• Irungu Houghton

Our Nairobi National Park is threatened again and we must speak up

First published Sunday Standard, April 8, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

If we are not careful, we may lose the big five in the rush to deliver the big four. Last week, the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) gave us until April 28 to give our views on yet another proposed encroachment into the Nairobi National Park.

Kenya Railways is preparing to construct a 4,153 kilometer access road through the park from the Nairobi Inland Container Depot through to the Southern bypass. Early signs of a construction site in the park suggest the proposed Environmental and Social Impact Assessment may be a ritual without a purpose. Ironically, the very agency assigned to manage our wildlife and national parks, Kenya Wildlife Services appears to support the proposal.

The struggle to keep our national heritage safe from the railway, highways and human settlements is older than the 72 year old park. Hundreds of species of animals, birds, trees and grasslands are scattered across its 28,963 acres. Among them is the black rhino. The park has supplied over half of the founder black rhinos to all the rhino sanctuaries in Kenya. Thanks to new initiatives like the popular NTV-Wild show and others, 100,000s of Kenyans and tourists now visit the park each year.

Public voices and action is growing to protect the park from the loss of another 20 acres. Under the hashtag #SaveNNP, they argue that the two phases of the Special Gauge Railway have already damaged the eco-system and the annual migration corridor for thousands of animals. In this sense, the lions that took a stroll in Kibra and South C recently were Internal Displaced Animals (IDAs) roaming in search of their rapidly disappearing natural habitat.

Left unprotected, our park will soon be no more than a zoo. A prison that is too restrictive to allow animals to feed or breed naturally. When that happens, Nairobi will no longer be the only city in the world with its own national wildlife park. We can then start planning to hold more memorial services like the one we held last month for Sudan and the entire northern white rhino species.

In this sense, the silence of the Kenya Wildlife Services, Tourism and the Environment Ministries is puzzling. Civic organization Africog has called on KWS international partners to suspend funding to the agency for mission failure. Perhaps it is also time for our artists to organize a vigil for our wildlife or our citizens to dramatize a Nairobi without the park.

Transport Cabinet Secretary has reportedly dismissed these critics as “busy-bodies”. It is worth reminding him that busy-bodies are still citizens. They are still entitled to a view and a say on everything +254. The distinct exasperation in the tone of our public officials worries me. A leadership that no longer listens is lost. It loses the opportunity to offer options, discuss trade offs and host a skillful public policy conversation first. It then loses public confidence and ownership.

A society that no longer cares, on the other hand, is unconscious and comatose. Too numb, as Mavuno Pastor Linda Ochola powerfully reminded us over Easter, to change the injustices in our lives. Bodies that are busy and actively engaging Government is what Kenya really needs now.

Busy-bodies are sometimes our only savior from poorly planned infrastructural projects built rapidly on the quicksand of tokenistic consultation. Ironically, state officials don’t seem to have a problem with the same busy-bodies who rose this week to thank the same ministry for their Bus Rapid Transport lane initiative.

Large infrastructural projects that permanently disfigure our national heritage must be honestly and openly debated. To allow them to proceed will inevitably drive the country towards ecocide, the deliberate and extensive destruction of our wildlife and environment.

If Margaret Mead were alive she would remind us that without the environment, there is no economy or society. I would go further. Jobs, housing, health and food security cannot hang in the air. Destroying our forests, rivers and now parks is a sure way of losing everything that really matters to us. If you and I cannot stand for anything, nothing really matters. Bodies, get busy.

It is time all busy-body citizens who value the park to exercise their right to email dgnema@nema.go.ke on their views. Dear NEMA, kindly consider this to be my open letter in complete opposition to the proposed access road across our Nairobi National Park.


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