This week, we welcome King Charles to Kenya, on his first visit to the Commonwealth since his Coronation. In Nairobi’s Karura Forest, the lungs of our city that my mother, the late Professor Wangari Maathai and so many others fought to save, he will honour her legacy for which she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. I, along with many others, will have the honour of sharing Karura Forest, the oasis it represents for our city, thanks to the foresight of brave friends of this forest over 30 years ago.
Central to that is protecting our green, urban spaces. The world over, they hold significance in the mental and physical wellbeing of residents, safeguarding biodiversity, and securing the lives and livelihoods of the hundreds.
Karura Forest is Africa’s largest urban green space, at least 50,000 people visit a month, over 300 people are employed here and families depend on the forest for their income.
These are causes and spaces worth fighting for. In the struggle to save Karura in the late 80s and into the 1990s, environmentalists, university students, politicians, religious leaders, community members, residents, and human rights defenders were beaten, bruised and battered in their efforts.
My mother and the women of the Green Belt Movement were patient, persistent and committed in their quest to liberate this forest. They came back every time, hoping to plant another tree, a tree of resistance, to say that this forest belongs to the people of Nairobi and Kenya and should not, and would not be privatised. Our allies played a huge part, with banks, businesses and the British High Commission organising and lobbying for our cause, everyone came together.
I remain inspired by the deep sense of hope that inspired and propelled the movement to save this beautiful green space. When in the late 80s, Wangari Maathai decided Karura Forest would be a fight worth fighting she did not think it would be possible to achieve in her lifetime. She often spoke about her hope that her children’s children would one day walk in the forest. The thought was a distant dream. Her courage to hope that a better way was possible, not necessarily for herself or her children remains one of the most motivating journeys I know.
This understanding remains critical if we are to effectively tackle the climate crisis, in a way which does not leave anyone behind. Amid all the challenges in our world, we need to rediscover the sense of hope my mother and the King share, and find new leaders ahead of their time, like they were for that generation. In Karura Forest this week, young leaders will be there with me as we walk with The King.
What a privilege it is to enjoy something as simple as a walk in a forest in Nairobi to remind us of the importance of protecting our natural world, not only for the sake of nature, but most importantly, when done right, it also transforms lives, livelihoods and builds community. Every time I come home to Nairobi, I am humbled by the fact Karura Forest does not need us, we need it. Today we reflect on how by preserving this forest, we have protected ourselves.
We would all be poorer, in every respect, without these green spaces. As the King said at an event for my mother in 2013 at Kew Gardens in London: “She had an infectious spirit, a sense of optimism and a deep sense of hope. She understood the link between poverty and the natural environment.” Today we honour this spirit of hope and optimism.
Wanjira Mathai is Managing Director for Africa and Global Partnerships at World Resources Institute, and the daughter of Professor Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement.
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Publish date : 2023-11-01 08:32:30