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DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

Twigs litter the moist footpath. They have fallen from the many, many trees that are everywhere. A few metres ahead, a river bursts into view, its gentle whistle suddenly becoming a loud rustle. Apart from the sound of her feet crushing the dry leaves beneath and the river’s roar, Vivi can’t hear any other sound.

The chirp of the birds is lost to her ears although birds are nesting in the trees that are staring down at her. Among them is the Dzanga robin, the little colourful bird that can only be found here and nowhere else in the world. As she stares at the rare robin’s bright yellow belly, Vivi has no idea that this bird can only be found here in her forest.

Her hair is short, her eyes brown. Her complexion shares the same colour with the ebony tree she is leaning against. The celebrated tree is so huge that its trunk can easily fit five versions of Vivi. Such trees are a major reason why forestry is the second leading employer in Central Africa Republic, behind only the government.

"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge." Bertrand Russell  

A few metres away are several African tulip trees. Their bright orange flowers are one of Vivi’s favourite forest sights. A stone throw away from the tulip trees is yet another favourite sight that always captivates her.

About one hundred elephants are stumping at Dzanga Bai, a marshy clearing in Dzanga Sanga rainforest. They seem to be having a jolly good time as they swing their trunks in the moist air and stump around. Patches of mud are plastered all over many elephants, a result of the mud bathing that they love to indulge in. A mother chases her muddy calf. Catch me if you can! The baby dares mama before stumbling in the slippery mud.

There are several big guys whose sheer size gives them an air of invincibility as they stroll along majestically. Their massive ears are flapping back and forth, as if swaying to some invisible rhythm that only the giant elephants can hear. But much grander is the Dzanga Sanga rainforest that surrounds the marshy clearing where the gang of elephants is having a morning party.

On May 6th and 7th 2013, the joie de vivre of the forest elephants was shattered by the sound of bullets as Sudanese poachers stormed Dzanga bai and slaughtered at least 26 elephants.

Photo by Rudy and Peter Skitterians

When Vivi’s father told his daughter about the unprecedented slaughter, she broke down. Although she is from the nearby Bayanga village, she has never really been to the Dzanga bai clearing that elephants, bongo antelopes, forest buffaloes and other wildlife love to hang out at. But her father has told her so much about the forest and its creatures that she feels like she knows it intimately.

Dzanga Sanga is such a biodiversity hotspot that it should be attracting millions of eco-tourists and not dozens of deranged poachers. It’s a magical place that should put lots of bread on the table of Vivi’s dad and all other people who live adjacent to it.

As little Vivi cried for the slain elephants, she could have been crying for the unexploited potential of this vast Dzamba sanga rainforest. Potential that lies in ensuring that it remains a secure refuge for the wildlife and a providence basket for the local people.

This potential remains largely untapped. Partly due to unequal historical global dynamics that greatly disadvantaged many African countries. Thomas Sankara, the transformative president of Burkina Faso touched on such dynamics when he said in October 1983 that, ‘to state it more clearly, we buy more from abroad than we sell. An economy that functions on such a basis is headed for increasing ruin and catastrophe.’

But also, Vivi’s past and future remain mired in poverty because many African leaders have had the bizarre habit of shooting their continent in the foot.

The United Nation Development Programme’s 2014 Human Development Index ranks Central Africa Republic in the 185th slot. Pourquoi? Why?

République centrafricaine as Central Africa is known in French, is almost three times the size of Netherlands. But its Gross National Income is 116,000 times smaller than Netherlands. Tragic as this fact is, the bigger tragedy is a widespread acceptance by many African leaders of this as normal. But the even bigger tragedy would be for Vivi to grow up accepting her poverty plight as normal.

Vivi lives next to one of the world’s most incredible biodiversity hotspots. This proximity to natural wealth should translate to a measure of wealth for her family.

Vivi adores the bright flowers of the African tulip tree. The bright future that these flowers symbolize should not remain in the distant future.

In few months I will leave forever the sacred age of 20. I am therefore living the last months in this very special number, 20. Maybe it is a women's thing that we care much about age, and maybe it is a youth thing, and maybe neither.

I value for my youthful years so much that I feel enormous guilt about every day I spend without having been productive or having witnessed/made something particularly special. Every day before sleep I scold myself: “there you are, another day of your precious youth wasted doing nothing but futility, while others would kill for your youth. Such an ungrateful person you are”. And it goes like that.

To be fair towards myself, I do try to make my days something to be remembered. I join some community activities which mostly turn out to be vain and disappointing for reasons too long to be explained. I do read. I am proud to be one of the few youngsters in my country who actually read. But I am not quite happy with my reading choices which tend to be mediocre sometimes: I keep clinging to fiction which is lovely for a youngster's mind but far from enough.

I turn determinedly to the much more dense and classic books, only to discover that I don't quite assimilate their depth. Sometimes I find myself searching for the meaning behind metaphors, which should come naturally without such effort. This is discouraging and frustrating.

I have been reflecting lately upon all the special things that occurred to me during my 20 years. In my first days of being 20 I had my first “official” job. I had worked before that, jobs that mostly lasted a week and that didn’t require much responsibility or serious effort. But this time it was different. I worked in textile sales for a very popular national shop that makes a fortune every day.

I endured this job for the full tiring month of August (it was the peak of sales). I had to remain standing for 10 hours a day in the workplace, dealing with grumpy, stressed clients that were often impolite and mannerless. I hated that job, only worked for the financial outcome. Now I realize that taught me enormous things and gave me priceless observation opportunities. It gave me an insight into the cruelty of capitalism, especially how it literally abuses its human resources in order to achieve and mostly, exceed the desired outcomes.

I worked during summer sales when prices are lowered by specific percentages. Being inside the wheel of sales, I got to observe how the owners would play the customers into believing that they’d get a better deal. I have seen these customers going mad over a baby outfit. The amount of energy they’d invest into trying to benefit themselves and have a moment of luxury at the expense of the owner is incredible.

Little did these frenetic poor customers know how many brain cells they were exhausting in vain for the sake of a piece the same machine would tell them it is old-fashioned 2 months later.

In my dear 20s, I volunteered in a huge international event. This event made me discover one thing about myself: it’s how much I wanted to feel useful.

In my dear 20s, I volunteered in a huge international event. This event made me discover one thing about myself: it’s how much I wanted to feel useful. My job consisted of solely giving directions (which was an unpleasant surprise given that I was told my job would also entail interpreting, documenting, mentoring guests.

Nonetheless I do feel like I have made a difference because directions were quite important at that event, given the vast place in which it was held. In this event I saw humans from all corners of the planet marching in the streets of my country, supporting it against terrorism.

I was honored to volunteer with hundreds of Tunisian youth who never failed to inspire me with their passion for life and change. What amazed about them was how varied they were. Given that I come from a conservative community, I saw in these volunteers everything I haven’t seen in my city’s youth. They embraced different styles of thinking, dressing, expressing… I had conversations with some of them on themes I have never dreamt of discussing.

Their distinguished styles left me rethinking everything: why should one manifest themselves as ordinary, standardized and go with the flow of norms when the essence of our existence is to find out and show the pride of our special, distinct and absolutely unique selves?

However, I left the event with doubt. I doubted whether or not my contribution to this event that had a great cause had made a significant difference. What added value have I brought?

Several volunteers along with participants noticed that something was going totally wrong, especially logistically speaking. It was very hard for me, as a clueless volunteer, to tell a bunch of excited musicians that they have to perform in a hall without the logistical resources they needed, because the auditorium they booked doesn’t exist (I salute these youngsters for not letting go and literally performing opera in a hall).

Being 20, I had a delightful surprise: being selected to take part in an international meeting that took place in my country and that gathered youth from the Euro-Arab region. I found the concept of the meeting captivating, the theme a bit intriguing but I still went for it. It was a thrill to meet people from such various backgrounds. They were fun, open-minded and mostly accepting. The place that held the meeting was quite aesthetic, with an architecture special to the city, green grass (something I rarely come across!) and a location 3 minutes to the beach.

Some wouldn’t relate to how much I find this place peculiar: I come from a highly polluted region with weak aesthetic care from the authorities. A clean area with a small garden and some animals hanging out is more unfamiliar to me than the eclipse.

I felt overwhelming happiness being in perfect harmony with nature. So far so good, isn't it? Well I must bring up my great disappointment with the theme of the meeting. It was a weak theme, I tried to see it as valuable but I failed. The whole time I felt like the meeting had no cause, nothing serious and meaningful enough to fight for. Realizing this was a sad moment to me.

I felt like lack of a mighty issue to debate made the sessions futile and the only interesting time was spent outside sessions, which is not what we came for to be truthful. The Meeting allowed me to observe a more serious issue than its official theme: the obsession of youth with smart phones. There were more than 25 nationalities present, and it was alarming and eye-opening for me to discover that no matter the background, the individuals are in a relationship with their smart phones.

