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From Saka to Sangailu, Dadajibula to Dadaab: Destruction of Indigenous Trees Will Destroy Livelihoods.

10271493_931970446879143_6755587586617957037_n                                                     Doqon ma waaye in its heydays

By Mohamed Haji and Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir

As the new-year kicks-in many will make new-year resolutions. It is our hope that protecting our environment will be one of our solemn duties to undertake this year.

For many years we have been cutting down our trees and depleting our forest to create a home, earn a living or even house our animals. Many landmark trees have either succumbed to the vagaries of nature or come under man’s attack. Doqon ma waaye, a landmark acacia in the village of Saka, Balambala sub-county ‘died’ few weeks ago. It was over 300 years old and had seen too many people grow and die. It had witnessed our trials and triumphs; our successes and sorrows. When it ‘died’ on 24th December 2015, it felt like we lost a relative. Doqon ma waaye was home to many; it was the market and the natural choice for public information and education. Many children were immunized under its shade, lots of school and hospital data generated by aid workers and community leaders under its protection and conflicts resolved over cups of tea under its shelter.

Even as we mourn the natural ‘death’ of doqon ma waaye, many other stories are emerging of the loss of the much valued acacias. Sadly though these are lost through man’s actions.As pastoralists, we are people dependent on the environment but we seem not to care to conserve it. Planting trees is not often a priority. Cutting trees for commercial purposes is now the trend. Charcoal burning is big business and people prefer the acacia charcoal. It is regrettable that as the world is coming together to address climate change, we are cutting our treasures further depleting our sparse vegetation of the land.

Demands on the land for economic development and pressures from increasing population are leading to unprecedented change of our landscape. This results in loss of land productivity that is already having adverse impacts on livelihoods and the economy. The cascading effect is food insecurity and poverty. The ensuing clan clashes in many parts of the country are as a result of environmental destruction that is exhausting available productive land. Resource-based conflicts are increasing by the day and the sporadic rainfall is no longer ‘predictable’. The ordinary four different seasons are no longer dependable as the jilaal often extends to months or even years.

It is a no-brainer that environmental degradation caused by adverse climate change is catalyzed by destruction of the trees leading to the devastation of ecosystems and extinction of wildlife.

The days of Panda miti are sadly long gone but must be revived, fully funded by both the national and county governments and environment dockets prioritized in budgetary allocation. The suggestion of the president that celebration of Holidays such as Mashujaa days will rotate across the counties is welcome and the focus must be on afforestation, tree planting and general education on safeguarding the environment for us and for future generations. Every one of us wishes to bequeath a better future for posterity but destroying the environment is counter to that wish.

Amidst the arena of destruction, however, are people who are the little humming birds, the fable shared by the late Wangari Maathai in her effort to encourage all to save our forests. The tale of one mother’s relentless cries over the cutting of acacia is something to be proud of. Mama Habiba Digale Yarrow of Dadaab sub-county is deeply hurt by the senseless felling of indigenous trees which she terms as the wanton destruction of our environment. She raises her concerns at every opportunity. In every single baraza and gathering, she seizes the opportunity to point out the need to stop the greed that leads to the destruction of our environment. In her own way she has been fighting the desolate destruction of the priceless trees that formed part of our landmarks and fond memories. For instance, abaq calaan was the acacia she was born under. The day she discovered it was cut, she cried. “I did not cry like that even when my dad died” she says. “I was pained beyond words when I found ash in place of the gigantic acacia” she recollects. She just held onto the ash and cried. She understands the importance of growing trees and saving the environment. However it appears to be a lone voice in the boondocks of a carefree felling of trees that will continue to diminish our forest. She is for the good of us all and must be supported. Together with other women of Dadaab, they have songs to convey their displeasure. A popular one goes:

Kamashk iyo mareerkiyo
Mirihii la guranjiray
Muruqaa la sibee
Maxaan maali doonaa?

Mama Habiba gives an analogy to highlight the importance of protecting our trees;

Wajiga waxaa qurxiya afka. Afkane waxaa qurxiyaa ilkaha.Dulka ilkahiisa waa geedaha. (The beauty of the face is borne by the mouth and the beauty of the mouth is borne by the teeth; the teeth of the earth are the trees). She is the lone voice of reason in a world gone mad and cutting trees.

We must as a community embrace conservation measures and start protecting the rare gems. In every village and every corner of our Northern Counties we have treasured landmarks that must be protected. Doqon ma waaye is sadly gone. So is abaq calaan. We should not loose golool dheere in Ijara sub-county or any of the other landmarks. Many villages were named after particular trees such as Abaq Korey, weel-cilaan, Hagar dheer, weelmareerto, shanta Abaq to name a few. This naming of villages after trees signifies that we have been in existence with them for a long time; that they hold a special place in our culture. Conflict resolution conferences and other important events were usually held under a tree.

We have to join hands and stop the destruction of our fragile environment. We need to seek other alternatives of livelihoods and understand the serious repercussions that may result from our quest to meet today’s needs that often puts our futures in a cul-de-sac.

Let us make 2016 the green year!

Maryam and Mohamed are NEP Journal columnists. You can follow them on @MaryamDeeqa and @Mwhaji

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