Last week, I attended a meeting in Arusha , a city in the northeast of Tanzania, East Africa. Arusha is the capital of the Arusha Region and is situated at the foothills of Mount Meru ; 4,566 meters and the second highest mountain in Tanzania. Arusha is 80 kilometers west of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. It is also close to the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation area, Lake Manyara National Park and the Olduvai Gorge where in the 1930’s the Leakeys found evidence of the most Ancient Humans. This strategic positioning has earned Arusha the name “Safari capital of East Africa’’. As if this is not enough to make your feet itch, Arusha is home for the headquarters of the East Africa Union and hosts the UN International Tribunal for Rwanda. It is a fast growing city with a population of 414,442 (2012). It is a centre of agricultural and horticultural activity.
Having come from a country with one of the highest population growth rate in Africa -3.2%(2014Census)which reflects itself in the rapid clearance of forests and woodlands to make room for housing and use as wood fuels, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful and environmental friendly Arusha is.
I would not be surprised if Arusha is the greenest city in East Africa. As you drive from the Kilimanjaro International airport to Arusha city centre, the tall green trees along the suburban roads are a beauty to behold. This beauty is enhanced by the looming Mount Meru covered by white clouds and dense mountain rainforests below. The rich volcanic soils are planted with large fields of maize, coffee, and bananas. The edges are planted with a variety of indigenous trees. I could recognize a few like the acacia and African Flame trees.
The first thing I did when I entered my hotel room was to draw the curtains and look up at Mount Meru and then the valleys below.
Arusha is too green to make me feel green with envy. Had I been in a hotel in the city Centre back home, I would be seeing a few dotted trees, blocks of concrete and glass and lines of cars in the tangled city traffic.
As we walked through the city, the air was fresh, the temperatures cool and the place very relaxing. The city itself is very clean and tidy, giving us an enjoyable experience.
I was able to talk some locals about their city and learned a few things.
Arusha has always been a vibrant city and has had a high population growth rate. The volcanic soils are ideal for agricultural and horticultural activity. So some years back, many of the dense rainforests and grasslands were being cleared for habitation. There was rapid environmental degradation and erosion; the slopes of Mount Meru were almost laid bare. This raised great concern among the community. A group of like-minded people came together and came up with the ‘Greening Arusha’, a co-ordinated effort.
By the late 90’s, Tree planting programmes were well established in the Arusha Region. The people started planting many trees along all suburban roads and some other areas. Most of the people now understand the benefits of forests and woodlands: planting trees is low cost but has great benefits. Trees absorb the pollutions in the air and reduce health risks like Asthma, associated with air pollution. Trees absorb Carbon dioxide and produce the Oxygen we all need for breathing, trees cool the environmental temperatures. They reduce soil erosion. They increase the property values.
The people of this area have taken on the responsibility to protect and promote trees and wooded areas.
In the Arusha City Authority, you have to get permission first to cut down any tree. The tree has to be identified and only that tree can be cut down. You have to replace that tree by at least planting three others. Little wonder then that Arusha is often described as a green Island in an area where rapid environmental degradation and erosion is common.
This was mind-blowing to me: the tall green trees and the manicured green lawns I was admiring last week were purposely and intentionally planted over twenty years ago by the ‘Greening Arusha’ warriors! This confirms one quote by an unknown author which says : “ The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.’’
Germany focused on the Green Goal projects years before the 2006 FIFA World Cup event to reduce the environmental impact of the mega-event on the host country. Cape Town also had similar projects before the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Among them was planting trees to green and shade the city. Cape Town has always been very green but sustaining the Green Goal projects has made it many times greener.
They say that when you travel, you learn and come back to teach others. The people of Arusha have a lot to teach us about building environmental friendly townships or cities. Instead of cutting down the trees at a new building site, one should build the house around the trees. We badly need Green warriors in Uganda if we are to create the green cities we want ourselves, our children and grandchildren to live in. I am already converted all I need now is to identify a local team in my area to work with.
These quotes about tree planting should move you into action.
“ Colour it green with trees.’’ Author Unknown
“ The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.’’ By Nelson Henderson.
Last but not least, here a few of the photos of the spectacular view from my hotel room in Arusha.
I am sorry the above photographs were not not included in the post of 18 May 2017.