Minister who is quite at home working from park in the city

Thursday, August 12th, 2021 00:00 | By
Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko (left) holds a meeting with some officials at Michuki Memorial Park, Nairobi. Photo/PD/File

On the 12th floor of the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) building in the upmarket Upper Hill area which hosts the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko has a posh office, complete with exquisite furniture, a battalion of aides and other luxurious facilities.

For the lawyer who once served as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Tobiko has for years enjoyed the comforts of high-end tailor-made offices.

While many expect that Tobiko, like his colleagues in the Cabinet, enjoys operating from a huge desk facing a large TV screen on his office wall, his tastes have turned out to be a bit different.

On many occasions, the minister leaves behind the splendour of his Ragati Road office and takes his work to the bush ­— literally.

For months now, he has occasionally been operating from under a bamboo tree at the Michuki Memorial Park, a recreational park and educational centre run by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Perhaps part of the reason Tobiko has a special attachment to the facility is that he personally oversaw its rehabilitation after wresting it from private developers who claim ownership.

Files and laptop

On many an afternoon, the CS is to be found seated on a wooden bench under the bamboo tree enjoying the serene environment. There is also a wooden table.

Next to the table and chair is a tent where Tobiko and his guests run for cover whenever it rains.

If he is not having official meetings with ministry staff, he is hosting environmental experts, friends, as well as elders and leaders from his Maa community.

Tobiko’s meetings with delegations from his community has led to speculation that he could be planning to run for a parliamentary seat in Kajiado, rumours that he has neither denied nor confirmed.

“The park has become like a small office for him. He always comes with his files and a laptop and sits alone under bamboo trees near the river and works for few hours.

Some times, he hosts meetings with officials from his ministry, the Forestry Department, Nema, NMS and the UN.

Sometimes he will be hosting politicians and elders,” a Kenya Forest Service officer guarding the park told People Daily in confidence.

Formerly known as Mazingira Park, the park underwent a major facelift which brought on board key partners among them Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Nairobi Metropolitan Services and National Environment Management Authority.

It was renamed in honour of former Environment minister John Michuki, who died in 2012, for his key role in the clean-up of Nairobi River.

The facility is located along the Nairobi River and stretches from the Globe roundabout to the Museum bridge.

Previously occupied by hawkers and jua kali mechanics, the 26-acre park now has 6,357 indigenous trees and well-manicured lawn. 

A section of the river snaking through the park is, however, choking in solid waste.

Efforts to get a comment from the CS for this story did not succeed as he did not pick our calls and did not respond to our texts.

People Daily, however, established that the minister, who sometimes visits the park with very few aides, is so discreet that not even KFS officers guarding the park are familiar with his itinerary.

“He mostly comes with not more than two cars, leaves his aides behind and then proceeds to his “office” alone. He never announces when he is coming. He will just appear.

If he is meeting people, they will come in intervals. In a week, he visits twice or thrice.

And if he needs anything, he will send his aides. On many occasions, he orders roast beef,” the officer said.

Sometimes, depending on his workload, Tobiko can stay in the park for more than six hours. Sources say he sometimes leaves the park well past 7pm. 

Green faces

That he can stay that late is a testament of the kind of transformation that the facility has undergone.

Previously, it would have been unthinkable to be in the park at that hour because of high insecurity, including muggings and even murder.

But the facelift, which started in early 2020, succeeded in converting the former dumpsite into a green space with walkways and even a green amphitheater.

The rehabilitation of the park, which sits between Kijabe Street and Kipande Road, was part of the national government’s initiative to create green spaces within urban areas as a way of reducing air pollution and providing relaxation and recreational sites for city residents.

Tobiko took up the challenge of transforming the park following a Presidential directive that handed over its management to KFS.

He mobilised agencies within the ministry including Nema, Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and the National Museums of Kenya to undertake a massive clean up and reconstruction of the park.

Other stakeholders are the NMS, the National Youth Service, the Kenya Seed Company and other public and private partners.

The works included the building of gabions to stabilise the riverbanks, reconstruction of walkways to allow access to the entire park and the establishment of a modern tree nursery which stocks indigenous tree seedlings for sale.

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