The venue of the event had a very weak Wi-Fi signal. There was a scene that is still stuck in my mind and that I wish I photographed: a group of 12 participants who, after discovering a spot from which the internet service was better, sat on the ground for an hour or more “connecting”.

Not a word was spoken, I even jokingly threw a remark about their investments into their smart phones, but few seemed to even hear me. I understand the need to respond to emails, “socialize” on social media, post updates… But if you were in such a beautiful place, with the most stunning views, around youth from peculiar cultures, in a city you’ve never been to, I picture that internet should not be on the top of your priorities.

It was challenging for me to make friendships when basically everyone around me checks their phones every 5 minutes. The attachment to smart phones was a phenomenon that I have witnessed among Tunisian youth, and that I see people denouncing on social media (the irony) but in this event its presence around me made me understand one thing: it is universal.

"Be the change you want to see." Mahatma Gandhi

Moving on to my next adventure, I took part in a 7-day arts camp. The camp was aimed at defending minorities’ rights through theatre, dance and slam (street poetry). I was in the slam workshop. Writing slam was challenging in every way possible. On one hand, I struggled to find a quiet place in the camp in vain. At some point I remember almost crying because of constantly failing to write in noisy places.

On the other hand, at some point we were asked to learn by heart and perform texts that were written by other people. This, I do not exaggerate, was torture to me. I failed terribly and I do not blame myself because I tried for hours and I couldn’t genuinely perform what I do not feel deeply or relate to (and I believe that if I tried more, I would have had a mental breakdown).

But when it came to dealing with my own texts,  I can say I am so damn proud of my performance. I entered the camp not knowing what slam was and I left after having my texts involved in the ultimate show text (the show that the camp is mainly working on).

I wasn’t selected to perform in the show, though. It definitely hurt me. The whole time I was looking for answers as to why I wasn't selected though many had praised my discipline and hard work. But I am not angry, at all (especially not at myself). I am just incomplete. And I am gloomily wondering what I will be missing. The camp was the kind of experiences that left me with bitterness for being prevented from carrying on the adventure, but with no guilt whatsoever because I gave it all of me and more.

And my greatest personal achievement so far is leaving the studies I disliked, that were the idea of some insisting relatives. I know, it was my choice and I should hold full responsibility for it. But I am trying to forgive the 18-year old girl for surrendering to the pressure of family and society, and choosing something “practical” (I hate that word).

Now I am 20 and I do not believe in practical anymore, I believe in passion. This is why I am planning to study English as a major and later involve sociology as a minor.  I am content with my “unpractical” field of studies, if “practical” means suffering while studying something you never liked in order to get a well-paid, highly-recruiting position you never wanted.

Now, I make it my mission to convince newly-graduated students to study something they simply love, no matter how society might dread it. I somehow feel like a prophet who has a very important message to convey, a crucial life changing one. To be completely honest, I don’t have a clear idea on what I want to do later in life. Do I want to be a teacher? Possible. Do I want to become an interpreter? Why not. Do I sometimes madly think of my odds of becoming a successful writer? Yes I do.

All these events and more have happened when I am 20. And I am sitting here thinking they are far from enough! None of the events mentioned I can consider as life changing.

None of the people I have met this year turned my world upside down (yes, I aspire to meet people with such effect). None of the books I read made me change my view about life, or look at it from a completely different perspective.

At no point have I felt that I was making a significant change in my country. As it might be noticed, I yearn for extreme, strong deep feelings. But I guess that in order to have these, one should do extreme actions as well. So I guess I know what to do! Change my actions, I believe. That is the only way, I think, will honor my youth.

Don. His name wasn’t typically Burundian. His father named him after Don King the renowned American boxing promoter. When Don King brought the great Mohamed Ali to Congo in 1974, Don’s father was in his mid teens. After Ali won the rumble in the jungle, Don’s father fell in love with boxing hopelessly So when his first son was born nearly ten years later, he remembered to call him Don.

Don is now thirty and working as a fisherman in Lake Tanganyika. This was his father’s trade and it is now his.  Tragically, his father was one of the approximately 300,000 people who were killed during Burundi’s 1993 to 2005 civil war. After this tragic event, Lake Tanganyika became like Don’s father – it gave him the security of a livelihood.

Burundi’s share of the lake is only eight percent, which is more than Zambia’s share of 6 percent but a far cry from DRC’s 45 percent and Tanzania’s 41 percent. However, that eight percent constitutes at least 2,600 square kilometres in surface area, a size that is five times the size of Seychelles.

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend." Albert Camus

In 1971, this ‘fish garden’ gave Burundi 15,400 tonnes of fish.  The following year in 1972, fish production plummeted to 6,400 tonnes because of the genocide. It is estimated that 80,000 – 200,000 Burundians lost their lives in the genocide.

The increased conflict was accompanied by decreased fish production and less money.

Don’s father lived through that particular conflict and passed on the fishing trade to his son. During the years that they fished together, Don’s father always told him that, ‘fish can give you two very important things – good money and great peace.’

Like thousands of other Burundian fishers, Don’s father specialized in ndagala, the small sardine like fish that are popular with locals. Don later decided to cast his net wider by becoming a jack-of-all-fishes. He took whatever fish the lake gave him but prayed for the much beloved mukeke. If ever there was a fish that gave him good money, it was this one. But it was also very good in the hide and seek game and could be rather difficult to catch. When mukeke went missing, Don would still be happy with sangala, another fish common in Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world.

The lake has also become like a surrogate husband to many war widows or ex combatants who now derive their livelihoods from fish. In order to further build on this phenomena, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supported ex-combatants in conserving and commercializing fish from Lake Tanganyika. Many of the people who received FAO’s support had already been using activities like collective drying of fish to enhance reconciliation and unity. The support gave them further impetus to earn more from fish.

FAO later partnered with the Burundian Ministry for Agriculture and Livestock in a project known as ‘Support to post-harvest fisheries technology.’

As fishermen like Don can attest, getting fish out of the water is just one part of the job. The other equally important part is selling this fish when it is still fresh or increasing its shelf life by conserving it. In 2004, nearly 15 percent of harvested fish was lost not to robbers but to post harvest challenges. As Burundi was losing 15 percent of its hard earned fish, $4.3 billion was earned from fish exports by other African countries.

According to FAO, whose first fishery project in Burundi was in 1970, post-harvest poor handling practices include, ‘using dirty canoes, equipment, fish boxes and baskets; not washing fish; washing fish in dirty water; placing fish on dirty surfaces; and physically damaging fish by throwing or standing on them.’ Such are the practices that handlers no longer engage in after receiving training and equipment like raised metallic racks for frying their fish and freezers. Apart from increasing fish revenues, this whole process solidifies the gains made by ex-combatants in rehabilitation, which is more of a marathon than a sprint. 

Some people consider spending a night in the middle of the lake to be extremely unsafe. But that is where Don feels most secure. The fact that he is literally harvesting from his ‘fish garden’ gives him hope that he can make money, take care of his young family and keep going.

However, his fish catch has been dwindling, leaving him deeply worried. There were times in the past when he would return in the morning with more than fifty kilos of fish. Now he would be lucky to get even thirty kilos.

In 1995, Burundi produced 21,000 tonnes of fish. Fifteen years later in 2010, the yield had dropped to 20,000 tonnes before dropping even further to 15,000 tonnes in 2013.

In 2010, fisheries contributed US$10 billion to African economies. Unfortunately, Burundi’s share of this scoop was negligible.

If Burundi gains a foothold in the fish export sector, fishers like Don will benefit even more as will the ex-combatants. Every morning when he docks in one of Lake Tanganyika’s 700 landing sites, Don needs reassurance that the fishery future is bright, not bleak. Longer shelf life of his fish has already given him a measure of reassurance. A wider market for this fish would translate to more competitive prices and give fishermen like him even much more reassurance.  

Back in 1974 when Mohamed Ali was rumbling in the boxing jungle, fishery contributed less than 1 percent to GDP. More than forty years later, the situation hasn’t changed drastically.

As far back as 1976, FAO/UNDP research estimated that, ‘a sustainable level of production of at least 25,000 tons per annum for Burundi is possible.’ Unfortunately, this estimated projection has remained largely unfulfilled. Many years of civil war definitely have something to do with this as it is impossible to realize sustainable productivity in a climate of conflict.

Although the civil war bullets and machetes didn’t kill fish, they killed people who were either consumers or fishers.

Back to the words of Don’s father, ‘fish will give you good money and great peace.’

It’s time to heed his advice.

Note: Don is a composite character reflecting the experiences of different real-life fishermen.

Their ages range from 18 to 80. They are drawn from several villages in the expansive Kajiado County, which is predominantly populated by the Maasai Community. They are known simply as Njoroi Women Group, named after the locality that they come from.

These women are seeking to infuse more sustainability and prosperity into their livelihoods. Only a handful of them - less than five- have high school education. None of them studied beyond high school. The majority are either primary school dropouts or illiterate. This educational status alone has undermined their employment prospects. They cannot fully resort to smallholder farming like women in other parts of Kenya because the Maasai culture has for long been pastoralist in nature, emphasizing more on rearing livestock than planting crops. 

