My name is Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, a passionate environmentalist, founder of Green Generation Initiative and a recipient of Wangari Maathai scholarship award. On Saturday morning, the 23rd of February 2019, just as any other nature lover, I was so angered and heartbroken by a picture of a tree stump next to a plaque inscribed with the name of the late Professor Wangari Maathai that was doing rounds on social media and we all thought it shameful, sad and ironic. Well, on seeing the picture, Prof. Wangari Maathai’s words echoed loudly and I’m sure the words do echo in our midst: “If you destroy nature, nature will destroy you “and I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it takes to locate the place and replace the tree with 10 more in the same location by all means.
I wanted to get my facts right because I couldn’t actually come to terms with the fact that someone could actually do that. After 48 hours of making endless phone calls, trying to look for location leads on social media and conducting google satellite image searches, I finally managed to get leads to where the photo might have been taken. When nature calls, I have to answer, so I abandoned everything that I was doing on Monday afternoon at 2:00 Pm accompanied by a fellow conservationist named Collins Lugongo from Green Generation Initiative for a visit to the said location in Nairobi. We were not really sure about the directions but google maps is always a number 1 travel package plan and we finally located our destination. As we got to the entrance, we noticed a large variety of indigenous tree seedlings spread all around the place. This was definitely sending signals of an environmentally conscious institution that made us believe that maybe the picture had not been taken in that institution. However, we had to be sure before leaving the institution.
We identified ourselves as environmentalists who wanted to acquire more information about the picture that had been circulating on social media and they actually took us to the site where the picture was taken. Steve, an eye witness of the incident and institution representative had this to say to us, “I saw it trending on social media and what really disturbed me was the fact that what was being insinuated could not be far from the truth. This is a path I use every single day, and it was around 5 minutes to 2:00 pm when myself and a colleague noticed a crackling sound when we were just passing here, you know like when firewood is burning the way it cracks. When we were wondering where that sound was coming from, initially we thought it was coming from the forest, but we noticed it was actually this tree which was splitting into two laterally. It’s a busy path and you can imagine the risk especially with the little children. I took photos and informed the administration.”
A WhatsApp message that was disclosed to us having been sent to one of the institutions’ administrators on 25th January, 2019 at 1:55 Pm as per this screenshot reads, “The tree behind the pool right at the Prof.Wangari Mathai memorial is splitting into two. It’s a huge risk as kids use that route to the pool and cricket field.”After further research, we also found out that the tree was an umbrella tree that had been planted a long time ago but the institution saw it right to dedicate it in memory of the late Prof. Wangari Maathai in the year 2011. This dismisses claims that the photo was a photoshop based on the radius of the stump and the dated year (2011) on the plaque.
“When the guys involved got my message, that path was closed on both ways. However, when we were still here deliberating on what to do next, one half of that tree came all the way down and actually damaged the water treatment plant and the remaining half was also posing a risk to the children as it also appeared weak from the top branches and that’s why it also had to come down,” Steve added.
According to Steve, that time of the incidence in normal circumstances is a time when a large number of children use the path close to that tree. Fortunately, the only thing that worked on that particular day at that time was the fact that there were no swimming classes. “Had it been a Wednesday, Thursday, or Tuesday, the story would have been different, maybe we would have lost or caused harm to a part of the generation that Wangari Maathai was protecting the environment for, but we thank God that nobody was actually hurt or injured when the incidence occurred,” Steve. Speaking to one of the administrators as to why the stump was still there, he had this to say, “We wanted to remove the stump for replanting but we were advised by our gardeners that the tree will actually re-sprout and grow again since it’s an umbrella tree,”.
The institution has actually gone to an extra mile and planted 8 tree seedlings along the same line where the tree was cut as a replacement and compensation for the same. Well, they say cut one and plant 2 more but they have planted 8 despite the fact that it was not an ill intended motive. Nature had taken its course. The institution also seemed to have had a long-lasting tree planting culture as a way of honoring heroes, world change makers and departed souls. This is evidenced by a memorial park full of trees all planted in honor of different world, national and institutional heroes right close to the entrance of the institution including one for the victims of the Westgate siege that happened in September 2013.
Environmental conservation is everyone’s responsibility and a time has come when we all ought to prioritize the environment and act on the global environmental challenges for our sake and that of the future generations. “We are in a desperate need of a generation of hummingbirds who are willing to stand up for what is right even if they are the only ones doing it, “Wanjira Mathai. During professor Wangari Mathai’s’ life time, over 30 million trees were planted. She did not relent even at the brink of death. Her legacy reigns on and we must all work together towards environmental conservation, say no to all forms of environmental injustices and save mother nature by doing the best that we can.