We should all strive for a green East Africa

Let me start with a confession: green is my favourite colour. I have so many green clothes that sometimes I feel like it is some sort of uniform. Therefore there was no way I was going to miss the news that put green and Rwanda in the same sentence.

Let me start with a confession: green is my favourite colour. I have so many green clothes that sometimes I feel like it is some sort of uniform. Therefore there was no way I was going to miss the news that put green and Rwanda in the same sentence.

According to World Travel Guide, an international travel guide, Rwanda is among the top three greenest tourist destinations in the world. Rwanda came up in a list of 20 destinations that also included Chumbe Island in Tanzania. With Rwanda and a bit of Tanzania making the list, we can conclude that at least East Africa was well represented in these ‘green Olympics.’

I have not been to Chumbe Island but I have lived in Rwanda long enough not to doubt the country’s membership to the above club of green destinations. In this era of environmental degradation in all ways imaginable, it is commendable that countries like Rwanda have put in the effort to remain as environmentally friendly as possible.

Last year while touring Akagera National Park I witnessed something that remained etched in my mind. As we drove around the park, one of the people in the tour van beckoned the driver to stop. I thought he wanted to show us another rare animal that had eluded our sight before.

Instead he opened the door and walked out to pick up a plastic mineral water bottle that had been thrown in the grass by a park visitor.

This act by Eugene Mutagana, the park’s head of law enforcement was proof of how serious the park management was with ensuring that the park remains as natural as possible. Although the park has clear environmental guidelines, some still break the rule and throw trash anywhere they find because they are in the wild.

Outside the parks, Rwandans have a day set aside each year for tree planting. A drive around the countries roads, especially outside the city, is punctuated with the sight of undulating hills and trees. So many trees have been planted over the years and the country keeps becoming greener each year since haphazard cutting of trees in illegal.

Another trick in the bag that Rwanda has employed is the strict regulation of the use of polythene bags. The common polythene bags that are used by shoppers are totally banned in the country and many first time visitors always go back with tales of how the strict border control officers made them leave their polythene bags at the border.

Actually it is quite easy to tell who is a new visitor to Rwanda or who never bothered to read about the country before embarking on their journey by noting who gets reminded to remove things from the polythene bag to place them in a paper bag.

Uganda’s National Environmental Management Authority has in the past week been enforcing the ban on use of polythene bags that came into force mid this month. The move has faced some resistance and a lot of scepticism from people who can’t imagine life without the ubiquitous kaveera, as the bags are commonly referred to in Uganda.

Those who doubt whether Uganda should go ahead with the ban are often quick to point at European countries that still use polythene shopping bags. These doubting Thomases forget that the European examples they give are of places where recycling is a huge industry and the people already have a culture of sorting their trash to ease the work of those who go on to recycle some of it.

Back here in East Africa, recycling is barely an industry worth talking about. The rate at which we carelessly dispose polythene bags and plastic bottles is very worrying for countries that rely on agriculture. These polythene bags have blocked our drainages, lowered the fertility of our soils, killed our livestock when swallowed and generally made our cities and towns like experiments in filth.

Rwanda made the right choices and has reaped good green fruits from its actions. It would be great if other East African countries gradually followed the same steps and slowly by slowly we create a green region that is more environmentally conscious.

We should all strive to manage our trash better, plant trees annually and cut down on industrial and motor vehicle pollution. We need both laws and basic personal discipline to achieve this but future generations will be grateful that we tried.

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