Kenya – Conservationists Lament Railway Plans

arbe_large700

The central section of a huge infrastructure project is to cut directly across East Africa’s oldest national park.

The Nairobi National Park, a wildlife reserve housing lions, hyenas and giraffes just 7km from the centre of Nairobi, is currently in the midst of proposed plans to build a Chinese-funded railway across what is the oldest park in East Africa.

The edges of the park have slowly been eaten away by development and expansion, with power lines stretching overland and pipelines underground. New housing estates also obstruct key migration routes for wildlife, which lead to other nature reserves such as the Maasai Mara.

According to head of the Friends of Nairobi National Park, Sidney Kamanzi, in the 1970s and 1980s around 30,000 wildebeest came to the area, now the numbers are in the region of 300.

The proposed railway line is to be elevated across 6km of the park, on pillars between 8m and 40m tall. Conservationists have deplored the plans, calling it a step too far and claiming the consequences will be disastrous.

UK-based BBC News commented that the new railway project could be a new ‘lunatic line,’ referring to thousands of workers who were killed building railways in the country at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries; around 100 people were killed by lions, while a further 4000 died of diseases.

_91434922_railway_route_624
BBC News 

The railway is part of planned upgrades to the national network linking the Mombasa port to Nairobi and onwards to regional neighbours such as Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan; it is the largest infrastructure project in the country since independence in 1963.

The second stage of construction, from Nairobi to Naivasha – crossing the park – is seen as the most problematic; many had hoped that the railway would skirt around the park, but according to the government the costs of this were just too high.

Works on the elevated sections are scheduled to begin in January 2017 lasting around 18 months, although in stages to avoid cutting off parts of the park completely. However conservationists have deplored the lack of impact study and disregard for the natural environment.

“If the railway (line) is authorised, it could create a precedent that could mean the death of the park,” said Sidney Quntai, who heads the Kenyan Coalition for the Conservation and Management of Fauna.

On October 3rd a group of Maasi women from Oloosirkon, Kitenkela, Emakoko and Embakasi villages presented a petition to President Uhuru Kenyatta. An environmental tribunal in mid-September ruled against the railway line in the national park until a case had been heard, but the government continues to hold public hearings.

“The processions are not against infrastructure projects. We don’t want those that are poorly thought out, environmentally unsound and abuse our natural heritage like having SGR pass through the park,”  one of the protest organisers, Nkamuno Patita, said, reported Kenyan media service, The Star.

Kitili Mbathi, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), tried to reassure protesters who recently delivered a petition; “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,” he said.

However, Kenyan economist David Ndii said, “It’s a white elephant – we don’t need it…It’s not necessary, its overpriced. Its the most expensive single project we have done and it’s not economically viable now or in the future,” reported BBC News.

(© AFP 30/9 2016)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.7, Pp.21362B–21363B

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Kenya – Uganda
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 6, Pp.21325C–21327A

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 2, Pp.21181A–21182A

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

%d bloggers like this: