Kenyan officials have announced that a beloved 100-year-old fig tree in Nairobi that was to be uprooted and moved for a new expressway will be saved and preserved as a national symbol of environmental conservation in the country.
In October, authorities said they were planning on removing the ancient tree to make way for a four-lane, 17-mile (27 km) long highway aimed at reducing traffic in the capital.
The highway, set to be completed by 2022, is funded and built by China and is expected to create thousands of jobs. The plans to remove the tree – which many communities consider sacred – were denounced by climate activists and cultural leaders, who raised concerns about the highway’s effects on air quality and green spaces.
Some experts also believed the tree would not have survived being uprooted and moved, according to the New York Times. With dozens of other trees also cut down along the highway’s route, activists filed a case against the environmental regulator for approving the project, but construction had continued.
On Wednesday Nov. 11, the director general of the Nairobi metropolitan services, Mohammed Badi, said he had instructed city officials to fence off the tree and beautify the area around it.
“Whatever development that is going to happen here will not touch this tree,” he said. He also signed a declaration that named the tree “a beacon of Kenya’s cultural and ecological heritage” and as a symbol of “Nairobi’s commitment to environmental conservation”.
The decision was welcomed by activists, who said it was “a good starting point to converse around ethical development and investments in Kenya” and called for more action.
Green spaces in Nairobi, known as the “Green City in the Sun,” have been declining in recent years due to commercial and infrastructure developments.