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August 2020
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A Better Day for Kenya Has Come

Nairobi, Kenya –Kenya’s capital derives its name from the Nairobi River, which was called the Nyirobi by the Maasai community who inhabited this area during the post-colonial era. It was a place of cool, fresh water and a great, life-giving spring for those who lived in the surrounding area.

The Nairobi River is considered to be a unifying factor within the Nairobi province. It flows through and serves all the constituencies. Unfortunately, poverty, ignorance, and general mismanagement have made the river, which was once the pride of Nairobi, a disgrace, and tens of thousands of individuals gathered on Aug. 29, 2008, to clean the banks of the Nairobi River flowing through the Kenyan capital.

Over the years, the population of the city has increased immensely; with the widespread informal settlements mushrooming daily, one consequence is the degradation of this formerly dependable source of fresh water into an open sewer. The Nairobi River network touches all of the notorious Nairobi slums. It is littered with all kinds of environmentally hazardous substances as well as raw sewage from the communities living along its banks.

Global Peace Festival-Kenya identified the cleaning of this river as its major impact project and mobilized the surrounding communities, stakeholders, government officials, and local authorities for the restoration of this resource.

Every night, heaps of additional waste are brought in by unregistered trucks, an illegal dumping problem that officials took no notice of. It is a sorrowful state of affairs that continues almost daily along several parts of the river. Repulsed by the thought of wading into the raw sewage and stench to pick up sodden garbage and put it into bags, most citizens of the city have long been holding their noses and looking the other way.

The choice of the Nairobi River Cleaning Project as part of this year’s GPF-Kenya came from the Global Peace Festival dream of “One Family under God” rooted in living for the sake of others.

Ten segments of the river were earmarked for cleaning, with the neighboring communities and institutions called upon to own up to their contributions to such degradation of the environment and take responsibility to restore it. Hundreds of partners signed memorandums of understanding that made them integral parts of the success of the exercise.

Sometimes help came from unexpected sources. For example, the Dagorati Slaughter House, one of the main meat-processing companies in Kenya, had been closed a week earlier by the Minister of Environment and the National Environmental Management Association (Kenya’s environmental watchdog) due to their regular spillage of waste into the rivers. Being out of work, the temporarily unemployed slaughter house workers responded enthusiastically to GPF’s call to help protect the environment. They all joined in cleaning the river on August 29, and a few days later the slaughter house was reopened.

Thousands of individuals gathered on August 29 to clean these ten sections of this 18-kilometer landmark. Some of the clean-up crews encountered the bodies of infant children, apparently put into the river by slum dwellers without the means to afford proper burial. Others reported a stream of unlicensed dump trucks pouring garbage directly into the river. “More than hard work will be needed,” said project coordinator Parterne Lin Sosie. “We need a complete change of heart in our leaders and ourselves.”

Local MP Hon. Ferdinand Waititu promised his Embakasi constituents that he would work to bring the resources and the political support needed. “This is an important development,” said David Anderson, a fellow MP visiting from England. “We elected officials must support the aspirations of our people.” He marveled at the local response to the invitation to help. “It was almost like a biblical thing. People came from nowhere, as if they were God-sent.”

An organizing committee of young people from a dozen strategic partners representing all sectors of the society was constituted in the spring. Each committee member generated support within his or her networks. Various schools, colleges, churches, and business communities within and around the clean-up areas were also earmarked as mobilization points. Letters and calls were made to offices whose participation was essential. The city administration, the administrative police from the office of the President, and government ministries were also contacted.

An initial cleanup of a portion of the river was done on July 12. The day dawned bright and warm. People showed up as early as 7:00 a.m. ready to begin cleaning. They came from youth groups, women's groups, churches, businesses, and the general public. Tools, gloves, and cleaning equipment were distributed as people arrived. Division of labor made the work easier and more effective. Some people removed the various impediments while others cleared the banks of the river. Even more people carted the debris to collection points where the trash and discarded items were bagged and loaded into the disposal trucks donated by the city council.

Nearby communities, businesses, local government offices, and the news media have expressed a deep commitment to see the Nairobi River rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of the river is a key objective of the UN Environment Programme and the Kenyan government, and it will be GPF-Kenya's ongoing project through 2012.

The challenge will be to sustain interest in restoring the river to a state of cleanliness and health. Enforcement of sanitation laws will be necessary at all levels. Care must be taken to collect trash on a regular basis. The hundreds of tree seedlings that were planted along the river banks to prevent erosion will need protection while they grow to be a reminder to all of the great service project that was done during the Global Peace Festival of 2008.