The preservation of one of the greatest treasures of what is known to many as the ‘Green City in the Sun’, Nairobi, is at stake. As outlined in what seems to have been a hurriedly published newspaper public notice, the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) has its eyes set on putting up a five-star hotel in the heart of the Nairobi National Park as outlined in the Park’s draft Management Plan 2020-2030. The notice called for comments from the public, requesting for views on the proposed plan to be submitted to KWS by 19 April 2020, a Sunday, nevertheless. As expected, this move, in addition to the short notice to the public, drew a lot of public outcry from conservationists and other players keen on environmental protection. Consequently, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife has since directed that KWS extends the deadline for submissions to the end of June 2020 in order to give ample time for public participation.
While the extended deadline gives wiggle room for action against the proposal, the fact that the Park’s management is considering a development of this scale within the Park is an indication that the custodians of our natural resources do not appreciate the value of the Nairobi National Park in an urban set up. The Park is an eco-asset for Kenya’s capital, not forgetting that this is the only national park in the world situated in a city. The Park is an eco-asset that provides high value for little cost.
Firstly, the forest vegetation in the Park provides a cooling effect and attracts rain within the city and its environs. The construction of a five-star hotel means that a sizeable portion of the Park’s vegetation shall be destroyed, not to mention the accompanying destructive nature of the excavation and movement of heavy construction machinery beyond the designated area.
Secondly, the presence of natural vegetation and forest cover in a busy city like Nairobi which is vulnerable to air pollution means that the air is constantly purified, hence reducing air pollution levels significantly. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) gives various perspectives on why policymakers and private sector players should constantly work together to build climate-resilient cities. Building urban climate-resilience improves the quality of life for urban dwellers and also mitigates urban areas against the negative impacts of climate change.
Thirdly, the Nairobi National Park is a great tourist attraction earning Kenya significant revenue. According to a 2019 working paper, Developing Nature-Based Tourism in Africa’s State Protected Areas, tourism drives 8.5 percent of Africa’s GDP and 80 percent of sales for trips to Africa are by tourists coming to see wildlife. In Kenya, the tourism sector contributed 8.8 percent of GDP in 2018 and the country has been ranked the third largest tourism economy in sub-Saharan Africa. The Park also provides green spaces for residents from within and outside the city, a peaceful getaway tucked away in the heart of the bustling city. While arguments for the construction of the five-star hotel within the Nairobi National Park may be on the premise that this is set to increase revenue, the reality is that increased activity within the park will lead to the destruction of the natural ecosystems within which the wildlife thrive. Consequently, there will be no wildlife to attract tourists, both domestic and international. The Park has already faced considerable destruction and disruption of the wildlife’s natural ecosystem with the construction of the standard gauge railway and the ongoing construction of a 4-kilometre diversion connecting Nairobi Inland Container Depot to the Southern bypass near Wilson Airport.
Over the years, KWS has been under pressure to devise ways of increasing tourist revenue through the country’s national parks. However, this is move is not it – compromising the climate resilience of Kenya’s capital and national heritage should not be left unchallenged. The destruction of the Park’s ecosystem that will ensue if this mega development goes through to completion will be far greater than the perceived benefits of having a fancy hotel within the Park. The custodians of our natural heritage, KWS and the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, should look beyond the short-term gains and view the interconnected impacts of this development.