Kenya: Environmentalists prevail

Kenya’s conservation fraternity, at least for now, can be proud to have stopped the Chinese construction company selected to build the second stretch of the new Standard Gauge Railway, in short SGR, which will run from Nairobi to the Rift Valley town of Naivasha. It is there that the Kenyan government intends to set up a special economic zone and the railway link will be a key element of infrastructure development to accomplish that task.

The Chinese company had reportedly began putting up work camps and done more than just exploratory work before the final route had been determined and gone through all required processes, including submitting a full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment study to NEMA and having it subjected to public hearings. This again exposes a Chinese company of complete and utter disregard for Kenya’s laws, as repeatedly also seen in the past in connection with the use of sand dredgers off the award winning Diani beaches south of Mombasa.

The Kenyan government stepped in yesterday to halt any further building activity after reports emerged that irate youths had attacked some of the company’s installations and staff to express their outrage over trampling Kenya’s respective regulations into the proverbial dust.
The route proposed by Kenya Railways and sections of the Kenyan government would cut the Nairobi National Park apart and many local conservationists have expressed their misgivings that this would be a monstrous atrocity against the park and a likely precursor to excising yet more land to use for upscale housing projects and other purposes.

Conservation groups have offered an alternative route into the Rift Valley, bypassing the Nairobi National Park altogether and branching off at Athi River as shown by the two maps above.
Unsavoury tactics by the contractors and the Kenya Railway company have also been alleged, reminiscent of their attempt to bully Alan Donovan off his land and have his priceless African Heritage House bulldozed before the live in museum and art gallery was declared a national monument and accorded protection, forcing Chinese contractors staff and Kenya Railways staff to back off and hurriedly seek another route.

Notably was it learned that land compensation for the route from Nairobi to Mombasa has not commenced in earnest and there are further allegations that this may become another contentious issue with some landowners favoured over others and the exercise being used for individual enrichment.

Said one regular conservation source from Nairobi when discussing the issue earlier in the day:

‘This stinks to heaven really. Our government has learned nothing from the big controversy over the encroachment into the national park by the Southern Bypass highway. They lost their court cases then and if they show no common sense they will lose more cases over the railway routing. It is absolutely a disgrace that a routing could be proposed running through the park and cutting it into pieces. Those responsible must have their heads examined! We as a country cannot burn a hundred tons of ivory in the same park and then let a Chinese company run roughshod over it, supported by bureaucrats with suspect motives and more concerned about their own well being than the well being of Nairobi National Park. There are alternative routes, longer, maybe more expensive but in the long run much more desirable. You think tourists will fancy going into the park when train after train rattles by? If ever you wonder why that second stretch of railway is so much more expensive, put two and two together!’.

While progress, in particular through major infrastructure projects, is highly desirable is respect for environmental laws and regulations and the protection of Kenya’s priceless wildlife heritage equally if not more important to maintain the foundation for wildlife based tourism over decades to come.