In the historic ruling on the presidential election petition in Kenya, Chief Justice David Maraga stated: “Elections are not an event, they are a process from beginning to end.” In saying this, he emphasized that upholding high standards through all stages in an undertaking is as important, if not more important, than the final product.
I would like to extend Maraga’s statement to development. That is, development too is a process and not an event. Development does not occur by putting up infrastructure that are mere displays of progress, but rather it is the product of an entire process in which the citizens of a nation are provided with the means to enable them make their lives better.
The construction of Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) through Tsavo and Nairobi National Park (NNP) is an insightful case study in how the Kenyan decision-makers and the country’s elite understand development.
In a March 2016 interview in Swara magazine, Richard Leakey, the Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said: “First of all the SGR shouldn’t have gone through Tsavo in the way it did. It has done a lot of environmental damage but that was an issue that had been concluded before the board came into business.”
The conclusion one easily reaches after reading this is that the environmental damage could have been avoided had those responsible for the construction of the railway, primarily the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC), taken the effort to involve the right people and stakeholders in the planning process.
Leakey went on to say: “There are a number of places that it could have run which would have far less damage but that’s a closed chapter now. We have mitigated where we can with underpasses and bridges and fences. We have to deal with the situation now.”
The evidence of this destruction and the impacts it has had on elephant populations and movement has already been documented in a joint study by Save the Elephants and KWS. Evidently, ensuring the railway was in place was more important than the process by which it was designed and the need to cater to wide-ranging set of interests – economic, social and environmental.
In this context, it has been very interesting to hear the Kenya Railways Corporation speak proudly about the “wildlife-compatible bridges” in Tsavo — with complete disregard for the actual facts of the matter — as a means to justify the design of the railway super-bridge across NNP. As it was in Tsavo, the threat to the park brought about by this mega-infrastructure development has been neglected in its entirety due to the need for expediency on the part of the proponents (KRC).
The proponents of the railway never learnt the lessons arising from the Tsavo experience. Despite repeated warnings on the threat the railway would pose to the Nairobi National Park, the proponents once again chose to ignore relevant stakeholders, designing and planning SGR Phase 2A (Nairobi-Naivasha) in a non-transparent manner.
Kenyans were in for a shock when it was announced that the railway would cut right across the Nairobi National Park. Stakeholder consultation prior to this announcement were non-existent, and not much changed afterwards, particularly when the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was being conducted.
Formal stakeholder consultations required by law were actually two-hour lectures on the benefits of the railway, with no room for discussion. Prior information was never provided on any public platform, so the vast majority attending these consultations were receiving information for the first time, with no opportunity to properly analyse it and make informed comments.
Several consultations were cancelled at the last minute with no reasons provided. The location of a national level consultation held in December 2016 was never revealed until the evening before the event. Vague information posted on the NEMA [National Environmental Management Authority] website indicated the location would be in some remote part of Mai Mahiu. Not surprisingly, stakeholders who managed to pool transport resources and make their way there had a tough time locating the venue.
The ESIA report that was produced, though voluminous, was shambolic. It was poorly written, lacked details and was biased towards supporting a single preferred path.
The most glaringly deficiency was the absence in the ESIA of consideration of any alignment that avoids the NNP entirely. The ESIA did not adequately identify all the potential ecological impacts of the proposed railway, and many of the obvious and likely impacts were either not mentioned at all or were covered very superficially. Indeed, some sections read more like an advertising or promotional document supporting the project, rather than an unbiased, scientific decision-making tool. Finally, the ESIA was seriously deficient in the absence of consultation with recognised global experts on the impacts of habitat fragmentation and the ecology of linear infrastructure, such as roads and rail.
It would be laughable, if the situation was not so tragic, that the ESIA justified the routing of the railway through NNP on the basis of the fact that several other railways across the world do the same. Just because a railroad runs through a national park somewhere else does not, by itself, justify the alignment of the proposed railway through NNP!
After a review of the so-called public consultations and the ESIA report, NEMA secretly issued the EIA licence on 13 December 2016, allowing the construction of the railway to proceed through the park. Many conditions stated in the licence can hardly be enforced due to their vagueness. For example, it states that the proponents shall ensure that environmental damage to water bodies and other critical wildlife habitat is minimized. Without conditions requiring proper baselines being established, and monitoring protocols being enforced, how does one ensure that the impact is minimized?
The Save Nairobi National Park Campaign, a coalition of concerned organisations and individuals who are against the construction of the railway through NNP, has been working tirelessly to address these shortcomings and hold those responsible to account. Multiple court injunctions in our favour, including one challenging draconian and hurriedly passed amendments to the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, have been key to ensuring that no construction work has begun in the park.
Though the injunctions cover the entire Phase 2A of the SGR, there is ongoing work around the Ngong Hills and in Suswa. These works are in complete contempt of court orders.
It has been clear to all of us concerned that in the case of the SGR construction through NNP the law has been subverted to ensure certain outcomes. It is the intention of the SaveNNP Campaign to ensure that a ‘certain process’ is followed so that the outcomes truly reflect the desires of Kenyans, promote our sustainable development goals, and protect this great natural heritage for future generations of Kenyans.