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The Diplomatic Theft of Kenya's Plants

By October 03, 2022 0

Lusaka’s (Not his real name) food was untouched as he told me about the high drama that took place in the 90s in a certain Forest Research Institute. At the time, he was a young man in his early twenties and was working at the Institute. More than thirty years later, he is now a seasoned expert at UNEP, the world’s premier Environmental Organization. Pardon this secrecy. The position he holds at his current employer doesn’t allow him to reveal his identity. But I swear he is real, not imagined.

“They would cart away plant samples from forests like Kakamega Forest in their diplomatic luggage,” Lusaka told me and paused. He looked pained, and for a while, I thought he would shed a tear. He didn’t, but proceeded to explain in some detail how the Kenyan Government closed down the European-led research after it got wind of the diplomatic theft of Kenya’s plant samples.

The long and short of Lusaka’s story is this: in the 90s, a European Country set up a research shop in a Kenyan research institution. It proceeded to provide research funding, four-wheel-drive vehicles and a host of research equipment. Once research began, the Europeans who were leading the research ran a tight shop and kept their Kenyan colleagues mostly locked out of their research mission and findings. Unbeknownst to them, some of the local colleagues discovered that they were misusing the cover of diplomatic immunity to ship Kenyan indigenous plants out of the country. Consequently, the Kenyan government shut down their research mission despite their threat to cut research funding to the institution and take away all the four-wheel-drive vehicles they had donated. True to their word, after their research licenses were cancelled, they ferried away everything that they had brought.

I love to eat. So despite the shock of Lusaka’s story, I continued chomping down the lamb chops that were on my plate. The spinach was lukewarm, so I would carefully navigate around it and zero in on the mutton. But I was shocked that such diplomatic theft of our natural resources could actually take place.

Our natural resources, our indigenous plants, are our priceless wealth. We must value them as such and do everything possible to protect and propagate them.

**

Biopiracy is defined as the theft of genetic resources from a locality without the knowledge of the natives.

The Mwingo Tree was a sacred one in Sagalla. Worship was often conducted under this tree. This tree is among the hardest species ever. It is so hard that it was once used as a substitute for steel in the construction of railway sleepers. Tragically, its high quality hardy nature proved to be its downfall. The British colonialists felled it down en masse and transported it to the UK to make royal furniture. The colonialists are said to have planted exotic species in the place of the Mwingo tree that they had pillaged.

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