Kenya Fig Tree Rescued From Chinese-funded Highway

Kenya fig tree with protestors
Credit: The New York Times

Currently, it is not uncommon to read news of environmental concerns raised against China’s infrastructural projects in Africa. In Kenya, there is public uproar and plea to Kenya’s highway authority to stop the cutting of trees, especially an iconic fig tree, to pave way for the construction of a China-funded Nairobi Expressway. 

After being enraged by the falling of several trees along the said road for construction, some Kenyans took to social media. They shared the photo of an iconic Sycamore Fig tree that has been there for decades and now risks being axed away. The tree is located at the dead center of a roundabout in joining Mpaka Road and Waiyaki way in Westlands, Nairobi.

According to Nairobinews, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has been contracted to build the 27-kilometer highway linking Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Westlands at Sh59 billion. The four-lane dual carriageway project will be implemented by Kenya’s national highway authority (KeNHA). The project connects the Nairobi-Mombasa section and the Nairobi-Malaba section. 

On October 31st, some Nairobi residents took to the streets to protest against and save the iconic fig tree sitting along Waiyaki Way from being uprooted to pave way for the Nairobi expressway. According to Kenyans.co.ke, the residents joined a group of environmentalists waving placards, before moving to form a protective circle around the tree to pass their message. 

“If we don’t protect trees and nature, the biggest losers will be humans. We can’t afford to lose that invaluable tree in Westlands. Our engineers should come up with an alternative: cutting down the tree is simply not an option,” one of the protesters said. Mary Morrison, Environmental Advocate at Daima Coalition on Green Spaces, also added that “green spaces are vital to humans. It is therefore important to act now in their protection and conservation. Otherwise, we may wake up when it’s too late,” Kenyans.co.ke reported. 

“I cringe every time I pass through Waiyaki Way and see the number of trees that are being cut down to pave way for the expressway. Remind me again, why is that expressway more important than our ecosystem,” a Kenyan posed. “Stop this ecocide, KeNHA is still clearing trees in Nairobi to pave way for Nairobi Expressway! This giant fig tree is next. The Nairobi Express Way cannot continue destroying green spaces without accountability! Shall we all make our voices louder,” noted  Elizabeth Wathuti. 

However, a statement released by the Kenyan National Highway Authority (KeNHA), stated that “this iconic fig tree sits right at the center of the Nairobi Expressway operation area. We have planned to transplant and relocate the tree to a new location as part of our environmental conservation efforts.”

As part of the condition set by the National Environmental Management Authority, the contractor of the project, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is supposed to plant double the number of trees cut in the construction of the expressway. Thus, “the proponent will collaborate with private parties and State agencies to offset the loss of vegetation by planting trees in areas such as Nairobi National Park, Uhuru Park, City Park and Arboretum, public schools and other lands along the corridor.” The firm is also supposed to leave the cut trees on site for several days to provide temporary habitats for the Marabou storks and other birds living in the areas and allow time for the birds to escape.

On November 11th, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a decree to save the fig tree being cut down to make way for this China-funded highway. The decree described the tree as “a beacon of Kenya’s cultural and ecological heritage.”

The tree will be adopted by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) on behalf of the city’s residents. China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and the Kenya National Highways Authority both agreed to reroute the road.

How can African countries ensure that while cooperating with China to build infrastructure for socio-economic development, environmental issues are not disregarded?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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