Kenyans hold a dialogue on how best to achieve a balance between conservation and infrastructure development in SGR Phase 2A
On 7th October, the Kenya Railways, Kenya Wildlife Service, and several conservation and research institutions agreed to hold a dialogue meeting on 27th October to address the question, “HOW CAN WE BEST ACHIEVE A BALANCE BETWEEN CONSERVATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT IN SGR PHASE 2A?”.
176 participants engaged in the one day discussion using the Open Space method which was facilitated by London based firm Public Service Works. Participants of the dialogue represented a cross section of stakeholders including industrialists, land owners, community, scientists, park managers, lawyers, conservationists, park users, tourism sector, railway engineers and others. Participants engaged in 17 different meetings and conversations for which the outcomes will be shared in a final report to be circulated this week. Eight major recommendations emerged all of which were urgent and important, and which can be broadly categorized into three groups.
- The participants all agreed that Kenya needs the Standard Gauge Railway as it will spur economic growth, poverty alleviation and bring great rewards to Kenya. However, there was overwhelming support that the SGR should not go through the Nairobi National Park which would destroy the park, damage the Presidents reputation as Africa’s greatest conservation champion, and set a dangerous precedent. They agreed that the conservation reputation of the President and the nation could not be compromised and that technical and financial solutions must be found to enable it to be re-routed so that Kenya could enjoy the benefits of both the Park and the SGR. This require engineers to work with the Kenya Railways to conduct technical assessments of alternative routes. Financial considerations to address the additional cost must be addressed.
- Participants expressed great concern at the apparent non-compliance with Kenya’s laws and insisted that rule of law must prevail. They agreed that the construction of the SGR must be compliant with the laws of Kenya as well as regional legislation and other environmental commitments. This includes compliance with the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, 1999, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, the Wildlife Act, the Constitution and Kenya’s commitments to bodies within United Nations such as the SDG’s. This includes ensuring that the construction of the SGR adheres to court orders.
- The participants agreed that a major communications campaign through the media houses was needed to promote better understanding and love of the Nairobi National Park and conservation in general. As a first step, they proposed that on 16 December 2016, a major celebration be held for the Park’s 70th birthday through school activities and involving Kenya’s First Lady.
As the convenor of the event, WildlifeDirect CEO said, “I was touched and moved by the level of engagement, the seriousness with which participants addressed the issues, the honesty and the willingness to challenge one another over such a contentious issue”. After the meeting began, it was revealed that the Kenya Railways had published their EIA report in the daily newspaper that morning. The failure of the Kenya Railways to inform the organizers so that this document could have informed the discussion was regrettable and caused huge disappointment amongst participants.
The Dialogue meeting on the SGR and the Nairobi Park illustrated the power of bringing together different stakeholders to share in finding a solution and committing to participating in the actions identified. This method can become a powerful tool towards promoting public participation, building consensus and mobilizing public support and ownership of any future government project. This will accelerate progress and significantly reduce the costs litigation.