Kenya tree felling sparks anger over Nairobi's new highway

Decades-old ornamental palm trees are among those uprooted

Rubble, bare earth and tree stumps mark the route of a super highway under construction in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, upsetting environmentalists – especially in the wake of the COP26 summit.

Rows of mainly indigenous trees that once lined the route of the new four-lane 27km (16-mile) Nairobi Expressway have been felled as construction nears completion.

Ornamental palm trees – some of them planted soon after independence from British colonial rule in the 1960s – have not been spared either.

Last year a century-old fig tree targeted for removal was saved by the president after a public outcry – but campaigners' voices about the hundreds of others have been drowned out.

This old fig tree was spared the axe after a campaign to save it

Elizabeth Wangithi, from the Green Generation Initiative, who earlier this month was among those rallying world leaders in Glasgow to reduce the impact of climate change, is devastated by the destruction in the heart of one of the city's main thoroughfares.

“We previously geographically mapped out 200 trees marked for felling along Kenyatta Avenue alone. It's a sorry state of affairs,” she told the BBC.

The devastation has already seen flocks of marabou storks and other birds that perched and nested on the trees migrate to tall buildings in the city centre.

Suspension order ignored

The Chinese-financed highway, some of which is elevated, will link the main airport in the east to western suburbs. It is intended to make it easier to cross the city and free other roads from Nairobi's notorious traffic jams.

Before the $550m (£410m) project started last year, an official environmental impact report said that more than 4,000 young and mature trees would be cut down.

It also flagged its “major negative impact” on air and water quality during construction.

Many marabou storks nest on trees in the city

In response government officials said the Chinese contractor building it would plant trees elsewhere – five for every one felled.

But this will not be in Nairobi – and environmentalists fear such promises may not be kept.

Nature Kenya's Paul Gacheru points out that little account is taken of how old the trees being felled are – and the time it took to grow them.

“They are doing beautification. They are putting some grass, some flowers. But the value of those flowers versus the tress that have been cut cannot be equal,” said Mr Gacheru.

Ms Wangithi agrees: “The developers say: 'It's OK. We'll just plant new trees somewhere else.' But this is not OK and we know in our hearts that this is not OK. Every tree in the city counts and every tree in the city must live.”

Tree stumps can be seen all along the route

This distrust has been fuelled after it came out that a section of the highway was to encroach into the city centre's Uhuru Park.

This iconic green space was saved in the 1990s by environmentalists, led by the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, thwarting the then-ruling party's plan to build its huge HQ and shopping complex there.

The highway's design has subsequently been tweaked – but a coalition of environmental organisations, including Green Generation Initiative and Nature Kenya, went to court in June 2020 to stop the project, arguing that it had gone ahead without public consultation.

Yet construction and the chopping down of tress has continued, despite the law requiring a suspension of works pending the environment court's decision.

According to Mark Odaga, from Natural Justice – which is also part of the coalition, the problem comes down to details.

The report approving the project gave little away about how the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) would deal with the environmental impact before, during and after construction.

“A public consultation would require them to give us that information,” Mr Odaga told the BBC.

Activist shot dead

Nairobi straddles forests to the west and savannah grasslands to the east, with three rivers running through it.

It is popularly known as the “Green City in the Sun”, but its green spaces are being eaten up everywhere by commercial and infrastructural developments – it is not just the Nairobi Expressway to blame.

It is the government’s lack of consultation about big projects that upsets people

To the north and east, huge bypasses are being built that are spewing out red dust and rocks in already congested neighbourhoods.

To the south, a high-speed railway has been built through a national park, which activists say poses a threat to wildlife.

Trees lining roads in the suburbs have also been cut down to create space for giant billboards.

Without warning, Nairobi's Uhuru Park and Central Park were recently closed for three months – officially to be spruced up.

This has sparked consternation as photos have since emerged of building work going on there. Last year, Uhuru Gardens was similarly shut without warning – the authorities then explained it was to create a memorial area for independence heroes.

But again it is the lack of consultation that angers many residents.

And the odds are stacked against conservationists.

In July, prominent environmental activist Joannah Stutchbury was shot dead near her home in Nairobi.

The 67-year-old had been getting death threats for campaigning against the destruction of Kiambu Forest by developers eyeing the prime site on the outskirts of the city.

Critics say the government is barrelling ahead with the Nairobi Expressway because President Uhuru Kenyatta wants it finished before he leaves office – it is seen as his legacy project.

