Wangari Maathai: Once again, our corrupt politicians are cheating the rest of their nation

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The Mau forest complex has been completely at the mercy of politicians carving it up amongst themselves. We were warning about this for years but we were completely ignored.

The Mau is so important to Kenya and to East Africa because it is so huge and supplies the water that feeds the rivers and lakes. Our vital tourism industry is fed by the waters from the complex system. And because of its size it has a climatic impact, helping to regulate the climate and controlling precipitation.

It affects agriculture in the Rift Valley which is the grain basket of Kenya. The Serengeti in Tanzania, and the Maasai Mara in Kenya are both fed by rivers from this precious system. When it is destroyed it will have a devastating impact on all these sectors.

What Kenya's politicians never realised is that it would happen so soon. They thought they wouldn't have to pay a price in their lifetime.

It becomes very difficult to persuade ordinary people to respect the environment when their leaders walk the wrong path. It is often said that in Kenya, leaders don't eat alone – they have supporters and tribespeople who expect to eat with them. They see only the short term benefits.

The scandal of the destruction of the Mau forest is no different from the big financial scandals, such as Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg, that have blighted Kenya. It's just another example of corrupt leaders who are cheating the public good.

Our "Enough is Enough" campaign is receiving a strong response and people are starting to tell our leaders they can't take it anymore. The problem in East Africa is that people have been able to endure so much abuse.

It's a hard line to draw between the decades of destruction of our own forests, periodic droughts and global climate change. But we do know that part of the reason why our rivers are drying up is the loss of wetlands and marshes and mountain forest. Without the forests to harvest that rainfall it will wash away the soil and fill the rivers and lakes with silt.

There is a lesson here that other African countries must learn: We must adapt and prepare for the changes that are coming.

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Details of the Enough is Enough campaign can be found at http://www.greenbeltmovement.org

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