Against this bleak economic backdrop, the women are now seeking sustainable livelihoods.

"We just want to be able to earn money on a regular basis so that we can ensure that our children get the education that we were not able to get," says Miriam their Chairlady.

savannah

On 23rd July 2021, Environmental Africa's Leader DJ Bwakali visited Njoroi to discuss with the women group about an upcoming August field research trip. He met with Miriam, the Group's Leaders together with three other women and a local village elder. Also present was George, Environmental Africa's Kajiado County community coordinator.  

The Maasai are one of Africa's most iconic communities.

Environmental Africa is working closely with Njoroi Women Group to ensure that it unlocks Green Economy in the area. 

The storied ravishingly magnificent “Mountains of the Moon” tower and skirt through the districts of Kasese, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo; and their rugged contours, from afar, stand in silhouettes against the sky and clouds, almost in complete dazzling mystique fashion.

These sacred picturesque mountains, of the showery ambience, are a haven for a motely of nature’s marvels – flora and fauna. Some parts of the land are enshrouded in luxuriant vegetation like the bamboo forest, Afro-montane forest, ericaceous forest, and a cluster of others. The rocks, or some of them, are smothered in mosses and lichens and those naturally denuded of any vegetation are also common with a few pockets of Helichrysuml scrub lobelia, Dendrosenencio and runssoroensis. Underneath the eaves of some of these rocks, birds like the Alpine Swift often nest, and they croon and twitter on a nightly routine, as if calling out the Rwenzori pantheon.

Guy’s enunciation of the Rwenzori Mountains gave a broader perspective when he said,

“The all-pervading cloud produces rainfall and drenching mists that are immutable. The consequences are vegetation so strangely prolific that progress is almost intolerably difficult; a ground surface that is a soaking sponge; and a universal wetness that becomes icy cold as one ascends.” (Guy 1989, p. 8)

Henry was on his part emotively eloquent about the Rwenzori as,

“Another emotion is that inspired by the thought that in one of the darkest corners of the earth, shrouded by perpetual mist, brooding under the eternal storm-clouds, surrounded by darkness and mystery, there has been hidden to this day a giant among mountains, the melting snow of whose tops has been for some fifty centuries most vital to the people of Egypt.”(Henry 1890, p. 299)

Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP) has a wide altitudinal range rising from about 1600 to 5109 metres above sea level. There are numerous ranges in the park, at the centre of which are six main mountains. These are Mt. Stanley (5109m), Mt. Speke (4890m), Mt. Emin (4798m), Mt. Luigi di Savoia (4627m). And on each of these mountains are several peaks (Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] 2016, p. 8). It is indeed no wonder that in in 1994, the Rwenzori Mountains were inscribed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Rwenzori Mountains National Park covers nearly 100,000 ha in Western Uganda and comprises the main part of the Rwenzori mountain chain, which includes Africa’s third highest peak (Mount Margherita, 5,109m) (Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] 2004, p. 2).

A host of flora girdle, and are also found within the Rwenzori. The most striking plants are found above 3000m. These are the giant tree heathers supporting aerial epiphytic gardens of outstanding botanical and aesthetic interest, some of which are unique to the Rwenzoris. The Afro alpine zone is home to the most graceful of giant lobelia (lobelia wallastoni) and groundsels (Senecio admiralis). These gigantic species are hallmarks of the Rwenzori (Kizza, 2014, p. 3).

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is endowed with some animal species of global conservation concern. The Rwenzori/Kivu climbing mouse (Dendromus kivu), the Rwenzori duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), the Uganda clawed frog (Xenopus ruwenzoris) and Bradypodion xenorhium, for example are species of restricted range in the park. They have been listed as threatened UWA 2016 (cited in IUCN, www.iucnredlist.org). The IUCN Red list of threatened animals includes the Rwenzori black-fronted duiker (cephalophus nigrifrons rubidus), the

elephant (Loxodonta Africana), L’Hoest’s monkey (Cercophithecus l’hoestii), the chimpanzee (Pan Troglodytes) and the dwarf otter-shrew (Micropotamogale ruwenzorii). Fourteen (14) restricted-range species of small mammals occur in the Rwenzori, Six of these are shrews and eight are rodents. Four of the shrews are only recorded in Rwenzori Mountains. Three endemic mammal subspecies are found in the Rwenzori, namely; Rwenzori colobus monkey (Colobus angolenis ruwenzorii), Rwenzori hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus ruwenzorii) and Rwenzori leopard (Panthera pradus ruwenzorii). (Henry et al, 2003, p.95)

There are thirty four species of reptiles within the Rwenzori Mountains. Nine of these are Albertine Rift Endemics. The Rwenzori three-horned chameleon (Chamaeleon johnstoni), as well as the very rare chameleon (Bradypodion xenorhinus) are confined to the Rwenzori Mountains. Recently, occurrence of the three-horned chameleon is reported to be more widespread within the Montane forest – occurring right from the forest edge up to within the bamboo zone. A temperature rise and accompanying expansion of Montane forest higher up is likely to enable this species colonize the new favorable habitats (UWA 2016, p.26).

The park is one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas (EBA). There are up to 241 species of birds which is about 27% of Uganda’s total. Close to 177 bird species live in the Afromontane forest and 19 species are endemic to the Albertine rift. The common bird species include the Ruwenzori turaco (Ruwenzorornis johnstoni), Bamboo warbler (Bradypterus alfredi), Shelley’s crimson-wing (Cryptospiza shelleyi) and four sunbird species, (i.e. Cynnyris regius, Nectorinia johnstoni, N. reichenowi and N. stuhlmanni). Other bird species include the dwarf honey guide (indicator pumilio), Grauer’s cuckoo-shrike (Coracina graueri), Lagden’s bush-strike (Maloconotus lagdeni) and ground robin (Cossypha archeri). There are many species in the lower zones but the density decreases with increasing altitude. The species include the Rwenzori turaco, a bright coloured red, green and blue bird with a strident cry (UWA, 2016, p.12).

About 24 restricted range species of butterflies have been recorded from the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Two restricted-range species of moths are recorded, namely the Hawk moth (Temmora scheveni) and the Silk moth (Lobobunaea ansorgei). The two species are characteristic of closed canopy forest. Any change in the extent of closed canopy forest is likely to affect them (School of Forestry, Environment and Geographical Sciences, 2013).

The challenges faced in the Rwenzori National Park are manifold. From wildfires especially in the alpine zone, to inadequate awareness on park policies, guidelines and conservation values; from landslides to melting glaciers affecting infrastructure, tourism, trails and traction. There are a number of illegal activities taking place in the park ranging from cutting trees inside the park, illegal entry, debarking of Prunus African, and unauthorized harvest of bamboo among others. Being a mountainous forested park, the forests work as watershed and protect the water catchment and therefore cutting them exposes the soils to erosion, impacts on the amount of rain received and increases evaporation of surface water which have dire consequences to the communities in the long run (UWA 2016, p. 34). Wild fires destroy the water catchment and undermine the water retention capacity of the bogs. Fires remain a threat in the alpine zones and bogs due to extreme dry conditions associated with climate change. Floods and landslides, triggered by torrential rains and compounded by melting of snow destroy tourism infrastructure and adversely affecting ecosystems (Kizza 2014, p. 15). Global warming being one of the challenges is causing retreating of glaciers, particularly in the tropics. By 1990, glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains had receded to about 40% of their 1995 record cover. The mountains provide vital water catchments for human and wildlife; such

changes could drastically affect wildlife species. The Mountain Gorilla, of which half of the world’s population is found in Uganda, is also under threat from climate change (Uganda National Adaptation Programmes of Action [UNAPA], 2007, p. 13).

Goodman Bwambale, an ecologist and tour guide, ascribed all the woes of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park to human activities when he said, “All that is happening is because of human activities like tree cutting, illegal encroachment on the Park land, and many others activities like poaching, and these have a ripple effect on how the environment responds, in a sense that often times we are experiencing constant floods and wild fires.”

For all that the Rwenzori National Park is and its environs, it is undoubtedly fit to be conserved before they are relegated into a less convivial atmosphere. In the pursuit of achieving this, the wealth of laws that are in place to address issues that are in relation to the environment, like the Wildlife Act, Cap 200 of 2000 should strongly be implemented, and public awareness about these legislations will also play a pivotal role when dealing with these challenges. Public participation while addressing these issues is also of great importance.

Joachim Mumbere, also a local resident of Kasese District says, “The accent should also be put on female participation when it comes to the issues that affect them and the environment they live in. It is not only selfish but also immoral to sideline women when it comes to these issues. So emphasis should also be on their participation if we are to reasonably protect and conserve our environment.”

