Kenya Wildlife Service halts construction of hotel in Nairobi Park
After the sustained pressure from conservation groups, the Tourism and Wildlife ministry has now directed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to suspend plans to build a hotel inside Nairobi National Park until after a public participation forum is held.
Ahmed Elmawi, the ministry’s head of communications says the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala, has directed KWS to give more time, up to the end of June, for the review of the 2020-2030 Nairobi National Park Management Plan for public participation.
“The public participation shall be extended for the public to raise their concerns or support, so that analyses and improvement of the plan can be undertaken for public interest,” he said.
Speaking during a radio interview last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta said due processes, including public participation, would be adhered to before the hotel is constructed.
Wildlife conservation groups have been accusing KWS of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to stop plans to build the hotel.
They have been agitating for KWS to suspend the planning process until after the Coronavirus epidemic to allow what it calls ‘a proper stakeholders participation’.
Dr Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of Wildlife Direct, said KWS manages the park on behalf of the people of Kenya and asked the Senate to address the issue of the government using Covid-19 as a cover to exclude public participation in the park planning process for the hotel to be built in the park.
“We ask the Senate to ensure that KWS suspends park planning process until after Covid-19 to allow proper participation,” she said.
The revelation about the hotel project is contained in the Nairobi National Park 10-year management plan, which details KWS’s intention to build an eco-lodge and a high-end restaurant in the park.
The public and conservation stakeholders had up to April 19 to give their views on the plan after the document was to be gazetted.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line passes through parts of Nairobi National Park, which occupies 15 per cent of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi.
The UK-based Cambridge University Wildlife Conservation Society (UWS), in a tweet, said the park, which has for several years been encroached on, should be protected for posterity.
“It would be better if KWS focused on securing Nairobi National Park’s wildlife dispersal areas rather than increasing buildings and development within what is a small protected area, which has had multiple attacks on its integrity,” UWS said.
Jacob Mulei, a member of Friends of Nairobi National Park says the construction of SGR through the park and now the planned building of a hotel will decrease its size and force some wildlife species to disappear.
The first park to be gazetted in Kenya on December 16, 1946, Nairobi National Park is set on the city’s southern outskirts and at 117sq km, is one of Africa’s smallest.
It boasts abundant wildlife that can, in places, be viewed against a backdrop of city skyscrapers and planes coming in to land – it’s the only national park on earth bordering a capital city.
Loved by local and international visitors for its picnic sites, campsites and the walking trails for hikers, the park’s wetland areas sustain 400 bird species — more than in the whole of the UK.
Animals include buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, baboon, zebra, wildebeest and cheetah —b100 mammal species, 400 migratory and endemic bird species.
According to Mulei, some cat species have already disappeared from their habitats and breeding grounds because of unchecked development.
“The railway line was constructed despite opposition from conservationists and people who love nature.
Over the last three decades, the park has lost more than 10,000 acres of land to developers,” he says.
Dr Kahumbu says Kenyans view the park as a vital component, adding that they care about and appreciate open the space, authentic wild, nature, greenery, wildlife and birds.
“Planning for the future of the park is an opportunity for Kenyans to engage in designing a future that reflects their values and aspirations to co-create and co-own it. The future planning should wait until after the epidemic,” she said.
Public participation, she added, is enshrined in the Constitution, the Wildlife Act and the National Wildlife Strategy and asked the State to abide by the rule of Law.