The CRBC has said it will open six months ahead of schedule in time for the elections next August.

But doubts too have been cast over whether the highway will really ease congestion in the city as motorists will have to pay a toll to use it. Some see it as a road for the rich in a city where most people use matatu minibuses to travel.

Ms Wangithi says those in government should rather keep the health of the city in mind when considering their legacy. She says green spaces are the lungs of a city – areas that are also important for the mental health of its residents.

“I'm grieving because by cutting down trees to create more space for roads, we are undermining the children's and young people's sense of agency and meaning.”

More on Nairobi's super highway:

    News Related

    OTHER NEWS

    China's local COVID cases fall while infections grow in Beijing city

    BEIJING -China reported on Friday the lowest daily tally of confirmed locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in nearly two months, while infections edged up in the capital Beijing amid high virus ... Read more »

    Hungary opposition leader flags tax cuts for poor as Orban's party gains ground

    By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than BUDAPEST – Hungary’s opposition plans to lower the tax burden on the poor while ensuring fiscal discipline to put the country on track to ... Read more »

    EU challenges Russia at WTO over wood export restrictions

    BRUSSELS -The European Union launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization on Friday to Russian export restrictions on wood products that the bloc says are illegal and harm its ... Read more »

    La Palma residents scale volcanic ash mountains to return home

    By Joan Faus and Horaci Garcia LASMANCHAS, Spain – Eighty-year-old Sabino Leal Jeronimo returned to his home on Spain’s Canary Island of La Palma for the first time in four ... Read more »

    New Zealand water ship unloads in Tonga as other aid trickles in

    By Praveen Menon, Kirsty Needham and Tom Westbrook WELLINGTON/SYDNEY -Life-saving water supplies from a New Zealand navy ship were distributed across Tonga’s main island on Friday, as other countries battled ... Read more »

    Royal Dutch no more - Shell officially changes name

    By Ron Bousso LONDON -Shell officially changed its name on Friday, ditching “Royal Dutch”, which has been part of its identity since 1907, following plans to scrap its dual share ... Read more »

    Chile markets rally as Boric readies Cabinet

    By Fabian Cambero SANTIAGO – Chilean investors and traders are on tenterhooks ahead of the expected unveiling of President-elect Gabriel Boric’s first Cabinet on Friday, seen as a key signal ... Read more »

    Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir admitted to hospital again

    © Vincent Thian Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is one of the country’s most dominant political figures Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been admitted to a specialist ... Read more »

    Zelensky commented on a possible evacuation of US diplomats from Ukraine - CNN

    Ukrainian President said it would be an "overreaction" to the situation around Ukraine Read more »

    Yemeni rebels say death toll from prison airstrike at 80

    CAIRO (AP) — The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a prison run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels climbed to at least 80 detainees, the rebels said Saturday. ... Read more »

    Plane with US weapons arrives in Kiev, US Embassy says

    This shipment includes close to 90 tonnes of lethal aid Read more »

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responds to uproar over comment about Black voters

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back against the uproar over a comment he made about African American voters, calling the criticism directed his way “outrageous”. McConnell had been accused ... Read more »

    NYPD officer killed, another severely injured in Harlem shooting

    A New York City police officer was killed and another critically wounded while answering a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son, officials said, making four ... Read more »

    Charlise Mutten's mum's caravan a crime scene after missing girl found dead in barrel

    The caravan Charlise Mutten’s mother was believed to be staying in at the time of her daughter’s death has been declared a crime scene and is now under police guard. ... Read more »

    Tonga eruption: Overwhelming sense of relief as death toll remains low

    There is an overwhelming sense relief in Tonga with people thankful the death toll is low following last Saturday’s volcanic eruption and tsunami. A journalist in Nuku’alofa, Pesi Fonua, has ... Read more »

    Washington asks Russia to keep US response on security guarantees secret - paper

    Department of State sources also The Washington Post that the written US response will include US proposals in the security domain and will demonstrate the country’s interest in maintaining the dialogue with Moscow. Read more »

    Ukrainian expert describes Blinken's briefing as ‘pathetic babble'

    Director of the Kiev Center for Political Research and Conflict Study Mikhail Pogrebinsky said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears to be scared of his own shadow Read more »

    Number of COVID-19 cases worldwide exceeds 340 million - WHO

    The biggest number of coronavirus cases was reported from the United States, followed by India, Brazil, the United Kingdom and France Read more »

