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Kenya Wildlife Service chair accuses media of being rumor mongers

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa Correspondent  Aug 21, 2016

There is growing outrage and anger over the present violations of a range of laws and regulations vis-a-vis the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway section from Nairobi to Naivasha, which has blazed its way into the national park with no environmental and social impact assessment in place nor any public hearings as required by law.

The Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) only made matters worse when he triggered a social media storm after basically accusing mainstream and social media journalists of being ill informed, sensationalist, and in effect rumor mongers, prompting one leading conservationist in turn to spit fire back at him: “This is a dangerous precedent. We are showing a remarkable lack of respect for relevant laws. You ask around the world about this park, and everyone knows it. Why then risk Kenya's reputation abroad, the standing of the world's only national park outside a capital city? Alternative bypass routes have been shown, so why are they not even taking a serious look at it? This is an unmitigated PR disaster, and it reflects badly on our country and even more so on the KTB [Kenya Tourist Board] chairman who is at the center of the storm now. You helped expose the Serengeti Highway plans a few years ago; please also expose this impending conservation atrocity,” understandably on condition of anonymity.

Indeed, it appears that construction has illegally advanced into the park, putting the park managers on the spot besides the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) which has been urged to act.

In fact, it was KWS Chairman Dr. Richard Leakey who last year came up with the suggestion that the road across the Serengeti could be built on a bridge, and he is now under the spotlight as the railway construction also appears to be using a similar bridge concept. This, however, effectively cuts the park into two sections, as much of the route will not consist of bridges, effectively blocking game movements along the most part of what has been termed an illegal route.

The same sources also fingered the Kenyan electricity transmission company for running a high-voltage line across the park while expressing fears that other public utility companies may also be eyeing a “cost-effective” route through the park where they can avoid paying compensation or having to opt for more expensive construction methods.

“It almost seems that if you can put enough money on the table, you can get away with almost anything in the park. What if a property developer comes up and puts say 25 or 50 or even 100 billion on the table to create a posh estate for billionaires? I think you see where this potentially goes - that money trumps conservation, by the look of it, any time,” ranted another regular conservation source from Kenya.

FoNNAP, short for Friends of Nairobi National Park, and other conservation NGOs and individuals are presently brainstorming on the way forward, but all indications are that the matter will head to the Kenyan courts to first obtain a permanent injunction against any further encroachment of the park. The next step then would be to attempt to get a court ruling to compel Kenya Railways and the Chinese contractors to find a route around the park.

With the controversy gone public in a high-profile way, and the social and mainstream media reporting gathering momentum, it is anyone's guess at present how the Kenyan government will handle this and more so, what the increasingly independent court system will have to say when the inevitable cases have been filed.

Kenya Wildlife Service chair accuses media of being rumor mongers
Conservation groups trying to bring down railway line by strictly legal means /Photo: NairobiWire

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