A city, a road and a national park: Which way for Nairobi?

Friday March 9 2012

Photo/Courtesy of Paolo Torchio  The Nairobi National Park against the backdrop of the city skyline.

Photo/Courtesy of Paolo Torchio The Nairobi National Park against the backdrop of the city skyline.  

By SHEYA ALI

The Kruger National Park in South Africa is world famous because the South African are masters at marketing.

Consider this: Within 18 years of coming out of the Apartheid era, when all they relied on was local tourism, the tourism industry has grown to over 10 million arrivals annually while tourist numbers are growing by more than a million annually.

In comparison, Kenya has been receiving fewer than two million international arrivals since Independence 50 years ago, and yet ironically, tourism is one of the key pillars of Vision 2030.

Consider this too. Kruger National Park is 16,000 square kilometres while the Nairobi National Park is 117 square kilometres, yet Nairobi National Park’s wildlife inventory as of 2011 is 108 mammals versus the 128 species found in Kruger.

Even though Nairobi National Park is 37 times smaller than Kruger, it has almost the same number of animals as Kruger — and this is not taking into account the 630 species of birds.

(Nairobi takes pride of place as the birding capital of the world with 342 species recorded in a day thanks partly to the Nairobi National Park.)

Despite all these good things, plans are afoot to hive off four kilometres from the park to pave way for the Nairobi Southern Bypass to ease the city’s traffic congestion.

Nobody loves traffic, especially when it takes more than two hour’s to do a two-kilometre stretch.

But cutting through the park is not the perfect solution in view of the impact it will have.

The alternative, according to researchers, is not “not to build the highway” but to build it in an alternative fashion that would not have a negative impact the park.

The park is famously marketed as the park in a city with wild lions and rhinos and a sanctuary for both black and white rhinos against the backdrop of the ever growing skyscrapers and concrete jungle.

A group of concerned citizens under the umbrella of Friends of Nairobi National Park have been at the forefront of searching for viable alternatives for the road that threatens to destroy irreplaceable wildlife habitats — including the nesting site for the African Crowned Eagle, one of the largest raptors on earth that has occupied the same nest for more than a decade.

Commenting on the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) licence No.0008121 dated February 18, 2011 to the Kenya National Highways Authority for the construction of the Nairobi Southern Bypass, the Africa Network for Animal Welfare and other interested parties such as the Friends of the Nairobi National Park, say they have no objection to the development of badly needed infrastructure in Nairobi and Kenya as a whole.

But what the Kenya National Highways Authority has proposed regarding the Nairobi Southern Bypass, according to information available to Africa Network Animal Welfare and others, will encroach 120 metres into the park, creating a transport corridor of about four kilometres long.

Even though the licence stipulates that the Kenya National Highways Authority shall ensure that the sections of the road along the Nairobi National Park, Ngong and Dagoretti natural forests should be implemented in close consultations and agreement with Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, and other relevant authorities, the road plans show otherwise.

By encroaching on the Nairobi National Park, the Kenya National Highways Authority has breached part of the conditions of the licence.

To protect the park’s integrity, the Africa Network for Animal Welfare has written to the National Environmental Tribunal and obtained the relevant orders against the highways authority for the breach of the terms and conditions of the licence, including stopping the construction of the Bypass.

Proposed Southern ByPass Through Nairobi National Park

Legality of the Government’s/KWS Act

The Africa Network for Animal Welfare commissioned a legal expert, to look into existing laws and constitution and come up with a legal opinion on whether the government followed the law in coming up with this project:

The lawyer established the following:

1. That the Nairobi National Park is public land under the Constitution. It is neither private nor community land as defined in the constitution.

2. That the yet-to-be-established National Land Commission is entitled by the Constitution to hold and administer the Nairobi National Park and other parks.

3. That the Constitution places the administration of the Nairobi National Park on National Land Commission and not Kenya Wildlife Service [Article 67 (2)] of the Constitution gives National Land Commission the power and responsibility “to manage public land on behalf of the national and county governments”.

4. That Kenya Wildlife Service does not have the right nor power to give away any part of the Nairobi National Park.

5. Although Section 3A (c) of the Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act, cap 376 gives Kenya Wildlife Service the power to manage national parks, the Constitution overrides the said provision.

In view of the above, the lawyer concludes that a case does exist for a legal and constitutional challenge of the proposed Nairobi Southern Bypass.

Such a case would have to be filed under the newly established Environment and Land Court as required under Article 162(2)(b) of the Constitution and by the Environment and Land Court Act, 2011.

At a meeting convened by Friends of Nairobi National Park recently and open to the public, the above points were raised with the outcome of the formation of the Nairobi Civil Society Alliance to lobby for the Constitution and environmental laws of Kenya to be applied to the Nairobi Southern Bypass project and prevent the destruction of Nairobi National Park.

Kenya Urban Roads Authority

On February 4, 2012, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority gave a rationale for the Nairobi Southern Bypass to enter the Nairobi National Park.

That it has to comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations.

One of them, the authority stated was that the Bypass must be 570 meters from the run way hence inside the park).

On consulting the ICAO and other relevant authorities, it has been determined that there is no such requirement, especially in reference to a national airport. Hence there is no need for the Nairobi Southern Bypass to enter the park.

Also to be noted is that the land on the northern edge of the park, which was the road reserve — ideally the Nairobi Southern Bypass, has been sold and residential houses constructed.

A win-win solution is keeping the Nairobi Southern Bypass on its original pathway, which is outside the park and constructing a 200-meter tunnel at the end of Wilson Airport, similar to the tunnel currently at the Pangani-Forest Road.

According to Friends of Nairobi National Park, allowing the Nairobi Southern Bypass to enter the park will be condoning the grabbing of public land and giving away an asset that belongs to the people of Kenya, namely the Nairobi National Park.