Conservationists win after court suspends Sh4.4bn Aberdare road project

Aberdare forest

An old tarmac road cutting through Aberdare forest from Ndunyu Njeru to Aberdare National Park’s Mutubio gate. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

The Nyeri Environment and Land Court has stopped the planned building of a road through the Aberdare National Park and Aberdare Forest.

This follows a petition filed by the East Africa Wildlife Society, Kenya Forest Working Group, Africa Centre for Peace and Human Rights and lawyer Lempaa Suyianka.

“A conservatory order is issued to preserve the Aberdare National Park and Aberdare forest by stopping the respondents or their agents from continuing the planned construction or any activity concerning construction of Mau Mau LOT 4: Ihithe-Ndunyu Njeru Road traversing the Aberdare National Park and Aberdare forest pending inter partes hearing of the application on 29/4/2024 before the Environment and Land Court judge in Nyeri,” ruled Justice Kossy Bor.

She also directed the petitioners to serve the application upon all the respondents.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), Kenya Water Towers Agency, Norken International Limited and National Environment Management Authority (Nema) have been listed as respondents.

The Law Society of Kenya, National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service are named as interested parties.

The lobbies moved to court in March to block the planned construction of the controversial 52- 52-kilometre Mau-Mau road, which cuts through the national park and forest.

The conservationists argued that if the Sh4.4 billion road is not stopped, it would have harmful and irreversible environmental, economic and cultural impacts on the Aberdare ecosystem.

The lobbies and Mr Suyianka said the construction of the road would imperil rare, endemic and critically endangered animals and plants.

“The Aberdare is a critical water catchment for millions of people, livestock and wildlife across Kenya. It supplies 80 per cent of the water Nairobi City County uses through Sasumua and Ndakaini dams and generates 55 per cent of Kenya’s hydroelectric power,” the petitioners stated.

Conservationists have opposed the construction of the Ihithe-Ndunyu Njeru road and called on Nema to reverse the decision to grant a license for the construction of the road.

An appeal has been filed at the Environmental Tribunal in Nairobi contesting the same.

Lawyer Amos Shihundu said the Aberdare is a protected and fragile ecosystem hosting rare and endemic species, besides critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, threatened, and near threatened species as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

“Besides, the Aberdare mountain is on the tentative List of Unesco World Heritage sites as one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa with great scenic beauty. And for supporting important ecological processes within and beyond its catchment and hosting endemic and endangered species,” the lawyer submitted.

The petitioners had expressed their fear that KeNHA could begin to construct the road as the case was being heard, a move that would have irreversible environmental and cultural impacts on the Aberdare ecosystem.

They want the court to decide whether the risk of extinction of at least four species in the Aberdares, including the mountain bongo, and other issues in the case are substantial questions of law and should be set for hearing by a bench of five or seven judges appointed by the Chief Justice.

It is their argument that the road construction fails to consider five alternative routes, each offering a significantly diminished environmental footprint and cost implications, and adherence to imperatives such as adaptive management, wildlife corridors, climate resilience, preservation of cultural heritage, and necessitating fewer mitigation measures.

“The road threatens the cultural heritage sites of considerable significance to local communities and the national historical landscape, potentially resulting in their irreversible destruction,” the conservationists said.