It’s a cold morning in Nairobi as Kenyan citizens head to their respective jobs in a bid to build the nation. In the capital’s ‘Uhuru Park’ at the Freedom Corner Monument, hundreds of passionate people from all walks of life, ages and races are gathered for the morning briefing. Red t-shirts with the deCOALonize slogans are handed out, fliers are being distributed and two people are behind the megaphone addressing the avid listeners. Even the local hawkers and parking boys are getting curious
Freedom Corner is synonymous with groups of people gathering for different activities; women rights activists, political rallies, environmental activists and so forth. Today the group gathering here is the latter; environmental activists from Greenpeace Africa and its partners from deCOALonize. They are holding a peaceful march against coal investors who are have been flocking the country in recent years in a desperate bid to build the first coal-fired plant in Kenya’s coastal town of Lamu. This action is timely; a week ago the world commemorated World Environment Day whose theme was Beat air pollution.
It is 8:15 am, Greenpeace Africa volunteers are carrying the props that we have been making for the last two weeks; a makeshift coal chimney tower and two coffins to add to the dramatic flair and aid our slogan of ‘COAL KILLS. There is a lot of other things happening simultaneously. On my right I can see the press covering the event, talking to a few media liaisons from different environmental groups, protestors are taking pictures to tweet under the hashtags #BeatAirPollution, #CoalKills and #StopLamuCoal. Different placards with different messages but all against the Coal investments in Kenya are being distributed. Banners are being straightened out, dust masks are being worn as everyone gears up for the start of the procession.
As a Greenpeace Africa environmental activist and volunteer, I am acting as a route marshal today. It’s an interesting yet hectic responsibility; ensuring order is maintained and that everyone is following the correct and safe route in our procession. Together with the other marshals we ensure that the protestors are aligned correctly as we start the walk.
As I look around, I see red t-shirts and yellow placards and a smile here and there. I am excited and a bit tense as is the case with everyone else. Excited with the feeling of hope, knowing I am about to be part of something great in my country. We walk down to the Ministry of Energy at Nyayo House, chanting slogans of ‘coal kills’. We seem to capture the attention of almost everyone in the city as we get cheerful nods and thumbs up of keep up the good work.
As we approach the Ministry of Energy gates, we slow down, put down our props and read a statement to the press. The same document is presented to the Cabinet Secretary, Honourable Charles Keter. After a couple of minutes and having done what we came to do there, we leave the coffins of “coal kills’’ at the fence of Nyayo House as we head up valley road to Hurlingham for the Chinese embassy.
By this time, the sun is out, people are a bit tired but our spirit is still high. We climb the hill whilst holding our placards and peacefully chanting the slogans. As we turn at the Hurlingham roundabout, there is a bit of tension with the traffic police but nonetheless we persevere. The police deter us from marching to the Chinese Embassy. A few of us are able to proceed to the Embassy to deliver the letter.
By now, the media has captured our message, some are broadcasting our march live. The message is out there loud and clear that coal burning is the number one source of air pollution worldwide. Coal is damaging people’s health through air pollution, using up and polluting scarce water resources and contributing to the climate crisis.
Having come to the end of our march, we happily disperse knowing that we have done our bit for Mother nature. I am very proud to be part of the change makers our country needs. Together with fellow volunteers, we continue the conversation on social media and the next morning major news outlets around the world have broadcasted the ‘COAL KILLS’ march.
As a result of the campaign activities by deCOALonize, Communities, Greenpeace Africa and other partners, the government makes a pronouncement to delay the project for 5 years. Together with fellow volunteers, staff and coalition partners we will soldier on. We will not relent until the project is completely cancelled.