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By Eric Rugara

I am writing this on October 20th, Mashujaa Day. As I write this, I am reading an article on yesterday’s Nation. The headline: Uhuru Ignores SGR controversy and Commissions Second Phase of Project. At the same time I am perusing a pdf titled  Environmental Impact Assessment Study Report for the Proposed Re-alignment of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Within Nairobi National Park.

In case you do not properly understand what the Standard Gauge Railway project is, let me quote the EIA report: “China Road and Bridge Corporation (Kenya) has been contracted to construct the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). The SGR will significantly influence land use and spur development in the areas along and around where it will transverse.”

And its connection with Nairobi National Park? Again I will quote the Environmental Impact Assessment Report: “The proposed 8.85Km SGR realignment will be located within the Nairobi National Park (NNP). The park was gazetted in 1946 as the first National Park in Kenya and indeed the East African Region and covers an area of 117Km² (KWS, 2005). NNP is one of the world’s most unique protected areas, due to its location within a few kilometres from a major city, Nairobi, which has a fast growing human population of over three million people. It is ranked fifth in respect to visitation and income generation receiving in excess of 100,000 visitors annually since the 1950s with average revenue earning approximately USD 0.6 million per year (KWS, 2005).”

To impress on you the importance of the Nairobi National Park, I will quote Elias Muthama’s 3rd October 2016 article, Kenya:  “What makes Nairobi the most exceptional capital city is because it is the only city with a game reserve within it. Nairobi National Park which is located on the Southern part of the city is home to a variety of wild animals including the African Lion, Zebras, Giraffes and more than 400 species of birds. The fact that the human population in this metropolitan city live in harmony with a population of wildlife at a close range makes it one of the most amazing capital cities in the world.”

Which is why if you google “SGR Railway Nairobi National Park”, you will get articles bearing the following headings: “Controversial Railway Splits Kenya’s Parks, Threatens Wildlife” from National Geographic’s website; “Tribunal blocks Standard Gauge Railway Route through Nairobi National Park” from the Standard’s website; “Uhuru lashes out at Opponents of SGR City National Park Route” also from the Standard’s website; “Kenya Railways Explains why Park Route is Best for SGR” from the Star’s website; “Court Restrains Planned Railway Construction in Nairobi National Park” from the East African Wildlife Society’s website; and “Press Release: Kenyans Vow to ‘Protect their National Parks” from the Conservation Alliance of Kenya’s website.

This tidbit from the Conservation Alliance of Kenya article of 22nd September 2016 might interest you: “On August 17th 2016, the Conservation Alliance was invited to the Ministry of Environment offices to listen to a presentation from KRC on SGR Phase 2. To our shock and dismay we realized the route had long been determined and they merely wanted the Alliance to endorse the decision. They also indicated the project was to be launched soon by His Excellency the President. Out of the 7 options that KRC indicated they had considered, they together with KWS arrived at the decision of the ‘Modified Savannah route -4’ that cuts right through the middle of the park end to end. We give candid and constructive feedback indicating that there had been no engagement as promised, no information provided on the feasibility studies with the economic, ecological and other arguments that informed the decision. We expressed concern that there was no more time for genuine stakeholder assessment and requested that the decision be deferred till relevant documents were reviewed by stakeholders. Follow up letters to the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Environment, KWS and to KRC requesting all technical documents so that CAK could provide expert opinion have gone un-answered. The press announcement by KWS Chairman last week, in what seemed to be an ambush approach has left Kenyans wondering if our Parks are really a heritage we are committed to protect.”

As with most controversial projects, the SGR/NNP saga is a complex matter. Which is why I have not at this point in time made any conclusions. This article is a compilation of resources. Follow the links, and you will have enough information to form your own conclusion. In next week’s article, I will give you the conclusions I arrive at after reading through everything carefully. I hope you will do the same. We can have a discussion afterwards.