The Rwenzori can be termed as a fragile environment that needs to be conserved or protected. Its terrains of steep slopes, dense Afro-alpine vegetation, unique flora and fauna all need to be protected against destructive human interference. Conservation is one of those words like development, ecology, and nowadays environment. These words connote the lifeline of human beings and their sustainability and survival (Henry et al, 2003, p. 9).

Reference List:

Guy, Y. (1989) Africa’s Mountains of the Moon. United States of America: Universal Books.

Henry, M.S. (1890) In Darkest Africa, London: Sampson Low.

Henry, O., Joy, T., Charles, B. and Jockey, N. (1998) Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. Kampala: Department of Geography, Makerere University.

Kizza, F, 2014, State of Conservation periodic Report for Rwenzori Mountains National Park, World Heritage Property, World Heritage Center, UNESCO, Uganda.

Uganda National Adaptation Programmes of Action, (2007).

Uganda Wildlife Authority (2016). Rwenzori Mountains National Park, General Management Plan, 2016-2026.

Uganda Wildlife Authority (2004). Rwenzori Mountains Conservation and Environment Management Project, 2004-2014.

School of Forestry, Environmental and Geographical Sciences (2013), Impact of Climate Change on the Species of Restricted Range in Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Submitted to Uganda Wildlife Authority, 2013.

The Keta lagoon is a wetland situated to the east of the Volta river estuary, about 140 km east-northeast of Accra, Ghana’s capital [1].

When you behold Keta Lagoon's beautiful scenery, you will marvel at the variety of birds, trees, insects, fishes, swamps and even grass around the lagoon. Believe it or not, something perceived as insignificant as the type of grass around a water body can determine the kinds of organisms that live in and around it. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the clothes we wear are all derived from nature and the complex processes that take place to sustain life on earth. That, my readers, is the whole concept of biodiversity (how diverse our ecosystem is).

The ecosystem is comprised of several types, of which the aquatic environment is a part, and within the aquatic ecosystem are resources such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, freshwater and marine habitats. Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty [2]. The Keta lagoon doesn’t fall short of these characteristics as it is an extensive, brackish water-body, with a depth and saltiness conducive for certain organisms to thrive. These features support a diverse array of plants and animals of immense importance to the productivity of the wetland.

Characteristics of the Lagoon

A wetland such as the Keta lagoon is considered internationally important if it meets the criteria outlined in the Convention on Wetlands [3].  Ghana is blessed with eight such wetland sites along its coast, namely Esiama, Elmina, Muni, Densu Floodplains, Korle, Sakumo II, Songhor and Keta Lagoons. These wetlands have been earmarked as internationally important wetlands due to the total populations and species of waterbirds they support [1] and also based on the nine characteristics mentioned in the Convention on Wetlands.  

Out of the eight wetland sites, through the Ramsar Convention in 1988 five were finally designated as Ramsar sites in 1992 [4]. These five were the Keta lagoon complex, Songor, Sakumo, Densu delta and Muni lagoons. The Keta lagoon is the largest among them. First of all, let us understand why they are called Ramsar sites. In 1971, a UNESCO convention called the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance for the Conservation and Sustainable use of Wetlands was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar, thereby acquiring the name Ramsar Convention and the designated wetlands have come to be known as Ramsar sites.

Importance

Now that we understand what a wetland is and why some wetlands are called Ramsar sites, let me give you an idea of just how important the Keta lagoon is. The population of plants and animals the lagoon supports does not only impact on biodiversity but are of economic importance to the inhabitants of the Keta community whose primary aim is to make a living. The dominant vegetation includes swamps, scrublands, and mangrove forests, which are heavily exploited by resident communities for fuel and commercial fishing. The site provides safe nesting grounds for certain threatened species of sea turtle, leatherback turtle, the green turtle, and it is particularly important for the Nile monitor and the vulnerable West African Manatee. It is considered the most important coastal wetland for birds in Ghana, and supports over 72 resident and migratory bird species [5].

I remember being part of the wildlife club back in primary school and had the opportunity to embark on a bird watching expedition. It was remarkable to watch these rare birds at sunrise.
All wetlands are beneficial in many ways. The benefits include a range of wetland functions, products and attributes. In terms of function, wetlands provide a source of water storage, flood prevention, groundwater recharge and discharge, retention of nutrients and stabilization of local climatic conditions, particularly rainfall and temperature. Products generated by the lagoon include: wildlife, fisheries, forest, forage and agricultural resources. Biological diversity and unique cultural and heritage features are some of the attributes of the lagoon. The combination of the functions, products and attributes gives the lagoon benefits and values that make it important to society [6].

The Keta municipality is inhabited by 147,618 people. The vast land mass area of 1,086km2, including the 12km wide and 32km long Keta lagoon and its resources serves as a source of livelihood for the community and its surroundings [7]. Fishing and vegetable farming remain the dominant occupations among the inhabitants.  Keta is a known destination for wood harvesting (for charcoal) and craft making [7]. The lagoon is also economically exploited for the production of salt [8]. Shallot farming [9] and petty trading are other economic activities that sustain the inhabitants of the Keta municipality.

Management

In terms of management efforts, Ghana was one of the four countries that signed the instrument of ratification which brought the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources into force in 1969.  Ghana is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat [11].

Way before conventions like CITES, our forefathers made numerous traditional conservation efforts. In Ghana, there are locally protected areas such as sacred groves (e.g. Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary) and other community initiatives (e.g. Mount Afadjato Community Forest Project) which contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation. Unfortunately, even though the traditional authorities play a critical role in in-situ conservation, no provisions have been made to formally accord them legal recognition and to include them in the conventional management regime of the country [11]. As far as traditional leadership goes, at a community level, there are days which have been set aside as taboo non-fishing days, indirectly helping to curb over-fishing. Such practices are usually observed on Tuesdays in many communities including Keta [12].

Challenges

Unfortunately, many activities have led to the deterioration of the Ramsar site either through poor conservation methods, or natural or anthropogenic disasters. For instance, following the construction of the Akosombo dam in 1961, the rippling effects experienced by the low-lying lands of the Keta area specifically the eastern side were wave action, sea level rise and lagoon water rise. These led to persistent coastal erosion which is now one of the major challenges faced in the area. The Todzie River fills neighbouring Avu lagoon during wet periods and subsequently overflows into the Keta Lagoon via several small tributaries such as the Aka and Kplipka streams from the north. The natural drainage pattern of the Keta lagoon has been affected by the construction of the Akosombo dam in a cascading manner in that, the dam, which is located upstream of the Volta River has led to silting and blockage of the channels that interconnect the lagoons [13]. 

Reduction in fishing activities in the lagoon is another dire consequence of the construction of the Akosombo Dam. The Keta lagoon has become more and more brackish over the past years due to prevention of flooding of the Volta River. Thus the Keta Lagoon does not receive waters from the Volta River, resulting in large salt production at the peripheries. On a brighter side, this explains the lucrative source of livelihood through salt mining for the Keta inhabitants. 

Rising sea levels have also led to severe erosion in Ghana’s coastal villages. The extent of the erosion is visible in the alarming rate at which hitherto thriving coastal fishing communities in the Keta Municipality are rapidly being washed away by marauding sea waves. Fuveme is one such community, which has become literally inaccessible without the use of a boat. Residents say, that the community was a few years ago about 5km away from the coast but now merely a few metres. The entire Keta Municipality is heavily hit by erosion and is estimated to be the place most hit by erosion in the whole of Ghana. The government of Ghana initiated the Keta Sea defence wall to protect the communities along the Keta coast.

Even though this measure is one sure way to curtail the increasing coastal erosion, it's overly expensive nature makes it unsuitable for the entire coastline. For instance, it was estimated, that an amount of $90 million is needed for the construction of every 10km of the defence wall. As a result of the hefty financial implication on a developing economy like Ghana, only three communities have been covered by the defence wall built at a cost of $52 million [14]. Aside the above, a living shoreline will help curtail the incidence of coastal erosion along the Keta lagoon. This can be done by planting of seaweed and thereby creating an environment that attracts sea creatures - with more life comes less erosion and subsequently restoration. Wind breaks will also be a great way to mitigate the force of erosion along the Keta lagoon, thus restoring the lagoon ecosystem.

There has been a reduction in land for agriculture, reduced soil fertility, consequently affecting yields and loss of coconut plantations [7].  These challenges have had an impact on job opportunities in the area. The lack of varied employment has pushed many people from the communities surrounding the lagoon into fishing for a living, resulting in intense fishing pressure and this has led to reduced fish catch, as well a reduction in waterbirds, possibly due to the hunting or trapping for game for domestic consumption. Waterbirds serve as indicators of environmental quality by their presence, abundance and diversity, [15]. By their reduction in number, this could lead to an imbalance of other organisms involved in the food web. The Keta lagoon has been cited as the most important wetland for waterbirds on Ghana’s Coast and forth most important waterbird site on the Gulf of Guinea Coast [16] together with Songor Lagoon. The site supported over 100,000 birds including waders, egret species, Himantopus species, etc. however, due to the incessant erosion in the area, this has clearly had a negative effect on the vegetation and fauna which together make the Keta lagoon habitable by these waterbirds which are migratory, thus contributing to their dwindling numbers and thus altering the biodiversity of the entire lagoon.   

