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December 15, 2018

Ruto logging ban is a costly PR ploy

Logging in Mau Forest. /FILE
Logging in Mau Forest. /FILE

The newfound eagerness by Deputy President William Ruto to preserve forests, like everything else he does, smacks of mischief. Ruto may be a champion of many things, but environment is not one of them. Not when he fought like a baited cat against the preservation of the Mau water tower not long ago. Not also when public perception has it there is no land he didn’t salivate over. And I loved it when he let slip the sound bite that his “track record on environment is known”.

This notwithstanding that he reverently protected the encroachment of the Mau Complex, leading to drastic deforestation and destruction of wetlands. Water levels have declined in 12 rivers – Njoro, Molo, Nderit, Makalia, Naishi, Kerio, Mara, Ewaso Nyiro, Sondu, Nyando, Yala and Nzoia – that drain from the Mau Complex.

Despite denying that the 90-day ban is not a PR stunt, the mandate of the task force he created remains obtuse to inter alia review forestry management and recommend ways depleted forests can be restored to achieve the constitutional 10 per cent cover. It’s duplicity since forest management agencies abound. Meanwhile, the moratorium he ordered against logging is also legally suspect.

The President can issue an Executive Order to Cabinet Secretaries, but the DP has no such authority. That leaves the order an empty wayside threat unless the Kenya Forest Service is arm-twisted to adopt it through a task force.

It’s not lack of legal instruments against disafforestation that necessitates creation of a task force. There is just lax enforcement of policies that deliberately creates loopholes for rent-seeking. In fact, the moratorium is just such an opportunity that will increase rent-seeking and expose the KFS to myriad litigation.

Logging is a multibillion shilling industry. One doesn’t quite understand how the 90-day ban was arrived at and what it’s meant to achieve. Is it to allow newly planted seedlings to grow? Will the forest farmers be evicted? What difference does it make felling mature trees now or after 90 days? Will the logging licences be validated? What about the corruption chain inbuilt in logging licensing?

With the moratorium, many brokers, saw millers, politicians, community leaders and forestry workers are holding logging licences that may become redundant. They will go down fighting. The ban on charcoal harvesting has ballooned into inter-county ethnic hostilities, if wood harvesting is mishandled it could implode into uncontrollable violence.

Which means there is a ruse in this thing; timber prices are soaring. Who stands to make a killing? Obviously someone is creating artificial shortage of timber products to reap big, and the beneficiaries will be a select politically connected few and those who pay a bribe. Stockists who had the product will make a killing. What of the peasant forest dweller who has made it his home and livelihood? Do you just expunge them?

Massive destruction of water towers courtesy of corruption has depleted the forest cover. The Constitution promises 10 per cent cover of our landmass, but the KFS serves us with a shy seven per cent. But the devil is in the details; we have a bad habit of lying with figures while the reality is wizardry of theft.

The Shamba system that the late environmental icon Wangari Maathai warned against was a con game; trees were not allowed to grow, incision of forests increased, logging became lucrative political awards. Regulated logging fell through when forests turned into no man’s land infested with tree poachers. But this can’t be the motivation of an eager government to hastily make appearances of concern for environmental protection.

The catch must be quick mending to access some conditional funds for climatic change that may be blocked if the government isn’t seen to be serious. Trees are critical in absorbing greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. There is a wad of dollar notes to be made for appearing to prevent greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. It wouldn’t surprise that this is the motivation.

The prominence of the DP goes to say it. It will be no surprise if the task force endorsements will be a deluge of projects in sync with funding conditionality. Meanwhile logging will remain legalised destruction, resulting in large scale deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and reduced land productivity.


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