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How Green is My President? William Ruto: a president who would turn Kenya "green"

How Green is My President? William Ruto: a president who would turn Kenya "green"

At November's COP27 conference in Cairo, the first to be held in Africa, the spotlight will be on the continent’s political leadership, which has to provide the political will to catalyse investment and adopt climate-friendly strategies and projects. Kenya’s new president says Africa must take charge of its destiny to deliver a green future.

By Emily Chebet, bird story agency

“…So help me God!” said Kenya’s fifth President, William Samoei Ruto, in conclusion as he held the Bible aloft during his inauguration at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, on September 13, 2022.

The four words were drowned by a deafening roar throughout the 60,000-seater venue as supporters cheered for a man who had become the focus of unity for many of Kenya's powerful political and business elite and its humble citizenry. On this day, international diplomats and the free-spirited were at hand to witness the change of guard in the country's political leadership.

The weather, in a departure from the previous months when it had been glum and cold, had turned warm and inviting and the emotion-drenched audience cheered a moment of sunny expectation.

Under the sheltered canopy, dignitaries sat in silence, some with expressionless faces, some smiling and others fidgety as they paid attention to the new president’s speech titled: A Kenya for Everyone!

In laying the path ahead for his administration, Ruto, whose PhD thesis was on the Influence of Anthropogenic Activities on Land and Environment Quality of Saiwa Wetland Watershed, Western Kenya, said climate change would be a central concern for his government.

“Among the central concerns of my government will be climate change. In our country, women and men, young people, farmers, workers and local communities suffer the consequences of climate emergency,” he said.

How Green is My President? William Ruto: a president who would turn Kenya "green"

“It is not too late to respond. To tackle this threat, we must act urgently to keep global heating levels below 1.5C, help those in need and end addiction to fossil Fuels.”

Ruto declared that Africa has the opportunity to lead the world in mitigating climate change impact, especially in the use of clean and renewable energy.

“We have immense potential for renewable energy. Reducing costs of renewable energy technologies make this the most viable energy source,” he said.

He also said he would lead Kenya, the home to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), in transitioning to clean energy to support jobs, local economies and sustainable industrialisation.

“We will lead this endeavour by reaffirming our commitment to transition to 100 per cent clean energy by 2030. We call on all African states to join us on this journey. As members of the international community, we shall support a successful Climate Summit in Africa in November, by championing the delivery of the finance and technology needed for Africa to adapt to climate impacts, support those in need and manage the transition,” he said.

Kenya, like other countries in Africa, has borne the brunt of climate change with prolonged droughts, flooding and irregular rainfall patterns.

The consequences of this phenomenon are a reality to many Kenyans, who have witnessed the loss of lives and the destruction of property in environmental calamities such as droughts, locust invasions, flooding and recently, the rising water levels of the Rift Valley lakes.

The capacity to confront these challenges has in recent decades been undermined by reluctant political will, specifically to protect the country’s water towers from encroachment, provide adequate financing for impact-reduction activities (like the provision of water points) and increase public awareness of the nexus between livelihoods and climate change.

These are the gaps to which Ruto who during his tenure as Agriculture Minister in the administration of the late Mwai Kibaki administration championed smart agriculture, has now pointed.

Ruto is himself a farmer in Kenya’s “food basket” of Uasin Gishu and during campaigns, some farmers were optimistic that should he win the election, he would offer support to help farmers to increase their yields.

“He is a good neighbour who teaches us how to farm. Back when he was Minister for Agriculture, he subsidized fertilizer,” said one resident, Sasha Cheruto.

Ruto's commitment to sustainable agriculture is addressed in his manifesto, where he stresses the need for a shift from chemical fertilisers to organic fertilisers, to cut carbon emissions.

In the document – simply titled The Plan – the new president outlined climate action strategies that were to be encapsulated in three thematic areas called the 3P Solutions (People, Plan and Profits). These were, specifically, access to water and a reduction in carbon emissions

The 3P Solutions is meant to involve people as participants and a provision for them to earn profit out of interventions in the areas of Biomass energy (wood fuel), Agro-forestry, and Solid waste management.

For instance, in agroforestry, the Ruto administration is keen to grow five million acres of forest in dry lands in the northern, and eastern parts of the country and the central Rift Valley. These are typically dry areas that experience perennial droughts. The region suffers from a lack of access to safe drinking water and agricultural land. According to The Plan, the area is to be “greened” with a local tree species known as Mukau (melia volkensii) that will act not only as a critical carbon sink but also as a source of livelihood.

According to the Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kemfri), Kenyan farmers earn about 1.5 million shillings (US$ 160,000) per acre annually from woodlots.

On access to water, which is closely linked to tree-planting in drylands, Ruto - who has credited his days as a village boy for his "green" awareness - plans to ensure safe water by 2027, by shifting the focus from large dams to household/community water projects, emphasising harvesting and recycling of water.

“We will maximise the use of modern technologies on desalination a process by which the dissolved mineral salts in water are removed. This process is often applied to seawater, in order to obtain fresh water for human consumption and agricultural purposes,” he explained in the manifesto.

The key focus will be to develop the Lake Turkana aquifers, through a public-private partnership model to develop irrigation for climate-smart agriculture.

To tackle deforestation, his administration will first “modernise and commercialise the charcoal value chain, specifically the adoption of modern kilns” according to The Plan.

Charcoal burning, which accounts for 70 per cent of the domestic rural energy source, is the greatest threat to Kenya's forests. Kenya's forested areas prevent soil erosion and act as water towers and carbon sinks.

Another focus is to cut the use of charcoal by upscaling support for clean cooking technologies and promoting youth-owned and operated briquette-making enterprises. The key ingredients here will be the use of agricultural waste such as coffee waste, rice husks, maize cobs and coconut husks.

According to the environment and climate change activist, Kinyanjui Koimbori, criminalising charcoal burning will build on gains made in forest conservation.

In the reduction of CO2 emissions, Ruto said his administration will support E-mobility—the use of electric cars through financial incentives through public services vehicles and transporters.

The Boda Boda - or motorcycle taxi - sector will be supported through what is termed the “Hustler” Fund, a facility for small and medium-scale enterprises.

Weeks after that sunny day at Kasarani, Ruto, speaking in his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly, asked the world to pay attention to the impact of climate change in the Horn of Africa, urging that “the biggest carbon emitter nations honour their pledge to tackle the climate crisis in Africa".

“Severe drought has affected not only the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions but continues to devastate many others, including Asia, Europe and the Americas. If for no other reason, the fact that we all are in this together, must strengthen the case for concerted efforts across the continents, “ he said in New York.

Climate experts lauded Ruto’s call, with Media Environment, Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA) CEO Dan Aghan saying it shows his commitment to the climate change agenda.

"I think he was setting a big agenda for Africa and basically that means that the government is taking serious issues of climate change and what we would like to see and it is something that came out of his speech, is financing - how much the government will give even as we appeal to donors so the government needs to set aside some budget,” Aghan said at a pre-COP27 meeting in Kigali.

Powershift Africa director Mohammed Adow also welcomed Ruto’s remarks.

“With the President’s goodwill, Kenya and Africa at large can correct the wrongs done to the continent by the biggest carbon emitters as well as dealing with mitigation measures,” he said.

On the sidelines of UNGA, Ruto chaired the Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Crisis (CAHOSCC), which restated Africa’s commitment to the green agenda and support for the November COP27 meeting in Cairo.

In 2015, as Deputy President, Ruto planted trees in honour of Nobel laureate and founder of the Greenbelt Movement, Wangari Maathai. To further those "green" credentials he will need to deliver on "The Plan" during his term as Kenya's fifth (and Africa's fifth-youngest) president.

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