An interview with Collins Ameho (an inhabitant of the Keta community) revealed that, the community faces many other challenges. According to Collins, one of the challenges is siltation in the lagoon. Apparently, due to this, the lagoon was dug out some years back and the sand was used to fill certain parts of the community, creating a township by the lagoon. “This left a deep trench in a portion of the lagoon which has now become a dangerous place to venture for fear of drowning”. Apparently, there have been some demarcations in the lagoon and some areas have been mapped for oil drilling and in mapping out the lagoon, trawlers dredge out some weeds around the lagoon causing fishes that hide in these weeds during spawning, to migrate, “thus fishing hasn’t been lucrative” [17]. Although oil drilling is yet to begin on the Keta lagoon, incidents in other areas such as the Niger Delta suggest imminent destruction to the ecosystem through inevitable and ill-managed oil spillages for instance. Not to mention organized crime by residents by reason of unfulfilled corporate social responsibilities of oil-drilling corporations which have usually led to communal dislocations in parts of Africa.

Keta Lagoon was once known for its thriving shrimp fishery as a result of the abundance of two particular species of shrimp Penaeus duorarum and Parapenaeopsis atlantica [18]. The Kedzi canal was responsible for the successful migration of these juvenile shrimps from the sea into the lagoon. Upon maturity, the adults were captured in the lagoon or during their migration back to sea. The flourishing shrimp fishery in the Keta Lagoon came to a halt after the closure of the canal by the then Public Works Department and the sand barriers of the sea. Destruction of the canal by natural and man-made forces has negatively affected the socio-economic status of the inhabitants as the source of livelihood through shrimp farming no longer exists. Although the canal was closed in order to reconnect a trunk road from Denu to Keta, I believe restoration of the Kedzi canal will vamp up fishing and trading activities which are the major sources of livelihood in the Keta area.   

Interventions

Inhabitants of the community also revealed, that the District Assembly makes a constant effort to sensitize the inhabitants about the methods of fish harvesting and future implications. They added that the Wildlife Division ensures the conservation of the lagoon by ensuring strict adherence to practices that prevent the destruction of plants and animals of importance. In doing so, the lagoon itself is protected.   

In the past, several other projects and interventions have been made towards, restoring the integrity of the lagoon and its resources; such as increasing sustainable vegetable production in the area. Another example of such a project is the “Regeneration, Sustainable Use and Management of Mangrove in the Keta Lagoon Complex Ramsar Site”. This project focused on the degraded lagoon due to mangrove over-harvesting, with subsequent negative impacts on fishing resources and the turtles’ breeding grounds [19]. Previously, there was no centralized body to deal with issues on sustainable use of mangroves in Ghana. Young mangrove vegetation of Rhizophora and Avicennia species scattered along the banks of the Keta lagoon, were cut down for fishing by community folks within the mangrove areas. This activity was known as the Acadja system [20] which was a threat to mangroves.

However, with the successful intervention of the sustainable use and management of mangroves project, this activity has been addressed although another socio-economic intervention aimed at improving the lives of the Keta inhabitants such as vegetable farming threatens the mangrove project. In areas where there is no sign of mangrove cutting, the presence of a vegetable farm is seen as a future threat as expansion of vegetable farms would mean conversion of mangrove lands into agricultural lands. Thus, even though the vegetable project is a positive intervention, to a certain extent, it has undulating effects and dire consequences to other sectors. 

 The Save the Seashore Birds Project- Ghana (SSBP-G) is also an intervention project which had the objective of changing the attitude of many Ghanaians towards wildlife, especially waterbirds, through education, public awareness and training [1]. This intervention was very successful at conserving seashore birds and their coastal wetland habitats in Ghana to the extent of reviving the then dormant Ghana Wildlife Society when the project ended [21].  All these were done in order to conserve the biodiversity of the Ramsar site.

In situations where in-situ conservation alone cannot secure the survival of the target species, ex-situ or off-site conservation interventions, such as Kumasi Zoo or Aburi Botanical Garden, are used as a last resort. Protected areas have been created with the purpose of ensuring that representative samples of the various ecological zones are set aside to facilitate in-situ conservation in Ghana [11]. The management of Ramsar Sites is interdisciplinary and usually, blends well with tourism.

Have you ever been to the Kumasi zoo or the Aburi botanical gardens? Next time you visit such places, remember that they are not just tourist attraction sites, but also off-site conservation establishments.

The present state of the lagoon

An inhabitant laments that the state of the lagoon for the past five years, hasn’t been good. “One can no longer get the resources they used to get from the lagoon, thus, people have resorted to using dynamites and cyanide to fish in recent times”. Local authorities such as chiefs and local government bodies have warned against these practices. Other issues such as illegal fishing gear and fish net size have been hot topics in the municipality. The chiefs go as far as on radio (Radio Jubilee, he emphasized) to educate the community on these issues. Collins adds, that sometimes water levels recede and at times, it overflows its boundaries and this isn’t just a result of the climate but due to receiving waters from River “Toji” in Upper Volta, and the Bagre Dam in neighboring Burkina Faso. Fish used to be in abundance because fishing was done with rudimentary gear in the past, but now, due to the frequency of fishing and the catching of fingerlings alongside mature fish, fish catch has reduced. 

Conclusion

The pivotal role relevant state agencies play in the area of conservation cannot be over emphasized. Their role would be incomplete in the drive towards conservation if the ordinary citizen holds back on their role. Thus the onus lies on you and me to do our part in conserving the biodiversity of sites like the Keta lagoon and many others.  Remember to get involved in biodiversity conservation on International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 every year.

References

Lamptey A. M., and Ofori-Danson, P. K. (2014) Review of the Distribution Of Waterbirds In Two Tropical Coastal Ramsar Lagoons In Ghana, West Africa. West African Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 22(1), 2014: 77–91.

UNESCO. (1994). Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Paris

Convention on Wetlands, Ramsar, Iran, 1971

Addo, C., Ofori-Danson, K. P., Mensah A., and Takyi, R. (2014). The Fisheries And Primary Productivity Of The Keta Lagoon. World Journal of Biological Research Vol.6 :(1 ), 2014

Ramsar Sites Information Service (2015). viewed 13 December 2018  https://www.ramsar.org/sites-countries/the-ramsar-sites

Finlayson CM, Gordon C, Ntiamoa-Baidu Y, Tumbulto J and Storrs, M. (2000). The Hydrobiology of the Keta and Songor Lagoons: Implications for coastal wetland management in Ghana. Supervising Scientist Report 152, Supervising Scientist, Darwin.

World Bank. (2018). Fighting coastal erosion in Keta area (English). West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program; case study no. 6. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

Wiegleb, V. (2016). A Literature Review on Wetlands in Accra. WaterPower Working Paper, No. 5. Governance and Sustainability Lab. Trier

Economic activities in the keta lagoon. Viewed 20 December, 2018. www.ghanaexpeditions.com › Home › Wildlife and Nature Reserves

Frans Lanting Qoutes, viewed, 27 December, 2018. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/frans_lanting_555261?src=t_biodiversity

National Biodiversity Strategy And Action Plan For Ghana (2014).

Kombat, E. O., Ameyaw, G. A., Asiedu, B., Amadu, A. A., and Solomon, N. J. (2017). Analysis of Adverse Impacts of Capacity Reduction Strategies on the Livelihoods of Smallholder Fishers in Ghana.

BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Area factsheet: Keta Lagoon Ramsar Site. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 21/07/2019.

www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36257360

Dankwa, H.R., Shenker, J.M., Lin, J., Ofori-Danson, P.K and Ntiamoabaidu, Y. (2004). Fisheries of Two Tropical Lagoons In Ghana, West Africa. Fisheries Management And Ecology 11: 379 – 386

 wikipedia.com (2019) Keta lagoon Downloaded from http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keta_Lagoon

C. Ameho. 27th December 2018, pers. comm.

FAO PART I. STATUS OF COASTAL AQUACULTURE IN AFRICA http://www.fao.org/3/ad794b/AD794B02.htm

Bojang (2009). The Relevance of Mangrove Forests to African L Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Resources. Nature & Fauna Volume 24, Issue 1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Accra, Ghana 2009. 

F.K.E. Nunoo and A. Agyekumhene. 2014. “Mangrove Cultivation and Management in Ghana: Issues and Options Report”. Improved Fish Smoking Project, Renewable Energy Sector, SNV Ghana.

