Save Nairobi National Park, Environmental Activist Campaigns

Kenyan conservationists are mobilizing to stop luxury development projects inside Nairobi National Park that threaten its abundant wildlife.

Nairobi National Park is a rare gem that defines Kenya’s capital and it is the only national park in the world that shares a fence with a city. It is home to abundant wildlife, including the ‘big five’ animals – the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo – which can, in places, be seen against the backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers and d airplanes landing at local airports.

Although the park is only a five-minute drive from Nairobi’s central business district, the Kenyan government has a history of approving development projects inside the park, which threaten its existence and that of the community. fauna that inhabits it.

One of the major projects was the more than four-mile-long stretch of standard gauge railway through the park that activists and conservation experts say has disturbed wildlife. These encroachments have always led to conflict between humans and animals, with lions and pythons occasionally roaming the nearby town estates.

As a result, environmental activists are lobbying to stop the government from proceeding with these development projects that threaten to wipe out the park and its wildlife.

“They want to build a high-end amphitheater and boutique hotel inside Nairobi National Park on the forest area, which is the breeding ground for black rhinos,” said Reinhard Bonke, founding executive director of the African Sustainability Network. “And Nairobi National Park is the only highly endangered black rhino sanctuary in East and Central Africa!”

Bonke was referring to plans by the Kenya Wildlife Service, or KWS, to build a state-of-the-art amphitheater and hotel inside the park, complete with swimming pools and other amenities. He also plans to build a house for the general manager in the conservation area. They call it the Nairobi National Park Management Plan 2020-2030.

The announcement had rubbed environmental campaigners the wrong way and they staged protests in Nairobi against the decision.

Protests to protect the park began in 2016, when Kenya’s wildlife chair Richard Leakey approved a plan by Chinese contractors to build the standard gauge railway through the park, oblivious to an order of the court arresting him. Protesters marched towards the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi, calling on the China Exim Bank to stop funding the destructive project.

In 2018, conservationists led street protests and filed lawsuits and appeals against court rulings after contractors began building the railway inside the park. On March 1, protesters marched in their hundreds, demanding that the Chinese-built railway be rerouted around the park.

But this May, the protests were different. The protesters’ demands were no longer over the railway, but rather over the planned construction of a hotel, an amphitheater and a house by the Kenya Wildlife Service. Additionally, they were unable to physically demonstrate in the streets, as the country was in partial lockdown and travel was restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Patricia Kombo, an environmental enthusiast and founder of Patree Initiative – an environmental startup that fights for green spaces – took part in the protests in May. She says the government’s decision is misinformed and will cause a lot of damage to the biodiversity inside the park.

“The construction of the hotel poses a threat to biodiversity because there will be a lot of pollution and it will reduce the number of green spaces,” Kombo said. There will also be a problem with sewage disposal.

“The hotel will economically benefit the elite at the expense of the rest [of us].”

The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife then ordered KWS to suspend construction and allow a one-month period for public participation to gather views from affected parties. Participation ended on June 30.

But conservationists are now concerned about the way KWS has organized public participation, citing a lack of involvement from the local Maasai community who have been guardians of wildlife for centuries and are the rightful owners of the park. The service held online stakeholder meetings, which the community could not access due to a lack of technology.

“The role of KWS is to manage our animals, plants and protect their territories from human interference,” said Brian Waswala, professor of environmental science at Maasai Mara University. “The hotel will economically benefit the elite at the expense of the rest [of us].”

The park was once part of the Nairobi-Athi-Kapiti Great Plains ecosystem, and animals could migrate in and out of it, depending on seasonality and access to resources . But now the park is fenced on the south side – meaning wildlife movement is restricted – and the standard gauge railway now runs through it.

Waswala is also concerned that KWS has not thought through the many possible negative ramifications on the park and its natural resources that its planned construction is likely to pose.

“Have they considered wildlife behavior? What about the environmental aspect? How many would be affected during construction and after? ” He asked. “Hotels are not only buildings, but also means of transport (delivering food and conveying guests), and a source of waste (noise, solids and liquids, including human effluence and food waste). The machines will also compact the soil, which is known to have a negative impact on water infiltration into the ground.

Bonke’s organization is challenging the legality of the process of writing the park’s management plan in court and questioning the agreement between KWS and the private developers, some of whom have illegally encroached on the park.

“We are also focusing on sensitizing Kenyans on wildlife conservation issues and educating them about the values ​​and challenges facing these ecologically significant areas,” he said. “Through the court, we hope to secure an appropriate legal moratorium preventing further encroachments into the park and call for a more ecosystem-based management plan.”

“After the hustle and bustle of activities in a city, you need a place to relax, recharge and connect with nature.”

Josphat Ngonyo, chief executive of the African Animal Welfare Network, said it was an unwelcome move by the government. “The park is only 117 square kilometers,” he explained. “It’s too small to house a hotel, and we don’t need to have a hotel in the park as we have so many hotels around Nairobi that can accommodate anyone who wants to visit Nairobi National Park .”

Nairobi’s population kept growing and the city struggled to find land to accommodate the influx of people. This has led some to see Nairobi National Park as a space for the city to expand and provide amenities for those who live there. Ngonyo strongly refutes this argument.

“Whoever says that is making a huge mistake, because a city needs such a place,” he said. “We cannot afford to live in a concrete jungle. After the hustle and bustle of activities in a city, there needs to be a place to relax, recharge and connect with nature.

Currently, the African Sustainability Network is engaging the public to review the park’s controversial management plan. The organization trains community members to understand what the draft management plan means for the park and their livelihoods.

Thus, they will be better informed of their rights and of what they risk losing if KWS decides to build a hotel inside the park. They will then join the protests and make them a stronger force, since they are the first guardians of the park. They are also launching a long-term science initiative to conduct an ecological study of the park to show what they stand to lose ecologically and how this relates to public health and well-being.

The network is also working on a more sustainable strategy to control invasive species in Nairobi National Park, with a focus on parthenium, which is the second most serious threat to the park – apart from encroachments on infrastructure, monitoring of pollution by solid and liquid waste. .

From his experience, Bonke says the struggle to save Nairobi National Park made him realize that there has never been good cooperation between policy makers and relevant organizations to provide the basis for an approach. integrated wildlife conservation.

“Saving wildlife and whole habitat is a climate change mitigation process and a public health concern, which makes the silence of these two groups – when wildlife habitats are destroyed – a huge concern,” did he declare. “There must be proper implementation of land use policy to assess the type of human activities allowed in protected areas and other ecologically significant areas, otherwise the word ‘protected areas’ will become a joke.”

With westernization, Bonke points out, many African communities have gradually moved away from wildlife conservation, which was once an integral part of their lives.

“We are so focused on becoming like Europe which has realized the same mistakes we are making and are working on a ‘regreening Europe’ initiative,” he said. “If this continues, Africa will lose its pride of being the richest continent in terms of biodiversity, health and natural resources. Let’s embrace our roots and develop a more sustainable approach.

The timeline for starting the project, and therefore how much time activists have to shut it down, is currently unknown.

“There isn’t really a timeline, Nairobi National Park will face challenges year after year, so protesting is an ongoing process,” Bonke said.

Currently, the organization advocates an ecosystem approach, which promotes the nature of the park and aligns with the National Wildlife Strategy.

“We work with the adjacent community and relevant stakeholders,” Bonke explained. “The community itself is playing a key role and has even taken the legal route to filing a lawsuit in court against the planned construction.”

The article is originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

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