By Anders Lorenzen
Uhuru Kenyatta has claimed victory in Kenya’s almost evenly matched and intense election and is, therefore, preparing to take another term as President of the east African country, with the hope that calm will return to the country following some unrest in the weeks leading up to the election.
However, Greenpeace Africa has noted with concern the grim prospect for action on climate change and environmental issues in light of the election result. Concerns that would, no doubt, still have surfaced if Kenyatta’s main rival, Raila Odinga, had won. Neither candidate had prioritised fighting the climate crisis or protecting the environment, neither in the run up to the election or in their party manifestos.
Food security is one of the biggest issues in Kenya, as the nation heavily relies on imported maize to feed its population. Due to recent droughts, as well as pest invasions in many parts of the country, the nation is expected to experience an eight year low in their maize production. Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Willy Bett, recently said that at least 2.8 million bags of maize will be imported by 31 July, rising to five million bags by end of August.
The Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa, Njeri Kabeberi, says it is disturbing when a country is importing staple foods: “This is essentially a recipe for yet another round of expensive unga (maize meal) come next year, which puts the people of Kenya in a compromising position. Access to food is a basic human right and should be prioritised,” he said.
The majority of Kenyan farmers are smallholder farmers and are therefore producing the bulk of the food being consumed in the country. This should present an opportunity to avert Kenya’s food crisis: by adopting new policies geared towards a better farming system, one which empowers those farmers, says Greenpeace Africa. They state that experts agree that this is the best way to safeguard against erratic weather patterns, through sustainable agricultural practices which should be undertaken in conjunction with ecological farming – which according to the environmental organisation has proven to be more resilient during times of unpredictable climate conditions.
Though according to Kabeberi, the Kenyan government has acknowledged the contribution of climate change to the country’s recurring food insecurities, but says the response has been far too slow: “Kenya needs to follow through with its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) with action not just words”, she said.
Energy is another area where Greenpeace Africa and Kabeberi do not believe Kenya is moving in the right direction. The fact that a controversial coal-fired power plant has been proposed for the seaside town of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, exposes the lack of will and leadership when dealing with environmental issues, according to the environmental NGO. They also highlight that during a time where coal plants are being cancelled around the planet, there’s huge economic risks, as well as the socio-environmental impacts of coal expansion and on top of that it could bring devastation to the communities living around the area.
Kabeberi says that Kenya needs to move away from the use of dirty coal, which under no circumstances can be considered clean: “Kenya needs to focus on sustainable energy alternatives such as solar and wind energy and stay away from pollution and carbon intensive coal fired power stations” he clarified.
However, the organisation did not comment on one huge economic and bright clean energy development, that of the Lake Turkana wind farm, which represents the single biggest private investment in Kenya and once completed during 2017 will be capable of producing 17% of the current installed electricity capacity in the country.
An urgent need for sustainable policies
The organisation did focus on one positive step in the country, that of a recent ban on plastic bags by the East Africa Legislative Assembly. Greenpeace Africa has called on the Kenyan government to make sure the ban will be implemented. They also stress there is an urgent need to adopt policies that will enable the country to achieve UN Sustainable Development goal number seven, which looks to ensure environmental sustainability. Kabeberi’s message to the new Kenyatta government is that they need to rethink their policies and priorities on farming systems, food security, energy sources, and pollution whilst taking bold forward steps on environmental issues: “they are key to ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come” Kabeberi concluded.