On Saturday 29th October, more than 400 people along the coast of Kenya gathered to object to the government’s decision to route phase-2A of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project through the middle of the Nairobi National Park.
CORDIO East Africa’s commitment to national environmental conservation continued as its staff members stood in solidarity with other coastal residents during peaceful events held in Diani, Kilifi, Mombasa and Malindi to support the efforts to protect Nairobi National Park. The organisation of the Mombasa event was co-led by Mishal Gudka, while Clay Obota assisted with the organisation of the Kilifi event. Lenice Ojwang and James Mbugua were among the many participants, who also included members of Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) and Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), members of local conservation organisations including Friends of Arabuko Sokoke Forest, local university and primary school students and the general public. Marches, dhow cruises, talks and debates were held along the beaches to raise awareness about this and other environmental issues. (Read a related news article here)
The events underscored the importance of the SGR project in boosting Kenya’s economy, but made it clear that the government was taking an ill-informed and unnecessary risk by routing it through the middle of the Nairobi National Park, especially considering that viable alternative routes have been provided. Many experts are concerned that the construction process in particular will cause irreversible damage to the park, by restricting the movement of wildlife, introducing invasive species into the park, destroying vegetation and habitat, causing pollution and soil erosion, increasing the threat of poaching and causing accidental animal deaths among other things. In the long-run, this could have severe impacts on wildlife population numbers, the popularity of the park as a tourist destination, as well as impact the heavily-polluted surrounding urban centre of Nairobi.
The National Environment Tribunal issued a stop order, after it was realised that the route was finalised without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is a compulsory requirement for all development projects. The stop order specifically prohibits any ‘activities’ related to SGR Phase 2A from being conducted until the matter is heard and determined in court. However, on 20th October, the construction of the phase-2A began in spite of this order. All over Kenya, including on the coast, unregulated developments are threatening various natural ecosystems/resources and the communities whose livelihoods depend on them; examples include oil exploration in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, sand-dredging near coral-reefs, developments such as sea-walls along beaches and clearing of mangrove forests. Already, the SGR development has damaged various eco-systems through off-shore sand-dredging and as anecdotal evidence in Tsavo suggests by hindering animal movements. It is therefore crucial that the ecological impacts of this mega-project are monitored and mitigated more stringently.
The events aimed at making the government aware that people across the country disagree with their decision, and that they should begin steps to re-route phase 2A of the SGR outside of the park. The organisers urged the relevant authorities to begin open and transparent dialogue between key stakeholders to try and find a responsible and lawful solution, as this high-profile development case could set a precedent for how the country manages its natural resources in future.