Emerging news of gazette notices about compulsory acquisition of land for the construction of the new standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi, affecting land inside the Tsavo National Park to the tune of over 250 acres, has triggered the alarm bells among the conservation fraternity in Kenya.
Present law requires that any national park land intended for other purposes than conservation requires an elaborate process of “de-gazetting” by Kenya’s parliament, a fact overlooked even by the planners of Nairobi’s Southern Bypass who got slapped by an injunction when they tried to commandeer the land at the edge of the Nairobi National Park before a legal case was brought to stop them.
Conservationists have now written to this correspondent and asked to highlight their concerns that the new railway line, when reaching the outskirts of Nairobi, would equally seek to carve out a route at the edge of the park, joining the highway project, which according to reliable information at hand does not intend to seek alternative land, mainly by saying that there is no viable alternative, and intend to have government initiate the process of de-gazetting national park land. Opposition was also voiced over the planned destruction of the African Heritage building, which has over the years, since moving the gallery and art center from the city to the outskirts along the Mombasa road, become a focal point for the local, regional and international fashion, art and craft scene. That building, along with others, is apparently to be razed to the ground to make way for the new railroad, potentially pitting supporters of the African Heritage building against those who vowed to resist any more land to be carved from the park.
Figures obtained from Nairobi speak of a compulsory acquisition of land for the new railway line of over 5,500 acres along the proposed route, potentially also affecting protected areas along the route into and across the Rift Valley towards the border with Uganda and the Kenyan lakeside port city of Kisumu.
More independent observers have, while expressing sympathy to the conservation fraternity, however pointed out that there is little which can be done once parliament de-gazettes land now under the jurisdiction of the Kenya Wildlife Service as a protected area, and advised the conservationists to rather concentrate to horse trade with government to get added funding for conservation and work towards being allocated more land elsewhere along the affected parks in mitigation of the likely loss of land for road and railway projects. Whichever way this latest saga of conservation versus “progress and development” plays out, be sure to read any future developments right here.