Chopping trees to plant billboards: Activists put politicians on the spot

A tree stump chopped

A tree stump: Kenyan politicians have been put on the spot after trees were felled to make way for their billboards. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

A number of trees across the country have been cut down and replaced with huge billboards bearing the images of politicians, even as Kenya steps up its efforts against climate change to conserve the environment.

For instance, a fortnight ago, huge trees were felled to make way for billboards bearing the image of Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui at Gati Iguru area. A spot check by the Nation also found trees in Naivasha that were felled to make way for the governor’s campaign billboards. 

Lee Kinyanjui billboard kisumu

A billboard bearing the image of Lee Kinyanjui next to a tree that has been mutilated. 

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

An independent journalist and environmental activist, Mr James Wakibia, has now put the county boss on the spot for the move.

Another activist, Shiko Kihika, reckons the county should be held responsible and forced plant at least ten more trees to replace what was destroyed.

“Given the environmental issues Kenya is facing, we see no interest from any of the political camps when it comes to environmental matters at a time when global warming is a worldwide concern,” the funder of Tribeless Youth told the Nation in an interview.

The Nation reached out to Mr Kinyanjui’s official communications team but was directed to Mr Timothy Kiogora Muriithi, the Chief Officer Environment, Energy and Natural Resources in Nakuru County, who said that the governor was not to blame despite the adverts bearing his image. 

“The governor is just a client and so we are dealing with advertising companies cutting or defacing trees to place their billboards or advertisements. It is becoming a huge problem…we are dealing with it by investigating all the incidents of cutting or mutilating trees which are being done at night. Sadly, not even logs or branches are left behind,” he said, although he declined to name the advertising firms under investigation.

“Investigations are ongoing and at this point they are just suspects,” he added.

Lee Kinyanjui billboard kisumu

Trees whose branches were cut to enable visibility of campaign material at Kikopey in Gilgil, Nakuru county, on July 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Kisumu

Anyang' Nyong'o billbord kisumu

A billboard bearing the image of Governor Anyang' Nyong'o next to a tree that has been mutilated on July 18, 2022. 

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

Meanwhile, in Kisumu County, trees are either being cut down or trimmed midway so that they are not standing in the way of Governor Anyang' Nyong’o’s campaign billboards.

A spot-check by the Nation found a billboard bearing a campaign photo of the Governor standing adjacent to DTB Bank along Oginga Odinga Street. A few metres away is an indigenous tree, but its branches were trimmed to pave way for better visibility of the poster. 

The felling of trees once again brings to the fore the conflict between commercial interests and environmental degradation. While outdoor advertising companies want to protect their businesses, conservationists argue that the environment should not be a casualty in the quest for profit or infrastructure. 

Trees play a big role in cities: Aside from aesthetic value, they are vital for keeping the air fresh by absorbing carbon monoxide and releasing oxygen. They are also home to several bird species such as marabou storks. 

In November last year, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) was forced to abandon plans to cut down an iconic fig tree along Waiyaki Way, a move that was meant to pave way for the expressway. Upon catching wind that the huge tree, which stands almost 12 metres high with wide branches spreading above Mpaka Road and Waiyaki Way junction, would be felled, residents and conservationists took to the streets in protest.

Road projects along Mombasa Road have also seen the disappearance of many trees and along with them, the marabou storks that roosted there.

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