Sometime in the year 1980 year several events occurred that would eventually shape the narrative of forest governance in Kenya.
In one of the Nairobi suburbs, a boy would be born and christened Claude Bernard Muthee Kamau. According to his mother, he had a way with people even from a tender age. There is this particular incident where a young boy from the neighborhood would come in his pajamas in the morning to their home and wait for Bernard who would be at school until late afternoon. He would turn out to be a gregarious outgoing, good looking and brilliant legal mind.
Around the same time in another suburb, a young under grand, in the Veterinary Department of Nairobi University, also known up upper Kabete, would have an encounter with Prof. Wangari Maathai. Quoting from a book he has co-authored he writes “Prof. Maathai taught my histology class between 1979 and 1980. During this time she was involved in environmental matters in ways, I neither knew nor could have understood then”.
In the same year, Prof. Maathai would be turning forty, she had been in a small village in the then Nyeri district. Following an efficacious academic journey, she had joined the University of Nairobi’s Department of Veterinary Anatomy and History as a lecturer on 1st Of April 1969.
As these events were unfolding she had been at the university for eleven years. Some fifty years later, only a week to the day, we would converge at VET Lab Golf Club which is within by the University’s Upper Kabete Campus complex.
On this occasion we were launching the first ever, paperback publication to come out of Prof. Wangari Maathai Institute of Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI) titled “Forest Resources Utilization, Livelihood and Conflicts” FRULC.
She had eventually left the University in 1982 to pursue politics and environmental activism and her illustrious political and environmental career was eventually crowned with The Nobel Peace Prize which she won in 2004. Her work through the green belt movement had allowed her to get involved both with the grassroots actors as well as academia.
In mid-2008, conversations started with the university on how she could use her vast practical experience and gravitas to inspire the students. She shared on how she found a disconnect between the quality of graduate students and the field of study they were expected to work in.
“When she hired graduates at the Green Belt Movement, she realized they lacked appreciation of the reality of nature, environment and people, all of which were necessary for them to succeed in their employment. Thus she saw the need to have interdisciplinary approaches espoused in the University through an institute” (F.R.U.L.C).
In December 2009, this dream came true when the Nairobi University’s Council established the institute, forty years after she had first joined university. Her vision for the institute was to train transformational leaders who would bridge theory with practice in the fields of peace and environmental governance and its linkages with democracy.
The occasion was both an auspicious and solemn one, because although Prof. Maathai’s spirit had finally come home, the death of Bernard Muthee five years earlier would also be commemorated and here they would be in communion. Prof. Raphael Wahome who had been in Prof. Maathai’s 1980 class and one of the founder professors of WMI was here to bear witness to this convergence of spirit.
Bernard had quit a promising career in law only eight years into practice to become an advocate of the environment and join a short list of doctoral scholarship beneficiaries of the institute in mid-2012. He had suddenly become obsessed with environmental law and governance as if the spirit of Prof. Maathai was upon him. Completely immersed in his studies he challenged and engaged his fellow scholars on governance matters, indeed this is what Prof. Maathai had envisioned, an interdisciplinary meeting of minds. Unfortunately, he passed on in late 2014 one year to the expected date of his graduation. In certain ways, his life had mirrored that of the professor both intellectually and emotionally.
As we converged to launch the publication, the output of years of research by scholars from different disciplines and coordinated by two universities, University of Nairobi and University of Copenhagen and with contributions from The Green Belt Movement, Kenya Forestry Research Institute(KeFRI) and generous funding from DANIDA the spirit of Prof. Wangari Maathai was indeed finally coming home.
The book was the climax of a project which along the way had benefited communities and actors around forest resources within the Mau Complex though training and interventions. The beneficiaries included; KFS, KWS, NEMA, Local Authorities as well as Community Forest Associations. The book also makes a raft of policy recommendations for containment and prevention of future forest resources related conflicts.
This got me reflecting upon my own life and the kind of legacy I would like to live behind. What kind of inspiration would others would draw from my life and what sacrifices would I need to make to achieve this? Indeed life is both a personal and communal journey and this my readers is the second lesson of leadership; that of building a legacy. The journey will be long, audios, uncertain at times and fraught with barriers, ultimately it will all fall into place in the fullness of time.