GWS - https://www.ghanawildlifesociety.org/about/company-history

The day that Kenya will decide to have its own version of Mt. Rushmore, Sagalla Hill in Taita Taveta County will provide the prime location for such an undertaking. For those of you who may not have heard of Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, it is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a mountain that sits calmly in South Dakota, United States. The sculpture features the faces of four pre-eminent US Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

 

 

Although I have never been to Mt. Rushmore, I am told that it’s quite a spectacle. It would be really cool to behold such a spectacle at Sagalla Hill, a place I have visited many times since 1998 when I first set foot there. In mid-April 2018, I drove up Sagalla Hill and as I beheld its massive rocky terrain, I imagined faces of African heroes sculpted into these rocks. Circling these rocks like green sentries was an army of trees whose gentle sway in the afternoon breeze seemed to be giving me a warm green welcome.

As I soaked in the trees’ welcome, I told myself that if a huge sculpture of African heroes was to be carved out in Sagalla’s rocks, then Wangari Maathai’s face should definitely be among the first ones to be sculpted into Sagalla’s massive rocks. As should Thomas Sankara, the young President of Burkina Fasso who would have catapulted this west African country into greatness had an assassin’s bullet not taken away his revolutionary life. But apart from these well-known names, I would also love to see the faces of two other women up there with Wangari Maathai – Mama Dora and Mama Juliet. They are the Chairlady and Secretary of Mlilo Women Group respectively.

After spending a refreshing night at Nebo Cottages which sits calmly on top of Sagalla Hill and next to Sagalla Forest, I spent three hours with several members of Mlilo Women Group. They embraced me warmly and kept referring to me as ‘kijana wetu,’ our young man. Since I stormed out of my twenties years ago, I am not a regular recipient of this ‘young man’ tag, so it felt very refreshing to be referred to as such by these amazing women. I in turn referred to them as ‘Ma’ a testament to my Kiamu Swahili dialect which often resorts to ‘ma’ instead of mama.

Mlilo Women Group has been around since 2009 when it was founded by Mama Dora, a former secretary of Mwakichuchu High School. After her retirement, she brought together a group of about fifteen women and they began to perform traditional sagalla dances as a way of earning much needed extra revenue. Their dances were so good that they were invited to large events organized by the Taita Taveta County Government. One of those events was the War Memorial Event, which attracted hundreds of people and gave them widespread publicity. As a result, they started being invited to events in the neighboring County of Mombasa.  

“Well paying events are however rare, so we had to come up with other ways of earning money,” Mama Dora says with a warm smile.

She started shopping around for other opportunities and soon landed a leather tanning training for her group members. The training was organized by Taita Taveta Wildlife Forum. Another training a few weeks later focused on making bar soaps. After these trainings, they did some informal survey and realized that the quicker way of making money was to combine their leather tanning skills with weaving so that they could weave traditional baskets for sale to tourists and the local populace. This realization launched them headfirst into the traditional basket industry.

These baskets were handcrafted using fibre sourced from locally available African wild date palm. They were then dyed using natural dye from the wattle tree, which was also locally available. In utilizing such non-timber forest products, they were playing a role in conserving Sagalla Forest. This should definitely qualify them for some funding from all those billions that are pledged and raised for climate change mitigation and adaptation. But just like thousands of other similar women organizations across Kenya and Africa, the rift between them and such funding is so wide that it can’t even be bridged by the 165 kilometer long Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China, which is the world’s longest bridge.

Mlilo Women Group has since made dozens of baskets and sold some of them mostly to tourists.

“We however haven’t made much money from our baskets,” Mama Juliet the Secretary of the group says.

“We need a much wider market,” she adds with an almost resigned look on her face.

“I have the answer to your market woes,” I say to Mama Juliet and her colleagues. They are about ten of them, and they are crowded around me in their small office at Mwalangi shopping centre, Sagalla’s public transport terminus.  

As the middle-aged and elderly women look at me expectantly, I hand over my phone so that they can see the home page of Sasafrica.shop an e-commerce website that I had founded about one year earlier.

“What you are seeing on my phone is like a supermarket selling exclusively African products like your baskets,” I explained, “people from all over the world will be able to buy your products here. You will have your own online shop with information about you so that they can also get to know you more even as they buy your products.”

I took time to explain in depth about e-commerce and how anyone in the world can buy products on such a site.

I could see their faces lighting up and I returned their smile, determined to introduce the world to their amazing natural products. And to ensure that they also access the billions that are raised every year for forest conservation activities. Apart from being skilled basket weavers, they are also guardians of the utterly cool Sagalla Forest.

Kishuku!’ Rehema’s little seven-year-old sister cried excitedly as she raced from their reed-thatched houses towards the beach.

Test
 

Within minutes, the word, ‘kishuku,’ had spread throughout the sandy alleys of Wasini village, depositing dozens of kids on the sea shore to have a look at kishuku, as dolphin is known in Swahili.

Rehema worked with Sasafrica, a communications company whose office was hosted at Wasini Mpunguti Lodge, the biggest hotel and restaurant in Wasini Island. She gazed out of the office window and saw as children stood by the shoreline clapping their tiny hands and screaming happily as two dolphins jumped in and out of the water in their famous arc motions.

Children in Wasini Island grow up knowing that dolphins are human friends that should be celebrated. Local myth says that dolphins will rescue a drowning person only if that person has never tasted dolphin meat. But if that person has previously feasted on dolphin meat, then dolphins will not race to the rescue.

Wasini Island is one of the few places on Africa’s east coast where dolphins can be easily spotted as they dot the ocean surface with their famous arc. So common is this dolphin dance that Wasini can easily be designated as the dolphin island. These fish mammals are just part of Wasini’s immense marine ecosystem treasure.

As kishuku dives back into the warm salty waters, it dances gently, as if experiencing a soft tremor. Its big eyes are alert, scanning the vast blueness that it calls home. A number of dazzling fish species catch its eye.

Over there, next to a coral that resembles an anthill is a parrot fish, known in Swahili as pono. It is rowing its side fins lazily, in no hurry to get to wherever it is going. What a colorful fish! Its yellow stripes and yellow circles are set on a green background that is dotted with blue patches here and there. Around the black pupils of its eyes are shades of orange that give the impression of eye mascara.

Wasini Island’s Wavumba people consider squids to be aphrodisiacs and milk enhancers for lactating mothers. In this regard, both men and women love to devour them but for totally different reasons!

Kishuku shook his tail in wonder. That parrot fish kept changing its colors! Indeed, it is a fish that can even change its gender in the course of its lifetime.

It is easy to spot these colorful fishes because they inhabit shallow waters and are not big fans of the deeps. Their mouth resembles a parrot’s beak, hence its name. This mouth sometimes takes on a sneering semblance that irritates kishuku. For the ten years that he has lived in these Wasini waters, kishuku has seen hundreds of parrot fish, with some as big as five feet.

They feed on rocks and once these rocks are done with their digestive system, they are excreted as sand. A large parrot fish can produce as much as one ton of sand a year! Wasini’s parrot fishes should probably get some royalty from the island’s sandy beaches!

Kishuku is one of at least nine dolphin species that roam the waters of Wasini. He swam rapidly past the lazy parrot fish and almost bumped into several cuttlefish. The one in the lead had an unhappy look on his face. He seemed to be in a bad mood. Kishuku watched in amazement and amusement as the cuttlefish leader changed his color from a deep brown to a dark yellow! Indeed, this fish are the chameleon of the sea.

Kishuku swam on past the chameleon fish. Unlike the cuttlefish, he was in a good mood.

Wasini’s dolphins are free to roam wherever and whenever they want. This is why kishuku decided to approach the shallower waters of the beach. He needed a breath of fresh air, so with agile speed, he shot upwards, upwards, upwards and upwards until he burst beyond the ocean surface and lingered in the air, eliciting more shouts from children who always happened to see him whenever he strolled upwards.

A few minutes after tumbling back into the water, Kishuku came face to face with a large squid whose many arms were flailing around. More specifically, he seemed to be waving his eight arms and two tentacles. He was probably late for a date and had found his lady gone. Squid can change their color and patters nearly three dozen times. They therefore have a wide portfolio of designer looks that add beautiful intensity to the ocean deeps.

Wasini Island’s Wavumba people consider squids to be aphrodisiacs and milk enhancers for lactating mothers. In this regard, both men and women love to devour them but for totally different reasons!

Squids are declining, partly because of ever-increasing demand and partly because of rising temperatures, especially in the case of the big fin reef squid.

Before kishuku could count to three, the designer-clad squid had already sped off. It moves by jet propulsion and can move at speeds of up to 40km/hr. It would definitely give Usain Bolt a run for his money!

The racing squid flashed by the king himself. Kingfish. They prefer shallow coastal waters that are near the shore hence Wasini fishermen never have to go too far to capture them. This particular kingfish had the regal airs of a king – it was nearly half a metre long and had a smooth glistening texture. Just a short distance behind it was a group of little mackerels.

Just about the size of a big palm, little mackerels are as portable as they are potent. They are a major diet in Wasini and can often be found resting in sizzling oil all across small kitchens on the island.

