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Only real honour for Maathai is to live her dream

Saturday October 1 2011



So the gracious serikali ya mseto of Emillio Mwai Kibaki and Raila Amollo Tinga has decreed a “fitting” farewell for our fallen global icon, Wangari Maathai, huh?

Government is reportedly rolling out a smashing stately ceremony akin to the send-off accorded Michael Kijana Wamalwa, that illustrious wordsmith who lit up the second liberation struggle as much with his disarmingly genuine smile as with his smart mind, suave tongue and gritty determination.

And all the signs are that this serikali is not playing michezo on this one. It already got us to pause and mourn for two days as the national flag flew at half mast countrywide.

That same flag, we are told, will adorn the casket bearing remains of the world acclaimed environment conservation heroine, amid full ceremonial military honours that will include those enthralling marches and a gun salute, no less. Wow!

Mourning atmosphere

If it wasn’t for the sombre mourning atmosphere, this razzle-dazzle would be quite hilarious, really. A truly cruel twist of irony. Such a sickening display of the Kenyan tendency to shed crocodile tears, extolling fallen heroes in death after ignoring them in life.


Kibaki could not find space for the incomparable Maathai in his bloated Cabinet, while his coterie of Central Kenya keepers of the throne treated her with deliberate disdain.

A government that hardly gave any thought to this unique Nobel laureate’s award-winning conservation models is now literally falling over itself to see her off in the most grand style imaginable.

Do I hear echoes of guilt, or is it good riddance?

The simple, yet iron-spirited girl of trees, birds and butterflies, true daughter of the soil, superwoman of many firsts must be looking down from heaven at all this drama with that characteristic wry smile, honestly bemused by all the fuss. Because the glitz is all State showbiz, really, for ego trips and the global audience.

If this government is sincere about honouring Prof Wangari Maathai finally, then it must start with two little preliminaries.

First, acknowledge that this nation let her down while she lived. Celebrated worldwide with no less than 55 top awards, including the Nobel prize, this prophet of good who certainly lived light years ahead of her time was largely ignored at home and even brutalised by the one country that should have venerated her the most – her own.

As her environment conservation model won global acclaim and inspired spirited actions worldwide, her own land walked in the opposite direction, devastating the little forest cover around, oblivious of the grim statistics that Kenya has less than two per cent forest cover against the universal minimum threshold of 10 per cent.

Right these wrongs

Two, wake up to the reality that while all that razzmatazz is quite nice, the real way to right these wrongs and honour this towering daughter of our land is for this country to fully recognise her work and live her dream through the simple yet hugely transformational actions that she cherished.

For starters, government should use her funeral to ignite a massive State-oiled drive to achieve what she pursued with such relentless resolve. The two days of national mourning should actually have been dedicated to tree planting.

But there still is opportunity to do something worth her while, though belatedly. On the day of her burial, government should announce the establishment of a special Wangari Maathai Memorial Initiative dedicated to driving the agenda of raising our forest cover to 10 per cent by the fifth anniversary of her passing.

2012 should be declared the year of green peace, with every political event setting off with planting of memorial trees of peace while each Kenyan commits to plant at least 12 trees in 12 months.

With 40 million of us (yes, plant 12 trees for your toddler too!), that will give us an impressive 480 million trees in a year, 2.4 billion trees in five years.

We can start off on burial day by planting the first 40 million, just one for each one of us. Get chiefs, National Youth Service and the disciplined forces to distribute government supplied trees countrywide.

That drive should reinvigorate efforts to conserve all our water towers – Mau, Embobut, Aberdares, etc – and extended to restore Nairobi River as well as to rid our roads of those death contraptions masquerading as vehicles that kill you slowly by their toxic emissions.

It is a great opportunity to return Nairobi to its green-city-in-the-sun status, complete with infrastructure that encourages use of eco-friendly modes of transport like cycling.

Government could also rename Central Park in her honour, to recognise her gallant battle that saved Uhuru Park from the grasp of the myopic mama na baba kleptocracy.

Fare thee well, Mama Mazingira, there can be but only one such as thee in a generation.