It is on a Sunday afternoon, one of those on which I decide to attend Mass in town. Having no other business, I decide to walk across the streets of Nairobi, the “green city under the sun,” as it has been called.
On my way through downtown Nairobi, I meet countless pastors who claim they are capable of performing miracles. Most of them are freelance preachers with confidence and charisma. I am particularly attracted to a ‘prophet’ that has attracted an outrageous audience.
The unshaven, eloquent pastor with a long coat seems out-rightly pious from his very appearance. I can see a “possessed woman” on the mat that acts as the altar. The sound system being used is presumably more expensive than the “altar.” I can hear him imploring God’s graces for a mighty miracle. It’s an exorcism.
The crowd appears charged and spiritually nourished after hours of listening to the apostle. There are shouts all over to see how the woman would be freed from demons. Some of the witnesses of the apostle’s “miracles” dance with joy as the music is played, creating an artificial sandstorm. Five minutes in the congregation as an unwilling participant without a visible miracle, I decide to leave the spiritual atmosphere. After all, that was not part of my itinerary.
Upon reaching the bus stop, I decide to take a “nganya” (a bus, for those not inducted into the Sheng community). The buses here are unique and display creativity worthy of being a veritable tourist attraction. The multi-tone horns and their exhaust pipes produce noise beyond conception. The smoke combines with dusty roads into a concoction that can kill most of the olfactory sensory neurons. To spare my nose and ears, I decide to board one of those less fancy ones.
The environment within is at least better compared to what was outside. Being a Sunday, even the buses try to maintain a spiritual atmosphere. The driver, who doubles up as the DJ is at his best trying to entertain us with the latest “gospel” music. As we leave the bus stop, the music gets even louder as if the volume is proportional to our aptitude for listening to it.
This is what the green city under the sun that was known for its attractive environment has turned into. Simply put, the existing culture has turned pollution into a daily experience, and has made it a pillar of identity. The loud music, dusty environments, thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and improper waste disposal have compromised the ecological integrity.
Typically, some forms of pollution are more honored than others. Some are actively dishonored such as when the county council fails to collect garbage despite the taxes they collect. Some are exemplary and are considered to symbolize fashion such as the loud music. The transport industry has embraced certain behavior in the struggle to find and keep their niche. Some believe that they cannot flourish, or perhaps even survive without certain cultures.
I am not against the loud music played in buses, clubs, and some churches. Certainly, music is a fundamental aspect of human nature. There is convincing evidence that it triggers the mind into creative thinking that can result in discoveries and innovations. However, I fail to understand where the ideology that classifies noise pollution as music came from.
A few months ago, floods consumed some lives in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya. Currently, people were all over complaining about heat cramps and sun burns. Apparently, we are always up to date with our game of serikali saidia (the government should help). As some houses were being swept away, others were busy uprooting trees to create space for more skyscrapers. In some parts of the country, people are being affected by yellow fever, cholera, and chikungunya disease, but we cannot take care of our environment. I would not be surprised if a study shows that the pollution problem and climate change has a role in the transmission of the infective agents.
The city serves as the headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), but the effects of pollution evident in the area raises more questions than answers. At the national level, we also have NTSA and NEMA. With all these, we have failed to put the problem under control. The claim that the environment contributes more than 42% of the country’s GDP is for me one of fancy myths stored in non-existent archives.
Despite the fact that we are a source of pollution from the very moment we are born, we have largely lost the war on pollution. The pollution problem presents everywhere just as the negative effects it has. The problem is not the lack of information, but our conscious decisions to neglect nature. We have lost the sense of the damage we cause by polluting the environments. As a result, nature has also decided to act without borders.
There is no doubt that any change in the prescribed trends in the transport sector will be met with resistance. This just a proof of the barriers that exist when tackling certain social and economic issues, especially entrenched ones. The sole involvement of the government or regulatory bodies is not feasible because the problem requires a consensual model based on different partnerships. However, the biggest part depends on each individual. The effect of the pollution problem to this and future generations depends on the decisions we make today.