    Long journey home to my rebel-run city Donetsk

    © ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP The emblem of the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic is a common feature in the rebel-held area Little is heard from the two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine ... Read more »

    Baikonur head plans to lift terror alert on Monday - Roscosmos

    According to the Russian space official Dmitry Rogozin, the situation in the city and at the launch facility has remained calm Read more »

    Germany blocks Estonia's arms supplies to Ukraine - paper

    According to Wall Street Journal, Berlin insists that the transfer of German-made weapons to Ukraine by third countries is possible only upon a special permission, which was not granted in this case Read more »

    Serbian president's assassination was plotted in February - premier

    Ana Brnabic said that Aleksandar Vucic’s security has been toughened Read more »

    Downing Street staff partied until 1am in a seven-hour drinking session the night before Prince Philip's funeral

    Downing Street staff partied until 1am in a seven-hour drinking session the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, The Telegraph can reveal, as new claims emerged. People were served wine and ... Read more »

    Rio, Sao Paulo postpone carnival parades due to pandemic

    © Mauro PIMENTEL In this file photo taken on January 21, 2018, members of a street carnival group perform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo ... Read more »

    Malaysia’s floods expose depth of government’s inability to handle climate change

    Torrential rains in the east coast led to a record death toll of at least 54, the displacement of some 120,000 people and losses of US$1.5 billion Analysts say the ... Read more »

    Bill on anti-Russian sanctions goes to US House of Representatives

    The Senate’s version of the document, headlined the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022, was submitted to the upper chamber last week by a group of lawmakers Read more »

    UN chief hopes crisis around Ukraine can be averted

    Antonio Guterres said that the situation around Ukraine should be settled by diplomatic means, as other developments would constitute a breach of the international law Read more »

    Current global situation more chaotic than during Cold War - UN head

    Antonio Guterres said that there are no instruments to deal with crisis, and so this, indeed, we live in a dangerous situation Read more »

    Rare twin baby elephants born in Kenya

    An elephant named Bora gave birth to twins at the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya. Jane Wynyard/Save the Elephants via AP NAIROBI, Jan 20 – Suckled by their mother ... Read more »

    German chancellor urges to do everything for averting military escalation over Ukraine

    At the same time, Olaf Scholz admitted that the present-day situation surrounding Ukraine was "very serious" Read more »

    US charges Texas man with threatening Georgia election officials

    The United States Department of Justice has charged a Texas man with posting an online threat against election officials in Georgia, a US state that former President Donald Trump has ... Read more »

    Belarus' opposition not likely to stage protests during constitutional referendum - expert

    According to Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, a senior research fellow of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations street protests are not seen as an effective measure by most of Belarusians Read more »

    Gabby Petito death: Brian Laundrie's notebook reveals he claimed responsibility

    Brian Laundrie’s notebook has revealed he took responsibility for Gabby Petito’s death, according to the FBI. In a statement released today, the agency said no one else was involved other ... Read more »

    Ukrainian president authorizes sanctions against several Russian companies

    Zelensky also imposes sanctions on Russian Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Yury Chaika Read more »

    Brian Laundrie's notebook reveals he took responsibility for Gabby Petito's death

    Brian Laundrie’s notebook has revealed he took responsibility for Gabby Petito’s death, according to the FBI. In a statement released on Friday, the agency said no one else was involved ... Read more »

    Chile president-elect Boric unveils women-majority cabinet

    Gabriel Boric, Chile’s left-wing president-elect, has announced his first cabinet, giving a majority of the posts to women and several to former student protest leaders. Fourteen of the 24 new ... Read more »

    EU nations quarrel over whether nuclear, gas are 'green'

    © SEBASTIEN BERDA White steam billows from the Cattenom nuclear power plant in Cattenom, eastern France Hours before the window for lodging objections closes, EU environment and energy ministers meeting ... Read more »

    Canada offers loan, further support to Ukraine

    © Dave Chan Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured on January 12, 2022, said his country has ‘always been a friend to Ukraine’ Canada has offered a loan of Can$120 ... Read more »

    Sudanese hold ‘day for martyrs’ after anti-coup protest killings

    © Provided by Al Jazeera Sudanese youths beat drums and chant slogans as they tour neighbourhoods in the capital Khartoum, in support of the families of protesters killed since last ... Read more »

    Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami: Nomuka family in New Zealand say home likely unliveable

    By RNZ A family from Nomuka expect their home will be unliveable when they return from New Zealand. The Sheens have been in Northland for the past month, for temporary ... Read more »
    On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic