This Man, Fiu Nifiu.
Passion is contagious. And that is how I spotted Mr. Fiu Nifiu.
One fateful evening, I contacted Fiu Nifiu through Facebook to set up an interview meeting. Despite his busy Schedule, we set a date. For convenience purposes, this interview was carried out through skype. True to his word, on the D-day, he showed up online. As the first interview, I ever did, I take it went quite well. And here is how it went…
#Iamgreen: Hello sir, how are you today?
Fiu Nifiu: I’m good, how are you?
#Iamgreen: I’m fine, thank you. Thank you for joining me for this interview. I hope you are ready and you can see and hear me clearly.
Fiu Nifiu: Yes I can. I’m sure you can see my background, eh?
#Iamgreen: Yes yes, I can. Ha ha
(I see kids playing in the background)
“Hello!”, I say
“Helloooo!” The kids jovially reply back, running around and waving.
#Iamgreen: So sir, would you like to know how I got to hear about you?
Fiu Ni Fiu: Oh yes, please!
(Kids playing loudly in the background)
Fiu Ni Fiu: Sorry, let me just get to a quieter place.
#Iamgreen: Oh ok, thank you, sir.
#Iamgreen: So I got to hear about you from my social media feed, through a re-post. My interest was captured and so I followed your work through your social media profiles, more so Facebook and Instagram and I was just impressed. So I currently just know you as Fiu Nifiu. Is that your real name?
Fiu Nifiu: Yes it is! My full name is Kamau Thuo Fiu ni Fiu.
#Iamgreen: Ok, What do you do sir?
Fiu Nifiu: I am currently the local Member of County Assembly (MCA) for Karura ward in Nairobi county. I was elected in 2013. However, this coming election, I will not be defending my seat. I plan to take a break for 5 years and then God-willing, vie for a parliamentary seat in 2022.
#Iamgreen: What do you plan to do within your 5-year break, then?
Fiu Nifiu: Well, apart from being in an elected position, I have been pursuing my other passion which is the protection and conservation of the environment. I am particularly passionate about trees.
I’ll, therefore, have a lot of time to pursue environmental projects. For instance, I am thinking of promoting the use of briquettes instead of cutting of trees for firewood and charcoal. I am also thinking of starting a project dealing with bamboo and its value addition. It takes a maximum of about 5 years for bamboo to be ready for harvesting.
#Iamgreen: From your Facebook profile, I could see you also have a foundation called Nifiu foundation. What is that all about?
Fiu Nifiu: I was born and raised in a place called Mji wa huruma. It is a slum adjacent Runda estate and Karura forest. Because I grew from a slum and didn’t see a life beyond, I wanted to give back to my society and make them see things in a different light. So I founded the Nifiu Foundation which is meant to mentorship small kids and help them in changing their mindsets as far as their surroundings and backgrounds are concerned. It also involves taking care of elder people.
#Iamgreen: How did you get so passionate about the environment?
Fiu Nifiu: Being born in an area adjacent to the forest, I could see and experience the benefits. As a young person, I would be sent to fetch firewood in the forest and at times, we would burn trees for charcoal. But from 2010, there was a project to fence Karura forest and that meant there would be no unregulated access to Karura Forest as there used to be. I realized that as much as the forest was useful to us, other than destroying the forest, we should nurture the forest. I stopped seeing the forest as a resource that can be destroyed but as a resource that can be protected. There had to be another way of interacting with the Forest. I then started an awareness program to persuade people in the village that they should change their mindset. So that is how I got so interested in matters environment. I encourage that people plant, nurture and respect trees and by doing that, we contribute to the environment in one way or the other. Supporting institutions like Kenya Forestry Services (KFS) and KEFRI also helped me learn much more to do with forests such as value addition of forest resources, for example, bee keeping in the forest and the benefits of planting bamboo trees along river banks.
#Iamgreen: So you just got to appreciate the environment from your way of life?
Fiu Nifiu: Yes, from how I grew up. Because umm… we were neighbors with the forest and when we could access it anytime, any day, it was just a normal day. And then the forest got fenced. This disruption and the predicament of not having access to the forest after the fencing really made me realize the value of the forest. So, I then had to be a champion of why we should take care of the forest, not only because of my community but also because of the greater good of Nairobi. People should be aware that the Karura forest is the lungs of Nairobi. As an urbanized centre, the air quality would have been much worse without the forest.
#Iamgreen: This is so interesting because your passion for trees and being linked to Karura forest makes me recall of Wangari Maathai and her struggles for the forest. It looks like you took over this mantle from her.
Fiu Nifiu: Actually, I have a bit of history of my interaction with Wangari Maathai.
#Iamgreen: Wow, really??!
Fiu Nifiu: Yes, let me tell you. At a very youthful age, back in 1998, the then government of president Moi had gazetted some portions of Karura forest. The forest had been sold to some private developers. People from my community started noticing that there were unusual activities happening in the forest because on a normal day, people used to go to Karura forest for fuel wood like normal but then they saw lots of unusual things like the clearing of land, the presence of heavy machinery and roads were being formed in the forests. So, they raised an alarm and Wangari Maathai got to hear about it. And when she heard about it, she planned to visit the forest. When she arrived, all accesses to the forest had been barricaded by the police. There seemed no way Wangari Maathai could access Karura forest. She approached the village chairman who showed her how to access the forest and she could then get in along with university students and some politicians, but the askaris came after them and dispersed them. Still, the same village chairman was able to secure Wangari Maathai and helped her escape. So, my very first interaction with Wangari was not that I talked to her but I was there, right in the middle of the action, as an 11-year-old boy, when people from the village were willing to know what was happening and got involved in saving the forest. Wangari had mobilized the civil society, politicians and my community to join in and they went and brought down the building that had been built in Karura. They burnt the tractors, the fence that was there was also destroyed.
Interestingly though, after that, I never interacted again with Wangari Maathai but incidentally, I am the one who sponsored a motion back in 2015 in Nairobi County Assembly to have Wangari Maathai honored by naming a road after her. The motion was adopted and now there is a road that is named Wangari Maathai.
The former forest road is now Prof. Wangari Maathai road.
#Iamgreen: Amazing! (Is all I could say. I was too fascinated!)
Fiu Nifiu: Yes so what developed after that event was that a Forest Act was enacted by the National assembly, to amend that a forest had to be co-managed by the National government as well as the neighboring communities. When my community formed a Community Forest Association called the Friends of Karura Association, Wangari was the first patron!
#Iamgreen: What an amazing coincidence! So do you solely work in Karura forest or do you branch out to other forests? (No pun intended. Haha)
Fiu Nifiu: I also branch out to other forested areas but I am mainly stationed at Karura, especially since I politically represent the ward as a MCA. Through friends, we do activities in other forests like The Aberdares or in other occasions that involve environmental work as well.
#Iamgreen: Do you get to do some of the work through your organization called The Greenwalk?
Fiu Nifiu: Ah yes, precisely.
#Iamgreen: So looking back to where you started and how you’ve been going about planting trees and generally advocating for the conservation of the environment, what would you say has been your greatest milestone so far?
Fiu Nifiu: I would say two things:
By mobilizing and encouraging young people to appreciate the environment and take part in conservation, protection and nurturing of the environment, I have been able to create publicity and awareness as far as trees are concerned.
People are also seeing me as an activist and an able figure and so because of this confidence they have, I get a lot of inboxes and messages when people spot activities being done. With that, I am able to involve the relevant authorities concerned.
I see these as a milestone because things like these don’t come easy like that. People have seen what I have been involved in and have confidence. So even when I share knowledge, people are able to communicate that.
#Iamgreen: What about when you see the trees you planted?
It obviously feels good. Feels so refreshing and the more encouraging. I also feel a sense of fulfillment when every morning or evening I happen to come across a growing tree that I planted or initiated. Really, a tree is an idea, even so, a business idea. You think about it, and you have to plan it. You have to take action and put work in it. You have to dig that hole and plant the tree, then water it. And most likely, you are not the one who is going to benefit from it, but generations to follow.
#Iamgreen: What about challenges?
Fiu Nifiu: One of the main challenges that I encounter every day is ignorance. Generally, most people don’t care about trees. When someone looks at trees they see an opportunity to make money. So, ignorance is a hindrance as far as protection and conservation of trees are concerned.
Secondly, you find that people in authority, actually paid by tax payers to look after the environment, it is just not their call, nor their business to take matters of the environment at heart.
Third, there is a gap as far as laws that govern issues to do with the environment are concerned. For instance, I once visited Kenya Railways when I got a call from friends for some days that there were activities of felling down trees. I found out that over 15 mature trees had been cut. When I consulted with KFS, I found out nothing could be done because the trees being cut were on private land. KFS pointed out to me that the current forest conservation and management act has a gap. You could not arrest people cutting trees along road reserves or on private land. Protection was just for forested areas. I hope to raise this issue in the next national assembly so that this gap would be closed and all trees would be protected by law.
#Iamgreen: Anything else you would like to add?
Fiu Nifiu: First of all, I would like to appeal to young people. Looking at the world population, we clearly have the numbers. We are the majority in this world. And when we look at the climate issue, as much as climate change is affecting the present generation, if the world does not have mechanisms to curb climate change, it would affect the future generations and may cause the destruction of the world. As much as we are taking charge of our lives, we must also take charge of our environment. In our neighborhoods, schools, in our places of work. Because you may be that professor or politician or president but the world may not be habitable. So, matters of the environment have to be issues of everyday life as far as young people are concerned as well as the general public.
#Iamgreen: What is your parting shot?
Fiu Nifiu: To young people who are in school or struggling to make it in life, there is just one thing that would define you. Pursue your passion. Whatever you venture in may appear as a small effort but a small thing here, a little thing there collectively makes a big difference. You must also be mad. That is to say, you must make a difference. You must continue to be mad in whatever field you are in, to make a difference.