Touted as the Green City in the Sun, Nairobi is the only city in the world with a national park, the Nairobi National Park. The park is a major tourist attraction and fascinates many with its view of animals roaming in the savannah grassland against the backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers. My own childhood was marked with trips to the park and I can vividly remember frolicking in the park and screaming with fear while walking on the suspended bridges during field trips. (Yes I’m scared of heights.)
A few months ago, the government of Kenya unveiled Phase 2 of the Standard Gauge Railway where the Chinese-built railway is meant to pass through a section of the park. According to this plan 20% of the park will be compromised; this is as a result of the actual course of the railway and other things like fencing.
The announcement has led to mixed reactions as a section of the public believes that the plan is just a ploy by politicians to encroach the park’s land and later put up private developments as previously seen in most parts of the country.
Needless to say, I am an angry Kenyan. Clearly, we have forgotten about the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai’s struggle as she campaigned against the government’s plans to put up a sky scraper at Uhuru Park. Is this how we honor her gains in the field of conservation? Surely, the Kenyan government has forgotten Nairobi’s role in environmental conservation as the world’s headquarter for UNEP.
In light of this, there are many questions left unanswered. Why was there no public involvement in the planning? Why does the railway have to pass through the park and not where the current Kenya-Uganda railway lays as it was originally proposed? Is the park safe from land grabbers? And as much as the Kenya Wildlife Service set its conditions for the railway construction, are we assured that these measures will be respected?
As much as we do not know it, the encroachment of the park will have dire effects on the future of Nairobi. It is often said that history repeats itself and the park might soon fall in the hands of notorious private developers who will not even flinch at the thought of turning sections of the park into a concrete jungle. Also, as a result of this, air pollution will prevail as the park often referred to as ‘Nairobi’s lungs’ contributes a lot to the air quality of the city. Most importantly animals in the park, many already being endangered species, will lose their habitat. This in turn will cause a huge loss to Kenya’s tourism sector which the country largely depends on.
Although, development is necessary, I am totally against the Phase 2 of the Standard Gauge Railway. I do not think we should compromise environmental conservation for infrastructure. We should take an example of countries which are suffering the effects of destruction of the environment.
The late Wangari Maathai once said, “It’s a matter of life and death for this country. The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem.” Truth be told, it IS a matter of life and death for the Nairobi National Park and all Kenyans should take it in stride to protect the park. After all it is our pride.