This is the the third and final post in the three-part series of articles looking at the Future Day held recently in Nairobi and organized by Future Challenges, SID East Africa and the Rockefeller Foundation. Check out the first post here and the second here. On this article I look at the thorny issue of ecology and environment and how the two are affecting the overall pace of the integration of East Africa Community.
At the Future day event, the issues of environment and Ecology were introduced by Tom and Annaliese of Future Challenges. Their presentation was more geared towards the global trends but small group discussions later on helped to define the local challenges . In particular the group that I was in did a good job dissecting, analyzing and coming up with the possible solutions.
On the forefront of the discussions were the destruction of forests, mushrooming dumping sites within slums in most East Africa cities and the how the unplanned development is contributing to some the problems
East Africa is home to the great Environmentalist the late Prof. Wangare Maathai. she fought for years to save several forests across East Africa. Sh founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. In the end she got the local and the global recognition she deserved. Even before she was awarded the Nobel Piece prize in 2004, locally people had started to follow her footsteps and took her work seriously. Her call to plant a billion trees across the country resonated well with many Kenyans. But her work has been highly undermined by the local politics and greed.
Take for example the Mau Forest Ecosystem, situated right in the heart of Kenya, along the Rift Valley region. It is the largest indigenous montane forest in East Africa and the the largest water catchment area in Kenya. Well, that had been for sometime but now the above statements might not be true anymore. The level at which Mau forest has been destroyed is unbelievable. Connected politicians, intuitions and companies were allocated land in the forest by the Government of the former President of Kenya , Mr. Daniel Moi. Since the time Moi left power in 2002, there has been concerted efforts to restore the forest but always there are those powerful individuals blocking every move.
Moving on to the issue of Dumping sites. The most famous dumping site is the Dandora waste dumping site. It contains many hazardous materials. Recently, the United Nations did a study of more than 300 schoolchildren near Dandora and found that about 50% of them had respiratory problems. Also, 30% had blood abnormalities that signaled heavy-metal poisoning.
Dealing with some of these problems is not easy but the delegates came up with a number possible immediate solutions. Tom Fries did a great summary of the suggested solutions on the Future Challenges Tumblr blog:
1. Take up the Rwandese law on plastic bags
2. Create laws to promote a leapfrog to clean energy
3. Make politicians understand that if they don’t talk about the environment, they will lose votes. Let our leaders know that if they don’t do these things, they will pay the cost.
4. We need to build institutions that outlast the people in them and remain effective.
5. Policies and initiatives should come from the community rather than from lawmakers. Then there is ownership.
6. Institute an incentive system to recycle plastic.
7. Lean more heavily on local, rather than federal, government.
8. Find ways to monetize social change and make it profitable.
9. Get our education system trained to impart values to our children.
It also emerged that some of the above initiatives are already in practice but people don’t know. At the end the delegates felt that the Governments need to communicate some of the existing laws clearly to the citizens.
Finally I think East Africa Community is an idea which can not be stopped regardless of the number of hurdles it is going to face on the way. The delegates at the Future Day highlighted a number of challenges facing the Integration of the East Africa Community, most of which have been caused by politics and lack of leadership but I think they are things which can be sorted out quite easily. As I write this post I am aware that the East Africa Head States have been meeting in Nairobi, and the possibility of South Sudan joining the Community is one the headline stories to emerge from their meetings. I believe it just a matter of time