VISHWANATH: Tragedy of elite capture in Nairobi National Park management plan

The gate to the Kenya Wildlife Service Headquaters and the Nairobi National Park along Langata Road on October 17, 2019. PHOTO| KANYIRI WAHITO

What you need to know:

The draft management plan, developed by the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism and the Kenya Wildlife Service, lays out ambitious proposals to transform the Nairobi National Park.

The plan proposes several actions to improve the ecology of the park, develop and diversify visitor experience, improve security and overhaul park management.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruptions in Kenya. It is only right that the country’s focus at the moment is to contain and eliminate this pandemic within our borders.

It is therefore strange that a new draft management plan for the Nairobi National Park has been released at this time, with a concerted effort to have it finalised as a matter of urgency. The cynics amongst us would argue that there is something deeply suspicious about this, while to most, it would appear as just a case of misplaced priority.

The draft management plan, developed by the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism and the Kenya Wildlife Service, lays out ambitious proposals to transform the Nairobi National Park.

The plan proposes several actions to improve the ecology of the park, develop and diversify visitor experience, improve security and overhaul park management.

A PUBLIC GREEN SPACE

The Nairobi Park is a public green space, a wilderness marvel, and should be managed as such.

The focus should be on restoring and improving the natural heritage value of the park and making it more accessible for the average Kenyan.

In saying this, it is imperative that the authorities engage the Kenyan public in developing a common vision for the park and subsequently identify the actions needed to achieve that vision. Instead, there seems to be a heavy top-down approach to the future management of this park, one that has been in designed in boardrooms based on the interests and vision of a select group of individuals.

Intrusions into the park of the Southern Bypass, the Standard Gauge Railway and the Inland Container Depot access road have threatened the very existence of this park.

In a meeting with select stakeholders in February this year, the CS, Mr Najib Balala, admitted that these developments in the park, the SGR in particular, were a terrible mistake by the government, adding that it would never have happened if he was in charge at the time. These mistakes happened due to a combination of greed, ego, contempt for the views of the public, and a disregard for science. It is this very same attitude that seems now to be underpinning this draft management plan.

SEVERE DAMAGE TO PARK’S ECOSYSTEM

The plan proposes the development of high-end restaurants and eco-lodges, adventure sport infrastructure and other such amenities that will cause severe damage to the park’s ecosystem and is designed to serve only elite Kenyans and wealthy foreign tourists.  KWS also recently backed down, albeit temporarily, on increasing the park’s entrance fee for Kenyans by nearly three-fold. The draft plan also ironically considers fencing of the entire park as a means “winning space for wildlife”, never mind that this then excludes the entire dispersal area and wildlife from connectivity with the park. Even some of the actions proposed to improve the ecology of the park don’t appear to be based on sound science. 

Kenyans deserve so much better. The authorities must operate in a more transparent, honest and genuine manner.

For starters, it is incumbent on them to suspend any process related to this draft plan until the Covid-19 crisis is well and truly behind us.

They must also declare to Kenyans that they will not allow any further commercial, industrial and national transport infrastructure to be built in the Nairobi Park, nor will they allow the park to fall victim to land grabs and elite capture.

The priorities for the park should be to restore its ecological integrity and making it more accessible to all Kenyans.

Going forward, it would be wise for the government to re-start the process of developing the management plan, working with stakeholders from the very beginning, developing a shared understanding of the vision for the park, relying on strong science, allowing for extensive feedback, and recommendations thereof properly considered and incorporated into a draft plan.

Kenyans recognise that the long-term national response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be a revolution that puts good governance and public service at the heart of our culture as a nation.

This is what Kenyans expect, and this is what they should get. Perhaps the Nairobi National Park is a good place to start.

 

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Akshay Vishwanath is an environmentalist. Twitter - @akvish86; email: [email protected]

 

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