The planned presidential launch of the SGR – short for Standard Gauge Railway – construction through Nairobi National Park, planned for September 26, has for now been thrown in disarray after the Environmental Tribunal put a stop to all activities and construction work, which had been started illegally.
Residents of Kajiado had staged major demonstrations while repeating calls for the hapless Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Chairman, Dr. Richard Leakey, to step down. Leakey is seen as one of the key individuals responsible for attempts to build a railway bridge through the park, after he had floated a similar idea for the equally ill-fated Serengeti Highway.
Many conservationists in Kenya and around the world, now that Leakey’s involvement in the project has been exposed, are beginning to see his role in his latter day life in a different light and have joined the growing chorus of having him resign as KWS Chair.
The National Environment Tribunal yesterday ruled that the project cannot proceed without meeting legal standards like submitting and opening to scrutiny a new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Study, giving conservationists and the public at large the opportunity to push for the alternative route around the national park.
This route has the added benefit of not just preserving the integrity and fabric of the only urban national park in the world but also decongesting Nairobi itself by routing a major infrastructure project through areas which are in urgent need of economic development.
The tribunal ruled that all activities related to the project must be stopped until the appeal is heard and determined by the Tribunal, stated the order issued yesterday.
The tribunal also demanded that the Principal Secretary Ministry of Environment, The Director General of the National Environmental Management Authority, and the CEO of the Kenya Railways Corporation must respond to the application within three weeks.
Others to reply are the National Land Commission, The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, the China Road & Bridges Corporation (Kenya), the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Attorney General on behalf of the Republic of Kenya.
Conservationists in Kenya, the region, and beyond expressed their dismay earlier over the blatant disregard for the relevant laws and regulations, calling KWS Chair Dr. Leakey a sellout and questioning how a government can ignore laws with such impunity.
The tribunal’s ruling was met with relief among conservation circles but as one regular contributor then said: “This is only a stepping stone. Conservation in Kenya is at stake, and it is clear who is behind this project. They are powerful people right to the top of government and this will be a long struggle. Let them not dare criminalize us and use illegal means against those individuals who stood up and demanded that the law be followed. If anyone is to be criminalized it should be them, the Chinese company which illegally entered the park to create irreversible facts on the ground, Leakey who should have known better and sold out for a golden retirement, and government for willfully breaking the law when in turn they throw their full force against regular criminals.”
In line with the spirited defense put up by NGOs and individuals around the world who united against the Serengeti Highway and a range of similar projects in Tanzania, it is now hoped that a matching movement can be triggered for the defense and sheer survival of Nairobi National Park, lest this unique resource will be raped and killed on the altar of misunderstood development and progress, two words habitually used to justify razing rainforests; polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans; and yet not in the least benefitting the overwhelming majority of people living on planet Earth.