(eTN) - Reaction to last week's cabinet decision to apparently ignore the license terms granted by NEMA in connection with the Southern Bypass now going under construction and sanction a route inside the boundaries of the Nairobi National Park, has brought the almost inevitable reaction from the conservation fraternity.
Within two days of the cabinet decision becoming public knowledge, the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANEW) has joined hands with the influential East African Wildlife Society and at least one individual conservationist, award-winning Dr. Paula Kahumbu, to take government to court and begin the long legal battle ahead to save the national park from being encroached and thus setting a significant precedent for future land grabs, as the Kenyan capital is bursting at the seams.
âThe cabinet decision, which is now on record, is the first significant piece of evidence that the various terms granted by NEMA in connection with the license to build a Southern Bypass, is being ignored. Now that can be taken to court where first an injunction is sought before then moving to the stage of having a full hearing to determine the case of saving the park. You have last year written yourself about the scenario, where after the first section of land is heaved off for whatever purpose, will eventually be cited as a reason to encroach more and more. Land grabbing would be the most lucrative business as every acre taken off the park would be worth its size in gold.
âOver the years, the migration routes in and out of the park have been progressively shut off by farming, manufacturing, and housing in that corridor, and Nairobi National Park is rapidly becoming an island in the midst of a sea of humanity. ANEW has successfully made a case against the Tanzanian government at the East African Court of Justice over the plans for the Serengeti highway they were planning. They defeated the defense that EACJ is not a competent court to hear such cases, but [the] court had different opinions. After the decision was appealed, the appellate division confirmed jurisdiction and even the Kenyan case could head there in the end.
:For now, legal action is going underway. We expect the plaintiffs, all conservationists with a pedigree of honest background in conservation, to be pressurized and harassed even, but that case will now go ahead. That highway cannot be built until the court cases, if necessary to the highest instance, will be concluded,â said a regular Nairobi-based conservation source to this correspondent after his arrival in Kenya over the weekend.
As written here previously, the new highway, if government has its way, will excise a significant portion just inside the park boundary from near the Ole Sereni Hotel along Mombasa road to near the Langata park gate, but by having to bypass Wilson Airport, where a buffer zone behind one of the runways is required, the incision will be far deeper than initially let on by the planners as the financiers have ruled out paying for a tunnel under that particular area for purely financial reasons. Added the source: âIt is here that we feel misled by government, and if they can do that today, what will they invent next time they can see a big payday to heave off a few hundred acres here and a few hundred more elsewhere for say housing estates? Can we ever trust them again to be the principal protector of our national heritage?â
Notably, a second such case did come into the public domain last year when the Kenya Road Authority, hand in hand with the Nakuru council, proposed a routing of a bypass highway around Nakuru also passing through park land, raising immediate protests at the time. The cabinet decision last week to sanction the highway routing of the Nairobi Southern Bypass to go into the park, as the very highest level of government, has revived fears that for Nakuru, too, a similar decision could be taken, irreparably altering the fabric of that relatively small park, which is one of the largest rhino sanctuaries in the country and regularly home to millions of flamingos.
With the gauntlet now thrown to the conservation fraternity, and a multi-billion Kenya shilling offer for the Kenya Wildlife Service being dangled as the proverbial carrot, to allow them to buy alternative land elsewhere, the combined assault on the environment by East Africa's governments has been moved a notch up, and it is now up to the respective national judiciary or even the East African Court of Justice as a last resort, to protect East Africa's wildlife heritage from present and future attacks of this kind.