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
Same place, now with River Cafe Trees were felled in 2014 under the guise of a project to plant indigenous trees. pic.twitter.com/3zRxo5ZWyZ
— Phares Kariuki (@kaboro) October 9, 2015
— Wandia Njoya (@wmnjoya) October 11, 2015
Wangari Maathai saved Karura forest once. Surely her spirit birthed in us a spirit to fight, lets #SaveKaruraForest
— Arts & Culture in KE (@Kenyanpoet) October 12, 2015
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 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.
— Naitore Mathenge (@NaitoreNyamu) April 5, 2014