The Battle for the Park

Join the fight before it’s too late; or is it, already too late? By Rand Pearson

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Ironically, the same site of the largest ivory burn in history — supposedly the biggest statement against elephant poaching and the most impactful elephant conservation narrative this country could produce — is being crushed by the wheels of industrial progress and by the same politicians who grandstanded for the ivory destruction photo-op earlier this year.

As you read this, our unique heritage appears to be finished, ruined…and there seems to be little or nothing you can do about it—save for mass protests, body chaining and ecological monkey-wrenching.

Like many other Government works projects before it, the public hasn’t been involved, engaged or consulted in the decisions surrounding the fate of its public spaces: remember Karura forest? Kenyans continue to be duped by their leaders that say progress at any cost is good for the country…good for business…good for the pockets of the constituents who support their leaders blindly.

Slowly but surely since its inception as a national park in 1946 – the first in East Africa – NNP has been under attack by the urban sprawl, flower farms, gypsum quarries, road development and now the SGR project. As a result, the wildlife around the park has dropped by 70 percent since the 1970s.

Even as the wildlife has diminished, economically speaking the park is great business and PR for the country. It receives 100,000 visitors and generates Ksh 45M annually in revenues. It is home to the endangered black rhino, over 100 mammalian species and 400 bird species. And even if you do not place wildlife and conservation above human interest, it’s hard to deny the park’s role as a 120 square-kilometre carbon sink, soaking up Nairobi’s pollution like a vacuum. It’s hard to place a value on clean air, but this will certainly be one of the biggest environmental issues of the 21st Century. The way things are going now, Nairobi will be the next Beijing in 20 years.

The recent battle to save the park began back in 2014 when NNP had to give up 350 acres to make way for the Southern By-Pass and SGR Phase One. At no time was the public consulted, referendums considered…nothing.

Surprise. On September 13 we learned that the modified-Savannah route will cut through the NNP. Already, outside the park at the point of entry stands an elevated bridge structure that will lift SGR into Phase 2 across the park. Who or what can stop this now?

KWS threw in the towel a long time ago and approved the plan.

Kitili Mbathi addressing a recent press conference had this to say: “We will be working with the contractor to make sure the construction will be as least disruptive as possible and as environmentally friendly as possible. We believe that given the circumstance we have found ourselves in, this is the least obtrusive solution.”

“We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either give up 50 hectares of land and increase construction costs by 50% or have the least obtrusive bridge across the park.”

Most likely and for the benefit of the doubt, KWS was probably forced to go along with the plan. This means folks, nothing you hold near and dear to your heart is safe in the hands of politicians. You, Kenyans, are children that cannot be trusted—with anything.

It would be hard to argue that Kenya doesn’t need a new railroad from its port to its capital. When up and running it will divert most of the container traffic off the highway and on the railways.

But expense of losing the park is even more costly in terms of tourism revenue and the attraction of Kenya as a destination to millions of travelers. Forget environmental impact of construction within the park for 18 months, the long lasting effect will be the inevitable bi-products of the railway itself: land grabs, real estate development and eventually the very end of the park itself.

Already, Kenya is borrowing billions of dollars to pay for this railroad and it is going straight into the hands of the Chinese contractors building it, and those along the way that take their pinch. Who is paying for this? You are.

If nothing else you have the chance to stand up against continued impunity and have your voice heard. Join the protests and the debate on FB: Friends of Nairobi National Park. #SaveNNP. The only thing standing in the way of this railway is you.

Photo Courtesy: Georgina Goodwin