chance of improving their political fortunes.

But be that as it may, I hold the view that forests are not just any other resource. Forests are not like a railway line or a tall building that you may play around with and perhaps come tomorrow and rebuild.

Forests are in a class of their own, their economic value is immeasurable, their place in our cultures is sancrosant and their environmental contribution has no dollar value, it is simply unquantifiable. And so they cannot be available for the political games that we so dearly love in this country.

You see, in this country, it is almost as if the excision of forests is some rite of passage for every administration or set of politicians who come into office. The Mau Forest for instance, has been a politicians’ playground for years. In that forest complex, the politicians have never seen trees, they only see votes, in allowing for the destruction of that forest, they have never seen disaster in waiting, they have only seen raw political power, in making their misguided decisions, they have never thought about the next generation, they have only thought about the next election.

That may explain why the biggest and most infamous excision in the Mau Forest complex happened in 2001, just months away from an election where KANU was facing a stiff challenge from the opposition, an election it would later lose. Indeed, even the new government elected in that 2002 election did not escape the madness.

In 2005, the Kibaki administration, then desperate to pass the so-called Wako Draft in that year’s referendum, allowed back into the forest, some 12,000 people who had earlier been evicted. Similar stories can be found in Embobut forest, Marmanet, Bahati, Mount Elgon and Yes, who would ever forget the shenanigans around Karura forest over the years!

And these devious schemes, the politicians have routinely ensured that we remain ignorant about the real value of forests. They have lulled us with sensless tales that have no basis in science. Who will ever forget the now infamous statement of a one-time MP quipping that there was no relationship betweeen forests and rainfall? Thankfully, that MP was never re-elected but that disdain for science in the management of forests persists. That is why a politician would in 2021, propose that the Kenya Forestry Service, a body consisting of forestry experts, should not be involved in securing our forests.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that this proposed amendment, wherever it is now, must be seen for what it is. It cannot be anything other a whimsical attempt to play to the gallery of election politics. It was in fact the wanton destruction of forests at the altar of cheap politics that led to the enactment of the Forest Act of 2016, the very act that the politicians are now seeking to dismember.

A recent statement by the Green Thinking and Action Party here in Kenya (GTAP) could not have put it more aptly, they said and I quote:  “Kenyans have an easy option of voting out anyone who supports such an ill-informed amendment.” I agree, totally. And that is my angle!

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