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At forefront of protecting Kenya’s only highland bog

By Milliam Murigi
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
David Wakogy, founding member of Friends of Ondiri Wetland Kenya, shows how deep the swamp is. Photo/PD/ALEX MBURU
In summary

David Wakogy, who has become almost synonymous with Ondiri swamp in Kikuyu, tells of his journey in protecting it and other wetlands in the country.

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

David Wakogy remembers vividly how as a small boy he used to visit Ondiri Wetlands, the only highland bog in Kenya with his friends to fish and dive. Then, the swamp was clean and had several bird species.

Born and bred in Thogoto some two and a half kilometres from the wetland, David and his kin always relied on it for clean drinking water.

However, as he was growing up pollution started changing its face and, it turned into a wasteland.

Plastics were floating and raw sewage flowed freely, consequently some places started forming dark, thick, foul slurge.

“When I was growing up this area was a marvel. In fact, I remember how we used to dig holes on the bog few metres apart.

The holes used to be our entrance and exit when diving as the area had clean water then.

Downstream, we used to fish and we could get big fish almost the size of tilapia. Today you will be lucky if you find a lobster,” David starts.

Farmers were not left behind. Those operating greenhouses or practising open field farming along riparian land were using the wetland water for daily businesses. Others were harvesting fodder from it for sale.

Little input

This is when David realised all is not well for the wetland, a major water tower that gives water to thousands of families around Kikuyu and some parts of Nairobi.

“I realised everybody was making maximum use of this wetland with very little input. Apart from that, there was a lot of illegal water abstraction by investors, yet abstraction contravenes the Water Act,” he says.

Against this background, David decided to take action. However, he didn’t know what to do considering that as an individual, nobody could hear him. He started by talking to the area authority who were helpful.

After several discussions in 2016, he had managed to get about 50 like-minded people and together they formed Friends of Ondiri Wetland Kenya (FOWK).

Fowk is a community-based organisation founded with one major mission: to protect and restore the largest and most important wetlands in the greater Nairobi area starting with Ondiri.

To ensure the wetland goes back to its original state, they started by cleaning it up by collecting plastics, then talked to farmers along the riparian land to stop their activities. They also embarked on tree planting projects. 

Fowk members also guarded the wetland day and night, and  even printed warning posters to ensure no rogue investor discharged their waste there. For investors who didn’t comply legal actions were taken.

Start at source 

“We visited most companies discharging their waste into the wetland and asked them to have  proper waste disposal, otherwise legal action would be taken. Some heeded our calls, but some refused.

Consequently, most companies who went against our wish have been closed,” David explains.

For areas where farming was taking place, they planted vetiver grass, a type of grass adopted globally for land reclamation.

To make sure the message reaches masses, Fowk started holding wetland management workshops, teaching farmers importance of conservation.

Since their intervention, the wetland, which had been exploited for years, is now blooming. Even birds—about 76 species— have now settled in the area.

They were discovered in a span of three hours last December by Nature Kenya, who were invited by Fowk to take count of them. 

In the long run, David says the organisation plans to put up a research centre for all wetlands, a botanical garden and fence the area to ensure they keep off all intruders.

However, he says it has not been an easy job and it is not for  the fainthearted.

The life-threatening messages and attempts to bribe him have not thrown him off his mission to save the wetland. 

But what keeps him going despite all this? He says since the wetland cannot speak for itself, he want to use his voice to speak on behalf of this resource as it is the only way to redeem the planet and natural features from pollution.

Considering God did not give us a polluted earth and it is mankind who is doing that, it is not too late to redeem them.

“Being the voice for our natural resources is something I want to live for, to be remembered for.

I will continue to go beyond the call of duty to protect such resources, especially this wetland.

I don’t mind waking up at the middle of the night to come and deal with rogue investors discharging raw sewer at wee hours.

I am ready to fight for this wetland and to be its ambassador. The aim is to make sure it becomes an important place not only for me, but for the whole country.”

He advises the government that if as a country we want to have clean lakes and oceans, the cleanup exercise should start from the tributaries since that is where water and resultant pollution comes from.

“Even if you use all the money to clean oceans and lakes without cleaning their tributaries we will never have clean and safe lakes and oceans,” he insists.

 Wetlands play a fundamental role in mitigating climate change by serving as a major heat and carbon sink.

All wetlands around the world consume about 30 per cent of carbon in the atmosphere.

They also control floods because they are like giant sponges that absorb water and have a natural way of purifying it until it is fully clean.

In Kenya, only six wetlands have been listed to be of international importance and Ondiri is not part of it. David urges the government to list all wetlands currently unlisted.