Kenya government’s plans to build an expressway that would touch a few inches of Uhuru Park did not sit well with everybody.
Those who saw nothing wrong with such a development, wondered why the fuss? I mean, they argued, just a bit of a dry patch of land was going to be affected! Of what economic value is this place, anyway? They mused.
While it is tempting to laugh off such observations, it is decent to point out two important things.
First, let us remember the behaviours of the powers that be where we live: Give an inch and they will take a mile. Second, for the team that shouts ‘economic value’ at every turn, tell them that not all value is monetary.
Kenya is home to the late Prof Wangari Maathai, who is known the world over for her conservation efforts.
Indeed, we praise Prof Maathai for the tremendous efforts she made to conserve our environment at a time climate change was not as evident as it is now. She stood tall when it came to fighting for the environment. For her effort, she saved not just Karura Forest but also Uhuru Park.
Last weekend, the Wangari Maathai Foundation held a festival at the park in remembrance of the late Nobel Laureate and what she stood for.
Walking into the park, I was almost knocked to the ground by a horse galloping past carrying a young woman. She was having the time of her life racing through the crowded park.
At that moment, I hardly noticed a small boy in a toy car almost step on my toes as he whizzed past me and into the human traffic. There were all sorts of amusement rides, all of them fully occupied.
We made our way to the section of the park near Freedom Corner, that place that carries so much democratic history. There was a crowd in white t-shirts labelled “Daima Uhuru Park” with Prof Wangari Maathai’s jovial face plastered on them.
All these would not have been possible were parts of Uhuru Park to be hived off to allow for a road.
When I worked in Washington DC, the office was in a location that afforded me the choice of two parks. Every lunchtime, I would carry my packed lunch and head to DuPont Circle Fast.
Forward to today. Where I work in Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), there is the Memorial Park that I can walk to, much smaller but houses a museum in memory of the August 7 bombing, and Uhuru Park. Uhuru Park is the largest and only green areas that we have in the CBD.
It is thus encouraging to hear that the government has shelved plans to hive off part of Uhuru Park. As the world is having a debate about how to conserve what we have, and understanding the importance of balance and nature, we cannot entertain an idea to even touch “some” of the only green we have.
The 2019 census has revealed Kenya’s population has risen by nine million in 10 years, and will probably be on the same trajectory for decades. We will still need air.
There is nothing more difficult about not being able to breathe, or unable to leave the house because of the impurities contained in the air. We just need to travel to India to understand that it is no myth.
Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW