By Titus Murithi

Mount Kenya has witnessed diverse cultural practices by the various communities who surround it, from the time when those communities first settled on their side of the mountain.

The Meru people, particularly those of yester year, referred to the mountain as Kirimara.  It was said to be the abode of their god, known as Murungu. The Meru people believed that it was Murungu who had created the mountain, the entire ecosystem surrounding it and the universe as well.

The mountain was greatly revered by the community and regarded as a sacred shrine.  Sacrifices would be offered there at times of misfortune such as prolonged droughts, diseases and pest infestation.  The place where the forefathers of the Meru community would offer sacrifices is inside a crater lake called Lake Nkunga, which can be found in the lower part of Imenti forest, which forms part of the Mount Kenya forest.

Elderly Meru people say Mount Kenya is one of their god’s mystical creations – which was breath-taking with its sparkling white peaks. They refer to it as ‘Makengikengi ja nkamia ya Kirimara’, meaning ‘the shining snow of Kirimara.  But some of them are unaware that the shining snow atop their beloved mountain is rapidly disappearing.

Meru elder, Gideon M’rukwaro, was born in 1924 in Kaaga village, near the headquarters of the Methodist church in Meru.  He was among the second group of pupils to attend the school started by the pioneer Methodist church missionaries.  Since his childhood he’s never seen or heard of the top of Mt. Kenya not being white – until now.  Gideon says that he has heard the white snow is disappearing, but is unable to witness it because of failing eyesight due to his advanced age.

A snowless Mount Kenya – photo by Titus Murithi

The nonagenarian grandfather says that as young children in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they would accompany their elder brothers to herd livestock at a nearby hill called Kiathandi.  Gideon described having a panoramic view of the mountain as they ascended to the top of Kiathandi hill, and they would gaze over the entire Mount Kenya ecosystem and its shining peaks to their satisfaction.

“I’ve heard over the radio that the shining top of Mount Kenya is not shining any more, but I am not able to witness it with my eyes which can’t see far due to my old age. As children, before we went to school, we used to herd livestock with our elder brothers around Kiathandi hill, and we would climb to the top so we could see the whole of Mount Kenya. We so much enjoyed seeing the shining top of the mountain, and we could spend the whole afternoon watching it,” says Gideon. “If the whitish shining part of Mount Kenya has gone away, things have changed with time and something wrong is happening from the sky where rainfall comes from. Our grandparents would tell us the shining part of Mount Kenya turns slowly into water in our rivers and lakes for use by our livestock and human beings.”

Community members who are quick at noticing changes happening around them may have been able to spot snowless Mount Kenya peaks from time to time. These peaks are Batian, Nelion and Lenana.

One reason explains why the Mount Kenya peaks are at times without snow, a phenomenon that was never seen or heard of during our grandparent’s time. This reason is global warming.

Global warming is required to certain extent to create conducive atmospheric conditions which are friendly to human beings. But, if it exceeds the required amount, it will create unbearable conditions for the very same human beings through climate change impacts like flooding, heat-waves, droughts and health problems among other things.

In his book titled “An Inconvenient Truth”, former US vice president, Al Gore, says the major cause of global warming is greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide (CO2) being the major contributor.

According to Al Gore’s book, normal warming of the globe results when sun’s energy enters the atmosphere in the form of light waves, and heats up the earth. Some of the light waves are thrown back to space as infrared waves, while some of the infrared waves are trapped by the atmosphere, giving the earth its required warmth.

Problems arise when the atmosphere is choked by large emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride and methane. These emissions trap reflected infrared waves, producing more heat than usual, thus causing harmful warming of the earth.  According to “An Inconvenient Truth”, some greenhouse gases are produced in the atmosphere naturally, but they are stepped up by human activities such as forest fires, livestock farming, fossil fuel burning and sewage treatments among other human activities.

Global warming and climate change are largely anthropogenic phenomena, and so it is our responsibility as humans to change the way we treat our natural environment.  Say no to coal and fossil fuels, protect natural carbon sinks, support and push for 100% renewable energy, live in a sustainable way – Mount Kenya is already losing its spectacular, icy peaks, and who knows what else we stand to lose if we do not take climate action for Africa now.