I’d only heard of Pauline Njoroge in passing just a few days before. But the ignorance in the post shocked me so much, that I decided to check Pauline Njoroge’s wall to check if, maybe, I was getting her wrong.
The common thread running through the responses I got was that Pauline Njoroge is the mouth piece of the Jubilee government, and her task is to get Kenyans to digest the inevitable: the eventual privatization of the Nairobi National Park. Some said that if she could be so bold to say it on social media, it was basically a done deal. And despite the fact that she beat a hasty retreat by withdrawing the post and writing a tongue-in-cheek apology about testing our commitment, the damage was already done. Kenyans remembered what she said, and more than that, they believed that she was speaking the government’s mind. And it doesn’t help that an equally abrasive post in support of Pauline Njoroge has come from Polycarp Hinga, who has basically insulted anyone who expressed dismay at the diatribe against the Nairobi National Park.
I therefore believe, like other Kenyans, that the government’s agenda to destroy the Nairobi National Park. And even if we’re wrong, the Jubilee government has enough media muscle to distance itself from this propaganda. But I doubt that it will.
When it comes to environmental conservation, Kenya has a proud legacy. The first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a Kenyan, Wangari Maathai. But before and after her have been several environmental shujaas, like Ikal Angelei and Phyllis Omido who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Also gaining international recognition for excellence in fiction writing are Henry Ole Kulet and Ng’ang’a Mbugua, whose prize winning novels Vanishing Herds, and Terrorists of the Aberdare carry strong environmental themes. If we keep quiet when we have so great a cloud of witnesses, we will be letting down these people, not just our future generations.
During the fight for the decolonization of literary studies in the 70s and 80s, the University of Nairobi Department of Literature established oral literature as a major field of Kenyan studies, producing scholars such as Asenath Bole Odaga, Wanjiku Kabira, Ciarunji Chesaina, Helen Mwanzi and Peter Wasamba, whose collection of the oral artistry of our peoples has kept successive generations of Kenyan children conscious about the animal world.
Part of that cultural heritage is a Kikuyu folk tale about a woman who was going to cut down a tree. A bird, which had a nest on the tree and was laying on eggs waiting for them to hatch, pleaded with the woman not to cut down the tree, saying that the bird's children would die. The woman replied that she did not care, and cut down the tree. Some time later, the woman gave birth to a baby. One day, as she was working in the shamba, the bird came, took the baby from under the tree where the mother had left it, and flew up the tree. When the woman came back to the tree for her break, she found the baby up the tree with the bird. She cried and pleaded the bird, and the bird replied by asking the woman if she should drop the child. The woman pleaded again with the bird to bring down the baby safely, and then the bird reminded her: I asked you to do the same to spare my children and you refused. The woman promised that she would never do that to the bird again, and the bird gave the woman back her baby.
Jesus too, taught in parables about the least of these, telling us that whatever we did to them, we do to him. And the least of these were not just the poor, the hungry and the imprisoned in Matthew 25. Jesus also told us that the least of these was also our environment:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them...See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
And our history proves when the environment is oppressed, so are the people who live in it. Since independence, the Kenya government has exploited the beaches of the Coast, the plains of the Mara, the waters of Victoria and the semi-deserts of northern Kenya, as if the people living there do not exist. And that contempt for Kenyans is also expressed in Nairobi with the imminent destruction of the largest open space in Nairobi and the animals that live in it. But this contempt is not new: for decades, the city politicians have not had the decency to set aside recreation spaces. We are now building highways and considering pedestrians and cyclists as an afterthought, when the infrastructure is already a concrete mess. Our politicians have grabbed land for public facilities and social services to construct malls.
The failure to respect green spaces in Nairobi is why it is irresponsible, and utterly despicable, for Richard Leakey, the world-famous paleontologist on his un-useful second stint as chairman of Kenya Wildlife Service, to argue that the park can be destroyed since it is unacceptable to tell Nairobians "to sit in traffic for the rest of your life." On the contrary, Nairobi's congestion is evidence of our failure to think globally, not just about our personal and immediate interests.
There are many other tried and tested measures that could ease congestion in Nairobi besides destroying the national park. For instance, rather than build more malls at strategic points in the city, the county government should have built parking bays were people can leave their cars and go into town on foot, bicycle or boda boda. The city could have introduced a loop that helps commuters connect between different bus terminals, and could have made entering the CBD prohibitively expensive for private vehicles. With all the billions spent on benchmarking trips abroad for the City Hall fathers, surely, how hard is it to come up with such ideas?
But instead of thinking creatively, the government has resorted to the lazy option of building the SGR across the park, and has not even had the courtesy to explain to the Kenyan people why it is necessary. Instead, it calls for a closed door meeting between conservationists and government bodies, while it unleashes social media bullies to insult wananchi for asking questions.
All of us Kenyans who care, and the humanity that wants to join us, must dig into our different faiths, and into our diverse cultural heritages, and speak against this evil that has visited our nation through this project. Our environment and the breathing space it provides are irreplaceable. Truly, I say to us, even Uhuru Kenyatta, in all his wealth and swag, is never dressed as beautifully as the wildlife and fauna his government is destroying.
In fact, messages from the Jubilee social media bullies remind one of the succession of the same Solomon that Jesus talks about in the passage on the lilies of the field. When Rehoboam took over power, his people requested him not to oppress them like his father Solomon had done. Rehoboam consulted his 39 bloggers who told him to say to the people: "My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions."
But unlike Israel who gave up and split after that response, we must not give up speaking out against environmental destruction, despite the insults. We have our faiths and we have our stories. We must use them to speak up for the birds, the lilies and the grass who cannot speak, and for the lions that are being silenced. To adopt the words sang by Africans in American slave plantations centuries ago, we'll keep busy speaking out for the environment, because if we don’t, the rocks are gonna cry out. And we aint got time to die.