The tone of the debate over the route of the new Standard Gauge Railway through Nairobi National Park is getting more agitated, sharper, and certainly more passionate as lawyers are being consulted to stop the launch of the project scheduled for September 26 by President Kenyatta.
“They have no EIA [short for Environmental Impact Assessment Study] in place for any route through the park, not this one, not any other version. This is a clear violation of the law, and we are seeking advice right now what to do. The launch should not go ahead, because it will prejudice officials of NEMA who may not want to stand in the way of the government and allow themselves to be used as rubber stamps. We need to get the message out to the international conservation family to help us stop this madness. We as a country cannot on one side go to CITES and demand a complete ban on ivory trade and on the other hand destroy Nairobi’s green lung, the only park which is within the city limits of any capital in the world.
“The worst part is that not Kenya Railways, not anyone in government, has given serious consideration to the proposals to completely bypass the park. Yes, it may be more expensive, but please tell me what the cost of ignoring conservation will be in the short and long run? If the park is cut in half, what is there stopping the next encroachment? First the bypass when we warned it will open the door, now the railway? Next then more pipelines, power lines, housing estates?” said a regular Nairobi-based conservation source on condition of strict anonymity for fear over his wellbeing, in itself a sign how heated the debate already is and possibly how extrajudicial this argument could get.
Several others compared the situation with the Serengeti Highway controversy, which cost Tanzania dearly in terms of conservation reputation and where the Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service stepped into the proverbial, when he proposed a bridge to be built over the Serengeti. This lunatic idea was swiftly shot down in flames by many equally-reputable conservationists, leaving Leakey’s reputation scratched and dented, and his agreement to have a similar atrocity built through the Nairobi National Park has further enraged conservation-minded Kenyans.
Demands have grown louder and louder for him to resign for failing conservation principles and selling out to what one source called the highest bidder before adding, “Conservation should never be for sale, and that is exactly what Leakey is doing.” One other literally begged to have the matter made public via eTurboNews and the ATC News blog in a similar fashion like when the Serengeti Highway project was exposed here several years ago. This subsequently led to a global conservation tsunami to save the Serengeti, and while temporary relief through court orders by the East African Court of Justice has been obtained, is that fight that is not over yet.
There have also been several suggestions from sources in Kenya that the same group of individuals in government thought to be behind the assault on the integrity of the Nairobi National Park are also busy to scheme up a revival of the Nakuru bypass highway, which would equally carve out a significant portion of that park to provide cheap land for the highway project aimed to have long distance traffic circumnavigate the town of Nakuru. Those allegations are under investigation.
For now, all eyes are on the routing of the SGR, if eventually it will bypass the Nairobi National Park or else cut right through it with all the negative consequences and fallout in future years.