Wasini Island is approximately 100 kilometres south of Mombasa, Kenya’s largest coastal city. It is a small island – five kilometers long and one kilometer wide. But what it lacks in size, it makes up in depth of culture and marine ecosystem versatility.

At the heart of this versatility are the gentle dolphins that make it Kenya’s Dolphin Island.  

I stared at the lobster in my hands as if it was an alien creature and not delicious seafood from the Indian Ocean. It was the tropical rock lobster, common on Africa’s East Coast. Its colourful outer exterior made it appear as if it was wearing one of those multi-colored coats that can be found in Nairobi’s vast Kikomba market, the paradise of second-hand clothes.

Before that moment, I had never seen a live lobster. Actually, before that moment, my mind couldn’t quite register how a lobster looks like. This was totally understandable, since for all my life, lobsters had never been on the dining table of any house or restaurant that I had visited. These dining tables instead consisted of beef and chicken all the time; lamb from time to time; ostriches and gazelles, a couple of times at Nairobi’s famous Carnivore restaurant.

"I do not go in search of poetry. I wait for poetry to visit me." Eugenio Montale

But lobster? Nope. Nunca. In fact, if you mention lobster to many of my friends, they will react with a puzzled – lob what?

The journey that brought the lobster into my hands had been long for both of us.

For me, it started in the small coastal town of Kipini. When I arrived there sometimes in 2006, I was mesmerized by its coastal tropical thrills.

‘That’s in Kenya?!’ I exclaimed to Caroline my Canadian former UNEP colleague and good friend.

‘You didn’t expect an army of palm trees to line up along a Kenyan road?’ She replied in her usual witty way.

Lobster 2Photo by axistravel

On either side of the gravel road, tall and medium sized palm trees stood silently, as if granting us a guard of honour. Behind them were other delicious trees that I had never seen before.

We were standing in the middle of a packed bus that had picked us from Garsen town about two hours earlier after we had waited for two hours before it finally hurtled into the dusty rustic town.

‘Wow’ this one word escaped my lips when I stared at the waters of River Tana gushing into the Indian Ocean. The brownish water that is a mixture of both salty and fresh water is known as brackish water.

Watching Kenya’s longest river finally emptying itself into the vast Ocean left me with a deep appreciation of nature’s astounding marvels.

Although that particular trip ended without any encounter with lobsters, it left in me a passion for Kipini that drew me back there a few years later when I learnt that Kipini was also a popular breeding ground for lobsters. By then I had founded Lamu Sea Food together with Mulhat my close friend from Lamu. Her tenacious and beautiful spirit became the young business’s greatest asset.

‘I just dive into the water and grab trapped lobsters,’ Faraj answered when I asked him how he fished for lobsters. His white beard and calm demeanour gave him the appearance of a wise aquatics professor as opposed to a seasoned lobster fisherman who had been at the game for two decades and counting.

Faraj was one of Kipini’s dozens of wavuvi wa lobster (lobster fishermen). They had an uncanny, almost magical ability to hold their breaths for extended periods of times as they dove into the salty waters to pluck lobsters from their hiding places.

‘This will cost you only eight hundred shillings ($8) per kilo’ Faraj said as he held out one particularly large tropical rock lobster towards me, ‘and that is a special price because you are a good-hearted person.’

A bad word almost jumped out of my mouth although I had just been praised as goodhearted. 

Instead of the curse, I settled for an exclamation, ‘what!’

I shook my head even as I smiled, ‘that’s too much my brother. That’s too much. Too much.’

Faraj frowned as if wounded that his generous offer was being tossed in the hot sand beneath our feet, ‘walk around this beach and if you are lucky to find lobsters, you will have to pay at least one thousand shillings ($10) per kilo!’

Earlier that morning, Kaimu my contact person in Kipini had given me a crash lesson in bargaining.

‘Always start as low as you can,’ the soft-spoken Kaimu had told me.

‘I will be buying lobsters from you for a long long time Faraj,’ I said, trying to entice him to lower the eight hundred shillings further.

But he artfully leaned on religion to rebuff me, ‘only God knows if we shall be there tomorrow, so let’s talk about today.’

 I ended up buying all the 33 kilos that Faraj at 800 shillings per kilo. He didn’t budge. But I was thankful that I had got a good bargain because just as he had said with a frown, the lobsters were hard to come by and if you did stumble on a lobster catch, you would have to part with 1,000 shillings per kilo.

That evening when I was back at Yellow House, my Lamu Island house, I discovered to my horror that in Maine, dealers buy lobsters for an average of $2! How is it that my fellow dealers in the world’s sole superpower were buying lobsters for prices that were four times cheaper than mine?

Read the answer to this last question in an upcoming article Lobsters – More Expensive in Kenya than the US

Dipped in deep, pristine evergreen, the misty Aberdare ranges loom over puffed grey clouds below the enormity of blue. From the nethermost, fresh creeks and streams spout and run full. The brooks curl and gurgle in hypotonic symphony through dense boughs, under forest floor where orange spills of sunrise hardly touch.

The forest air tastes like a cocktail of magnolia, mint, honeysuckle and vanilla, with abundant scent of moss. The cold tendrils of air provoke no scant goosebumps.A tribe of primeval trees with great arms sway with the wind like nature’s silent dance.

They are clothed in the green of every taste and none. Together with unheard cadences of birds, cheeky laughter of hyenas, hisses and seethe of fanged serpents. Together with elephant trumpets and primal grunts. Together with the howl, growl, the scowl and roar of lions, and dying shrieks and moans, of prey. Together with whistles of the wind, peals of thunder, dazzles of lightning and rainbow freckled showers, the Aberdare is alive with many a soul pulsating day and night.

The Aberdare is a ‘planet’ of waterfalls.  Waters tumble down beautifully and brutally, from mighty misty heights, as if being poured from massive pails that never empty, spraying the deep green-dark below. UNESCO (2010) lists three waterfalls: Karuru falls and Gura falls which plunges a misty pool from the opposite side; while Chania falls and Gura falls cascade into the yawning mouth of the Queen's Cave.

When  dark, heavy clouds are not hanging low, when rains are not weeping over the ranges, the Mau escarpments rear their craggy crown afar, while Lake Naivasha is seen sprawling far below, scintillated by beams of the sun like the finest of mirrors describes (UNESCO,2010).

Abedare was originally known as Nyandarua by the native kikuyu tribe. It means ‘the drying hide’ because its contours have features akin to the folds of a hide. (https://www.paukwa.or.ke/nyandarua/)

Aberdares ranges, is the home to Mt.Oldoinyo Lesatima -“the mountain of the young bull”, which has a maximum elevation of 3,999 metres (13,120 ft) above sea-level-the third tallest peak in Kenya. The ranges are 160 km long and have an average elevation of 3,500 metres (11,480 ft), describes (HoIberg et.al: pg .27, 2010)

The Aberdare ranges constitute the easternmost wall of the Great Rift Valley (which inhabits eight lakes), to the east of Laikipia plateau- a tableland that  slumber elegantly  in the day - like the pillows of  land.

Indigenous beliefs and the ecosystem, conservation

A mighty moss clad Mugumo has stood rooted at the very core of Aberdare National park since the haze of time. Its bark has valleys as if eons of time artistically chiseled it, rendering the tree a living sculpture. The feat of nature towers above Aberdare ranges, its massive branches spreading wide, and sways to the lyrics of the winds. It offers an idyllic repose to families of elephants and grazing herds of buffaloes and Zebras.

The Aberdare’s majesty tree habited once more than Zebras and hogs. It’s hollow and dark crevices was a secret base and ‘post-office’ for Mau Mau guerilla fighters. The commanders of two main battalions, symptathetic villagers and fighters in the wild mountains would leave each other epistles in the veil of dark-messages of triumph, of defeat and battle plans. The tree would be named Kimathi Post Office in reverence to their leader-Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi perfect hero and a man of valor. The crevices were what boxes are to post office. Through the 50’s, a time of carnage and darkness: the Age of Kenyan freedom war against the oppressive colonial rule, when the land was torn by bloodshed and the only law was the law of gory weapons, Mugumo remained a constant point of communication.

They Mau Mau fighters would scribble on a dry, softened animal hide using raw scarlet from their veins. The ‘post-office’ remained secret till the very end of war when a British soldier stumbled on it. The tree is now a protected monument which attracts hordes of visitors to Aberdare National Park (The Standard)

UNESCO (2010) states that the Queen's Caves found in Aberdares, were used by the Mau Mau fighters to preserve their meat. The Aberdare Range was named by -Joseph Thomason,a Scottish geologist and explorer who played an important part in the Scramble of Africa.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) divides the ecosystem into six management zones which are aligned with administrative district boundaries. KWS on its part has divided the ecosystem into four management zones (or sectors) that are largely based on ecological as well as tourism development considerations

The five distinct zones are: High Use Zone, Low Use Zone, Wilderness Activity Zone, Multiple Use Zone and Influence Zone which support acceptable land uses in the ecosystem. The land uses include tourism, biodiversity protection, and forestry and its associated uses, such as livestock grazing and plantation establishment states Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020

Bio Diversity of the Aberdare ecosystem 

Nkaegawa et.al (2012) found out that the Aberdares contain a rich diversity of vegetation. There are 778 vegetation and plant species, subspecies and varieties found in the Aberdare National Park. Hardwood trees include cedar, podo, hagenia and camphor.

