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perspective: Why Kenya’s massive fig tree gained over a president

A fig tree that has been saved from being cut down to make way for a high way in Nairobi, Kenya
A fig tree that has been saved from being reduce down to make method for a high means in Nairobi, Kenya

In our sequence of letters from African journalists, media and communication coach Joseph Warungu looks at the energy timber seem to have over Kenyan politicians.

Short presentational grey line
short presentational grey line

Governments aren’t at all times time-honored to hearken to their individuals.

in the event that they did, the streets of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, do not need been stuffed with so a whole lot violence these days as the effective arm of government rained down blows on its americans to silence the voices annoying trade amid their electoral season.

In Kenya, americans were pleading with executive and politicians to support stop the unfold of Covid-19, by way of abandoning their political rallies aimed toward persuading people to recommend a possible constitutional referendum.

Medics performing coronavirus tests in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya - October 2020
Coronavirus circumstances have spiked currently in Kenya

If the referendum does go forward and is accepted with the aid of the people, it is going to allow a massive trade to the constitution, on the way to restructure power and create more political offices, including a big enhance within the number of elected parliamentarians – all on the cost of the taxpayer.

Politicians in the governing party as smartly as the opposition, which also backs the referendum, refused to listen, with large rallies in contemporary weeks attracting huge crowds, together with many people who had abandoned their face masks.

This has been blamed for the being concerned Covid-19 condition in Kenya the place coronavirus infections have shot up with many extra people death now than in outdated months.

So, it got here as a huge shock to Kenyans when one tree spoke and the govt listened.

"The Kikuyu do not allow a fig tree to be cut down - they believe such an act could spell disaster"", Source: Joseph Warungu, Source description: Media and communication trainer, Image: Joseph Warungu in front of Nairobi's famous fig tree
“The Kikuyu do not allow a fig tree to be reduce down – they agree with such an act might spell catastrophe””, supply: Joseph Warungu, source description: Media and communication coach, picture: Joseph Warungu in entrance of Nairobi’s noted fig tree

however isn’t any commonplace tree.

The majestic fig tree, which is one hundred years ancient and towers over a section of Waiyaki method within the west of Nairobi, had been sentenced to death to make way for an limited-access highway that is below construction.

The 27km (sixteen-mile) street will hyperlink the Jomo Kenyatta overseas Airport to the Westlands area of Nairobi, joining Waiyaki approach, the leading road that leads to western Kenya and Uganda.

‘Beacon of cultural heritage’

No-one fairly is aware of why exactly the president modified the mind of government and issued a decree to spare the fig tree.

An aerial view of the fig tree, Nairobi, Kenya - October 2020
The plan was to chop down the 100-12 months-old tree to widen the street

He effortlessly described it as a “beacon of Kenya’s cultural and ecological heritage”.

indeed, the tree has big cultural and religious magnitude for Bantu-talking communities.

Some sections of the Luhya community in western Kenya, such because the Maragoli, revere the “mukumu” or fig tree. It became traditionally a court docket beneath whose branches, circumstances could be heard and decided by elders. Fig trees are also used as landmarks in Maragoliland.

sign to switch vigour

For the Kikuyu people of primary Kenya, essentially the most populous ethnic community within the nation, the fig tree referred to as “mugumo” has traditionally been a shrine, a place of worship and sacrifices.

The Kikuyu do not enable a fig tree to be reduce down – they trust such an act may spell disaster.

When a fig tree withers or falls to the floor naturally, the Kikuyu see it as a bad omen or a sign to switch energy from one traditional age set or generation to the subsequent. each generation guidelines for roughly 30 years.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta, who’s himself Kikuyu, may were the bearer of some dangerous information for Kenyans in his political existence, however i’m not certain he fancied carrying the cultural and non secular burden of a dead mugumo tree.

while environmentalists campaigned to cease the destruction of the tree, Kikuyu traditionalists watched with bated breath and stood with the tree and in opposition t the destruction of their way of life.

here is now not the first time that a stubborn govt has been stopped in its tracks by means of nature as it attempted to erode the ambiance.

in the late Eighties the then ruling celebration – the Kenya African national Union – came up with a grand plan to construct a enormous skyscraper as its headquarters in the middle of Nairobi’s famous Uhuru Park.

Campaigners in front of the fig tree in Nairobi, Kenya - October 2020
Protesters installed a crusade to shop the fig tree

At 60 storeys, the instances Media advanced with offices, searching malls and parking for lots of of vehicles, became going to be the tallest building in the East Africa location.

Environmentalists led by means of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof Wangari Maathai launched a crusade to battle the building and shop the park.

within the conclusion, Daniel arap Moi, who was then president, grudgingly listened to the voice of Uhuru Park and its bushes.

without fanfare, the skyscraper become scrapped and today many residents of Nairobi nevertheless have a serene green space for family unit outings and picnics.

‘chinese language bewilderment’

The Waiyaki method fig tree too can breathe convenient as it has also been spared.

after I visited the web site this week, the workmen had drawn plans for how the trenches they were digging would skirt around it.

A trench being built around the fig tree in Nairobi, Kenya
Trenches are actually being dug around the Waiyaki approach fig tree

One taxi driver advised me: “After the president’s decree, the chinese language [contractor] got here, stared at the tree, stared at the tunnel that become meant to cut throughout the tree and walked away shaking his head.”

The chinese language could have wondered what type of powerful language the mugumo tree spoke to force engineering to stop, listen and detour.

The Kikuyu be aware for tree is “muti” and they use the same be aware for ballot.

The fig tree has received the vote to live alive and keep the chinese-funded throughway at bay.

Many Kenyans wish many more timber will stand up and vote “no” to selfish political moves that might endanger lives in a time of coronavirus – and their pockets if the referendum passes.

but will the government hear?

Let’s wait for the trees to talk.

extra Letters from Africa:

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A composite photograph showing the BBC Africa brand and a man studying on his smartphone.