Another lunatic? The NNP-SGR Madness 

Every time I look up into the night sky, a deep euphoria engulfs me; a deep deep euphoria. I’m tempted to get away and find a wilderness from which to enjoy the night sky,  unperturbed,  and explore the scenery around me even just with my eyes, away from this concrete jungle. 

Yesternight I so foolishly looked at sky again, forgetting its enthralling nature and yeah, the feeling comes and I’m left wondering if everyone feels the same or if I just have the ‘nature’ gene. But I’ve been looking around just in case anyone shows an extra pinch of interest when they look up  or at least a dilation of the pupils… no one ever looks up. What makes my ecstasy even worse is the thought that on the other side of the highway that gets me home – Mombasa road – lies a wilderness like no other; if there were a straight way through I’d be there in 15. Nairobi National Park. 

I’ve written about it in detail previously so I will not dwell there but I will dwell on what will soon be passing through it – a 6 km iron snake. I’ll try to alleviate the situation by saying that it passes over the park – a bullet to the chest and not the head. 

The Standard Gauge Railway is a flagship project for Kenya’s vision 2030 and the first major project to kick off with the first phase from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi just about complete with four locomotives and two railway engines already in the country and a total of 50 set to be here by May. A good project expected to significantly improve transport in the region and grow the port of Mombasa but one riddled with controversy and very questionable decisions. 

The Standard Gauge Railway Phase 1

The first phase has already dealt a blow to the Tsavo National Park by affecting key elephant migratory routes and causing ‘unforeseen’  environmental concerns on both people and wildlife. The railway had to pass through the Tsavo, just like the ‘lunatic express’, but measures could be put to alleviate some disturbances. 

The fact that the Chinese are building the railway is quite chilling to me

The Nairobi National Park, on the other hand, is quite a different matter. When news broke that the Kenya Railways Corporation was considering a route through the park, angry ‘tree huggers’ spoke out, but this was answered with a press statement by KWS chair Dr. Richard Leakey on the route chosen by ‘involved stakeholders’. Nonchalant protests followed as we championed the ‘Save NNP Campaign’… Nonchalant because the only responses we got were an occasional passing word by a ministry official and an insult from the highest office. The poor media coverage didn’t help either. 

What did seem to help was a NNP-SGR dialogue, organized by mindful conservationists led by Dr. Paula Kahumbu, that I myself attended with a lot of resolutions made and forwarded as an appeal; even with alternative routes given. All this while, certain illegal decisions were being made to proceed with it including a launch by the president! The National Environment Management Authority then called for petitions against the railway and stopped its construction – which I did with childish enthusiasm as did many other people and organizations. A public hearing was held on the 8th of December and a mere five days later on the 13th, a license issued to the railway corporation to proceed through the park. Never mind that there was a weekend and a public holiday in between so all this was effectively processed in one working day – pretty solid work for an authority that has complained of a limited workforce. I couldn’t help but notice how each government authority worked in spectacular fashion to one common goal,all with a sprinkling of lunacy. 

And so, I await, fingers crossed, to see whether the park will be crossing my mind when I look up to the starry night in the days ahead or if the snake will eat it up. I await to see, fingers crossed, whether the park will be crossing my daughter’s (look at my bias)  mind decades to come when she looks up to the night sky, if she ever does. 

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