UNESCO (2010)  explains that Aberdare ecosystem has four vegetation zones including subalpine vegetation, xeromorphic evergreen forest, montane humid forest, and submontane forest.The ecosystem is abundant with alpine and sub-alpine flora, including species of Helichrysum spp, Senecio spp  Lobelia spp, Erica spp, and tussock grasses, gives way at around 3,000 m to bamboo Arundinaria alpine and then montane rainforest (mainly Juniperus procerus-Podocarpus falcatus-Nuxia congesta forest on the western and northwestern slopes, ocotea forest on the south-east, and mixed Podocarpus latifolius forest on the east and on Kipipiri (Beentje 1990). Pockets of Hagenia forest occur in sheltered patches on the rolling moorland .

The Aberdares is home to 52 of Kenya's 67 Afro tropical Highland animal species. The rare species include the Bongo estimated at over 65 individuals in forest (KWS 2002), Leopard ,Black Rhinoceros African Elephant, (some 1,500 are resident:) and Giant Forest Hog and a population of Lions the African Golden Cat ,a rare species and Spotted Hyena, states KWS( 2005.)

 Endemic small mammals include Aberdare Mole-shrew and Aberdare Mole rat .The montane viper occurs only in Aberdares here and Mt Kenya (UNSECO, 2010)

KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020  lists  threatened, rare and endemic species ( e.g. Black Rhino, African Elephant, Hinde’s Viper, Mountain Bongo, Giant Forest Hog, Bush Pig, Aberdare cisticola, Sharpe’s Long claw, Wild Dog, Serval Cat, Leopard, Aberdare Shrew, Cedar forest)  Important Bird Area (IBA)  Montane Forest  Moorland  Bamboo forest

The Range has six of the eight restricted range species in the Kenyan Mountains Endemic Bird Area. Over 200 species are recorded in all, including African Green Ibis, African Cuckoo Hawk, Mountain Buzzard, Jackson's and Moorland Francolins, Hartlaub's Turaco and Cape Eagle-Owl. The Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird is found on the high peaks, forages largely on lobelias, while other montane sunbirds (including Tacazze, Golden-winged, Malachite and Eastern Double-collared) are common at slightly lower altitudes. The restricted-range Aberdare Cisticola appears to be locally common in tussock moorland.

Other vulnerable bird species found in the forest include Sharpe's Longclaw, Abbott's Starling, Aberdare Cisticola, Jackson's Francolin, Hunter's Cisticola, and Striped Flufftail (UNSECO (2010)

Indigenous knowledge of Aberdare ecosystem

The Aberdare forest is revered by the traditional kikuyu as God’s abode. Kikuyu oral traditions say that Mugumo tree is dwelling place for ancestral spirits. The tree is held with such superstitious awe, reverence, and fear and trembling .Traditionally, the Kikuyu would perform prayer ritual for the rains, fertility, bumper harvest and many children, says African Geographic.

Green economy

The Tana River, that run longest in Kenya swirling in its depth, East through jungle wide and Opaque, before turning south around the massif of Mount Kenya emanates from the Aberdare. . Tana River supplies water to the Seven Forks hydroelectric complex which yields over 55% of Kenya’s total electricity output, explains (UNESCO, 2010)

The ecosystem is additionally a water catchment for the northern Ewaso Nyiro River,Lake Naivasha; as well as the Ndakaini and Sasumua dam this bestows much of the water used in Nairobi.

Green Economy potential of the Aberdare

Aberdares as a water catchment for Major Rivers such as the Tana and Athi has potential for massive provision of water for increasing domestic need, irrigation and hydropower generation.

Conservation of varied of tree and plant species endemic in Abedare would offer climate Mitigation of climate change impacts (i.e. carbon sink)

Potential for Tourist hotels to harness the potential of archeological sites and religious shrines such as Mau Mau hideout caves, Kimathi Post Office, Queen’s cave.

The unusual vegetation, rugged terrain, streams and waterfalls combine to create an area of great scenic beauty in the National Park, which has tremendous potential for eco-tourism.

The ecosystem has potential, provision of non-wood forest products, states KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020

Challenges facing the conservation of Aberdare ecosystem

The ecosystem faces many direct and indirect challenges and threats mostly associated with human activities. These include illegal logging, charcoal burning, illegal livestock grazing and poaching. Forest fires, either accidental or deliberately set (especially by honey collectors), have destroyed or damaged large tracts of forest during recent dry periods.

The ecosystem is surrounded for the most part by intensive, small-scale agriculture. The low moorland has been severely damaged in recent years.

Forest destruction and degradation is the major threat to the site, through agricultural encroachment, illegal Cannabis sativa gardens, poaching of valuable trees and forest grazing of livestock. Human-wildlife conflict has long been intense around the borders of the National Park salient and the forest reserves.

Marauding animals regularly damage crops, and occasionally kill or injure people. On the moorland, the status of two of the threatened species - Sharpe's Long claw and Aberdare Cisticola - remains little known, and needs investigation(UNESCO,2010)

Gazetted forests are hampered by inadequate resources such as transport, funding and personnel. With the ban on the Non Residential Cultivation (NRC) in the early 1990’s and KFS’ lack of requisite human capacity to establish plantations, the end result has been backlogs in planting, weeding, poor plantation establishment and losses from game damage.

Tourism development in Aberdare is hampered by poor infrastructure, uncontrolled entry into the ecosystem, visitor security and lack of equitable benefit sharing among the stakeholders in the tourism sector (KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020)

Conservation efforts in the Aberdares

KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020 spells out biodiversity restoration and protection plans and ecosystem conservation efforts, comprising of -carrying out a feasibility study for elephant corridors through easements; strengthening existing monitoring systems and conducting priority research to provide information for adaptive management and protection of elephants and critical habitats; investigating impacts of predators on Black rhino; monitoring and protecting the status of the Black rhino population in the AE; collaborating with other stakeholders to enhance Bongo surveillance; evaluating the impacts of bush meat poaching on ungulate species; establishing the population status of carnivores in the ecosystem; carrying out a study on hyena-prey relationships; collaborating with other stakeholders to minimize siltation of Lake Ol Bolossat and downstream dams; and nominating the AE as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has additionally instituted Natural Forest Management Programme that addresses the threats that are impacting on the most important ecological features in the ecosystem, by; carrying out natural resource assessments; regulating utilisation of non wood forest products; establishing livestock carrying capacity; controlling charcoal burning and illegal logging; developing and implementing a forest restoration action plan; carrying out enrichment planting and lobbying for harmonisation of conflicting policies e,g. the forest act which allows grazing while water act advocates for protection of the water catchment.

The Farm Forestry management Programme aims at promoting farm forestry to increase tree cover for sustained timber, wood fuel, non-wood forest products and environmental conservation. As such, KFS has established a farm forestry programme to support farmers raise trees and forest products in their farms to ease pressure on gazetted forests. The KFS offers extension services in the influence zone through technical assistance to communities on nursery establishment, and advising farmers on suitable species for farm forestry, tree planting techniques and tree husbandly. This is according to KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020.

Citations

Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010) Abedare Range. Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.

UNESCO. (2010) Aberdare Mountains. Available from: https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5506/[,  [Accessed  3  Feb 2019].

KWS Aberdare ecosystem Management plan 2010-2020 Available from: http://www.kws.go.ke/sites/default/files/parksresorces%3A/Mt.%20Kenya%20Ecosystem%20Management%20Plan%20%282010-2020%29.pdf[Accessed 3  Feb 2019].

The Aberdare Mountain Ranges (Nyandarua Range), Africa: www.bootsnall.com . Rees. Melinda. [Accessed 2 Feb 2019].

The standard  (200)Secrets of old tree that was Mau Mau Post Office. Available  from https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000010787/secrets-of-old-tree-that-was-mau-mau-post-office[Accessed 5 Feb 2019].

Kenya wildlife Service [Accessed 4 Feb 2019].

Karangi NM( 2008) Revisiting the roots of Gĩkũyũ culture through the sacred Mũgumo tree.MM Karangi - Journal of African Cultural Studies, 2008 - Taylor & Francis\

https://africageographic.com/blog/kikuyu-elders-ask-tree-for-forgiveness/

Nakaegawa T., Wachana C. and KAKUSHIN Team-3 Modeling Group. (2012). "First impact assessment of hydrological cycle in the Tana River Basin, Kenya, under a changing climate in the late 21st Century," Hydrological Research Letters, 6, pp. 29-34.

Paukwa: Available from https://www.paukwa.or.ke/nyandarua/ [Accessed 2 Feb 2019].

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