Kenyans Online protest the destruction of Karura Forest to build River Cafe

The late Prof. Wangari Maathai speaking with some of the construction workers who were at Karura forest on the day of the protests when she was attacked
One of the River Cafe establishments in Nairobi (image courtesy
One of the River Cafe establishments in Nairobi (image courtesy

As though to mock the commemoration of  the late Nobel Lauriete Wangari Maathai,  one of Kenya’s greatest women and  the founder of the Green Belt movement who fought with blood for one of Nairobi’s remaining forests, Karura forest, details  emerged last week on the construction and opening of River Cafe right in the middle of Karura forest.

These details emerged on twitter with various Kenyans confirming the official opening of the River Cafe in an area which  was in 2014 designated as the place where indigenous trees would be planted. Thus several trees were felled and the place cleared for the indigenous tree project. It seems, that was all a lie to Kenyans. Instead, the construction of a coffee restaurant was setup following the sale of that parcel of land to foreign investors.

Kenyans online were angered by these development with many taking to twitter to voice their frustrations using the hashtag #SaveKaruraForest

The Battle for Karura Forest with Waangari Maathai

On 28 September 1999, Wangari Maathai wrote a letter to the attorney general asking to halt destruction of the Karura forest and notified the press. The Daily Nation newspaper hired a helicopter to take aerial photographs of the cleared sections of the forest, and published them on the front page.

Wangari Maathai and her organization, the Green Belt Movement, stated to the government that they planned to reclaim the lost forest by planting trees. On their first visit to the forest, they arrived at a construction site where they found tractors, housing for construction workers, and a group of young men.

When they began planting trees the group of young men attacked them with machetes and uprooted all the trees the Green Belt Movement had planted. Construction workers arrived at the scene and saved the Green Belt Movement demonstrators from harm. Green Belt Movement members continued to visit the Karura forest inviting the press to join them and established a tree nursery inside the forest.

They sometimes succeeded in persuading construction workers to let them plant trees after explaining the environmental importance of the forest and that it was being destroyed so the wealthy could live there; the construction workers were victims, too. 200 guards armed with machetes, whips, pangas, and bows and arrows attacked the demonstrators and observers when they planted trees at the gate.

Green Belt Movement members instructed the group to run from violent confrontations. The guards did not follow, but Wangari Maathai and observers were injured, many suffering broken limbs. No one was killed.

The police made no arrests, arguing that the demonstrators had entered private property. It was reported that the police conversed with the guards before the attack.

The attack was condemned by the U.S. ambassador, Kenyan clergy, opposition members of Parliament, the press, and the United Nations. The president countered that development of the Karura forest was the way of the future, as the rest of Nairobi had been built on cleared forest.

Outrage over the 8 January attack provoked students at the University of Nairobi to protest independently of the Green Belt Movement. Students rammed the gate to the Karura forest with a tractor, and were beaten by police even after fleeing to the United Nations Enviromental Programme headquarters. Two students were hospitalized with serious injuries.

The late Prof. Wangari Maathai speaking with some of the construction workers who were at Karura forest on the day of the protests when she was attacked
The late Prof. Wangari Maathai speaking with some of the construction workers who were at Karura forest on the day of the protests when she was attacked

The next day students rioted shutting down the University. Green Belt Movement members continued to visit the Karura forest to plant trees. On 16 August 1999 the President banned the allocation of public land. Development in the forest ceased and the security guards were removed. Logging of the forest continued until a new government was elected in 2002, and a partnership was made to restore the Karura Forest.

Friends of Karura Forest
The Friends of Karura Forest is a Community Forest Association comprising Kenyans and other champions of participatory forest management who are dedicated in particular to protecting for future generations the city’s largest green area, the Karura Forest Reserve.  


River Cafe & A 6 Start Hotel

It is clear that despite the set up of an association to oversee the protection of Karura forest, the construction of River cafe still went ahead.
More details emerged on social media on more plans to put up a 6 star hotel still in Karura forest. The article that had originally been published on the People Daily website has seen been retracted.

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1 Comment

  1. Danni Reply

    Hello Njeri. Really nice blog you got here. Unfortunately it seems like your above article on the river cafe at Karura forest wasn’t as well planned and researched. I don’t mean that as a slight just as a matter of objective fact.

    I’m a volunteer at the aforementioned Freinds of Karura forest in your article and can assure you no land has been sold at the said location. Yes the river cafe was build and is currently operating next to Amani Gardens (the Westgate memorial) and is there under approval of NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) and a memorandum between FKF/KFS and the Cafe. They do not own the land under the cafe they simply occupy it for a tenure and the cafe helps in attracting more visitors to the forest who in turn pay an entrance fee that helps fund the conservation efforts of Nairobi’s most beloved green space (security, electric fence, bio-ecology work, etc…). As for the replanting of the trees the cafe only occupies a fraction of the space where the tree replanting work is going on as can be seen from the satellite photos in your post- and the remaining tree replanting work has continued as planned.

    Now with regards to the alleged “six star hotel” being built in the forest- you have erroneously conflated two separate issues which have nothing to do with each other. Earlier this year KFS won a court injunction against a company in the “British Virgin Islands” who at the very end of the Moi regiem (Dec 2002) was “awarded” 4.5 aces of land in Karura near ICRAFT. FKF (freinds of Karura forest) was a co-plaintiff (or interested party) in the case on the side with its partner KFS (the govt) whom both have a memorandum of understanding to conserve and protect the forest.

    Well I hope this clears up the facts for you. You can imagine since we are a small community of volunteers that work tirelessly to help protect and conserve the forest (in Prof. Maathai’s memory) any false unsupported rumors negatively impact our work. Should you need more information or have any questions please contact me via the submitted email address.

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