Why Kenya’s large 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 becoming cut down to make way for a significant way in Nairobi, Kenya

In our series of letters from African journalists, media and interaction trainer Joseph Warungu appears to be like at the ability trees feel to have around Kenyan politicians.

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Limited presentational gray line

Governments are not always recognized to hear to their people today.

If they did, the streets of Uganda’s money, Kampala, would not have been crammed with so a great deal violence just lately as the solid arm of government rained down blows on its people to silence the voices demanding change amid their electoral year.

In Kenya, folks have been pleading with authorities and politicians to help halt the unfold of Covid-19, by abandoning their political rallies aimed at persuading people today to endorse a feasible constitutional referendum.

Medics performing coronavirus tests in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya - October 2020
Coronavirus situations have spiked recently in Kenya

If the referendum does go ahead and is accepted by the individuals, it will make it possible for a main modify to the constitution, that will restructure electrical power and create extra political places of work, together with a huge improve in the amount of elected parliamentarians – all at the cost of the taxpayer.

Politicians in the governing get together as nicely as the opposition, which also backs the referendum, refused to pay attention, with enormous rallies in the latest weeks attracting large crowds, like several people who had abandoned their facial area masks.

This has been blamed for the stressing Covid-19 scenario in Kenya where coronavirus infections have shot up with numerous extra people dying now than in prior months.

So, it arrived as a major shock to Kenyans when one particular tree spoke and the governing administration 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 lower down – they imagine this kind of an act could spell disaster””, Source: Joseph Warungu, Supply description: Media and interaction trainer, Image: Joseph Warungu in entrance of Nairobi’s famous fig tree

But it is no ordinary tree.

The majestic fig tree, which is 100 yrs previous and towers over a part of Waiyaki Way in the west of Nairobi, experienced been sentenced to dying to make way for an expressway that is below development.

The 27km (16-mile) road will hyperlink the Jomo Kenyatta Intercontinental Airport to the Westlands area of Nairobi, signing up for Waiyaki Way, the key street that sales opportunities to western Kenya and Uganda.

‘Beacon of cultural heritage’

No-one fairly understands why exactly the president improved the brain of authorities and issued a decree to spare the fig tree.

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

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

In fact, the tree has big cultural and religious importance for Bantu-talking communities.

Some sections of the Luhya neighborhood in western Kenya, this sort of as the Maragoli, revere the “mukumu” or fig tree. It was traditionally a courtroom below whose branches, situations would be read and established by elders. Fig trees are also used as landmarks in Maragoliland.

Signal to transfer ability

For the Kikuyu men and women of central Kenya, the most populous ethnic group in the country, the fig tree regarded as “mugumo” has ordinarily been a shrine, a place of worship and sacrifices.

The Kikuyu do not make it possible for a fig tree to be slash down – they believe these kinds of an act could spell catastrophe.

When a fig tree withers or falls to the ground in a natural way, the Kikuyu see it as a negative omen or a signal to transfer electrical power from a single classic age established or generation to the subsequent. Each and every era procedures for about 30 yrs.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is himself Kikuyu, may have been the bearer of some poor information for Kenyans in his political daily life, but I am not absolutely sure he fancied carrying the cultural and religious load of a lifeless mugumo tree.

Though environmentalists campaigned to stop the destruction of the tree, Kikuyu traditionalists watched with bated breath and stood with the tree and in opposition to the destruction of their tradition.

This is not the 1st time that a stubborn federal government has been stopped in its tracks by mother nature as it attempted to erode the ecosystem.

In the late 1980s the then ruling celebration – the Kenya African Countrywide Union – arrived up with a grand strategy to create a massive skyscraper as its headquarters in the middle of Nairobi’s well-known Uhuru Park.

Campaigners in front of the fig tree in Nairobi, Kenya - October 2020
Protesters mounted a campaign to help save the fig tree

At 60 storeys, the Periods Media Sophisticated with offices, procuring malls and parking for hundreds of autos, was heading to be the tallest developing in the East Africa area.

Environmentalists led by the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof Wangari Maathai launched a marketing campaign to battle the constructing and conserve the park.

In the stop, Daniel arap Moi, who was then president, grudgingly listened to the voice of Uhuru Park and its trees.

With no fanfare, the skyscraper was scrapped and now many residents of Nairobi continue to have a serene inexperienced area for household outings and picnics.

‘Chinese bewilderment’

The Waiyaki Way fig tree much too can breathe simple as it has also been spared.

When I frequented the site this week, the workmen had drawn designs for how the trenches they were digging would skirt close to it.

A trench being built around the fig tree in Nairobi, Kenya
Trenches are now being dug all over the Waiyaki Way fig tree

1 taxi driver explained to me: “Soon after the president’s decree, the Chinese [contractor] came, stared at the tree, stared at the tunnel that was meant to minimize by the tree and walked away shaking his head.”

The Chinese could possibly have wondered what form of effective language the mugumo tree spoke to power engineering to prevent, hear and detour.

The Kikuyu term for tree is “muti” and they use the similar word for ballot.

The fig tree has gained the vote to keep alive and preserve the Chinese-funded expressway at bay.

Numerous Kenyans would like many more trees will stand up and vote “no” to egocentric political moves that could endanger life in a time of coronavirus – and their pockets if the referendum passes.

But will the governing administration hear?

Let us wait around for the trees to converse.

Additional Letters from Africa:

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