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politics in everything: trees in Africa

26 March 2015

Along with Pretoria, cities across former British colonies in Africa bear the stamp of jacaranda including Blantyre in Malawi; Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe; Nairobi and Nakuru in Kenya; and Kampala, Fort Portal and Mbale in Uganda, where they are associated with exam season, coming at the end of the school term. Even in Kenya’s dusty little border town with Ethiopia, the jacaranda tree stands out as a marker of British presence – Moyale on the Kenyan side has jacaranda trees around its administrative centre, while Moyale on the Ethiopian side has none.

When the ANC came to power in 1994, its environmental policy has been critical of “exotic” trees like eucalyptus, seeking their removal on the grounds that they are “not African”, says this South African environmental scholar, who sees the environmental policies of the ANC mirroring the earlier strains of white nationalism that sought to use South Africa’s unique flora and fauna to create a strong nationalist identity.

These excerpts are from one of the best news articles I’ve read this year, “Not just trees: The politics of the jacaranda, eucalyptus and hyacinth in Africa” by Christine Mungai, of the Mail & Guardian. Follow her on Twitter. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

She has forever changed the way I’ll look at jacaranda.

Malawi, road side impressions along the M1 between Blantyre and Lilongwe. Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons

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