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Kenya: Environmentalists blast Ruto’s double-speak on forest conservation


They warn the decision, if not reconsidered, will have devastating consequences on the environment, including rivers in forests that would go dry if the tree cover was razed.

Kenya still faces severe drought and an intense climate crisis, especially in the arid north.

Trees for jobs

Ruto said the decision to lift the ban was aimed at creating jobs for the youth by economically empowering communities who live around forests and depend on them for their livelihood.

“We can’t have mature trees rotting in forests while locals suffer due to lack of timber,” Ruto said last weekend at a church function in the Rift Valley region, calling the ban “foolishness”.

Mombasa-based environmental activist Hamisa Zaja tells The Africa Report that Ruto’s move is shocking and unexpected.

“This a big step backward in preserving our forests,” says Zaja, who also doubles as the secretary general of the Greens political party, United Green Movement.

She questioned Ruto’s commitment, as he had been at the forefront of asking fellow African leaders to make concerted efforts to win the war on climate change.

“You cannot tell us to plant trees, and also cut them,” she adds.

Profit before people

Before Ruto’s announcement, Greenpeace Africa, an international organisation that encourages the protection of the environment, petitioned Environment Minister, Soipan Tuya, opposing the lifting of the ban.

“The Kenyan government is putting profit over its people and nature by lifting this ban,” it said in its petition, warning that the decision will lead to catastrophic environmental consequences.

Timber hardware store owner Peter Karanja in Nakuru, west of Nairobi, tells The Africa Report that the decision to lift the moratorium is a sigh of relief after his business collapsed due to the ban.

“My family has suffered a lot due to the ban. I’m now hopeful that my business will thrive again,” he says.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, in which Ruto served as deputy president, imposed the ban in 2018 to fight rampant illegal logging in public and community forests and increase the nation’s forest cover to 10%. Ruto supported the move and even ordered the arrest and removal of people who had encroached on forests.

According to statistics from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) the country surpassed its 10% minimum tree cover target in June 2022 after a continuous campaign of planting trees after the tree-cutting prohibition.

Defending the lifting of the ban in a series of tweets, KFS said the decision was reached due to the majority of forests in Kenya having a large number of mature and over-mature forest plantations. As per the Forest Conservation and  Management Act of 2016, mature trees should be utilised to ensure they are profitable.

In an exclusive interview with The Africa Report in June at the sidelines of a climate conference in Paris, Ruto said his government planned to plant 15 billion trees in a decade to tackle desertification in Kenya.

And from 4-6 September, Ruto is slated to host the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, where more than 10,000 delegates are expected to discuss how to consolidate Africa’s voice in the fight against the effects of climate change in Africa.

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