The Association of Kenya Elders (TAKE) has asked the government to reroute the proposed Sh.300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway through Tsavo National Park wildlife corridor to save on costs and avoid massive displacement of hundreds of residents living along the project route.
The TAKE’s Executive Director Coast region, Philip Mark Otiang’a said the new expressway route ought to be constructed along the wildlife corridor from Manyani area to Taru near the boundary of Kwale County.
He said the re-routing would save the government millions of shillings set aside for compensations while avoiding displacement of hundreds of farmers from their ancestral land.
Speaking at his office in Voi town on Monday, Otiang’a said the expressway was a noble project but there was need for government to use its land to cut down on costs.
“There is enough government land adjacent to the old railway line along the wildlife corridor for this project. It can be done with minimum disruptions,” he said.
He further disclosed that no public participation was done among the people who would be affected by the project. He noted that local residents were bewildered after strangers started erecting concrete beacons on their land without informing them what was happening. This, he said, added to the sense of trepidation most local residents have towards big government projects.
He accused Kenya National Highway Authorities (KeNHA) of holding public participation meetings in five-star hotels where they briefed political leaders of the project while people who would directly be affected by the project were left in the dark.
His organization had written a memorandum to various government agencies to express reservation over the way the public participation was done while offering alternatives that would see the project succeed at minimum costs.
Amongst some of the issues highlighted in the memorandum included lack of title deeds by hundreds of land owners which would complicate compensation issues. The memorandum also states that areas of Marapu, Talio, Tausa and Ndii where the road would pass never had any public participation.
Already, KeNHA officials were expected in the region on Tuesday to meet hundreds of local residents to provide more details on the project including the possibility of displacement and compensation.
“We are coming to have a candid conversation about this project. KeNHA needs to be very honest on what this project entails and possible effects,” said Otiang’a.
In August 2017, KeNHA signed a Sh300 billion contract for the construction of the 473-km expressway with American construction giant Bechtel Corporation. The project will be funded by US Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and UK Export Finance.
However, a section of the locals remained suspicious of the project claiming they were short-changed by the government in past projects.
A resident, Robert Mwandawiro, said dozens of locals were still waiting for compensation from Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project after they were displaced from their land. Other residents never got the promised compensation from Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) after they moved away from their land to pave way for erection of massive pylons for high-voltage power cables.
“People are understandably very concerned. Ketraco and SGR passed through this land and people are still demanding for their compensation. They feel this expressway will be another pain for them,” he said.
He pointed out that Tsavo National Park has enough land to accommodate the project with no disruption and at minimum of costs on the part of the government. He said the money for the project was a loan that must be paid with interest. Using the wildlife corridor would cut costs by huge margins, noting such a move would minimize corruption as the aspect of compensation to many people would not be there.
“This is the best option for government to take,” he said.
The proposal for the 473-km expressway to cut through Tsavo Park is likely to trigger outcry from conservationists who are still upset by construction of SGR through the park. They were further incensed when Zakhem International Construction dug kilometers of trenches in the park for oil pipeline. Such projects and increased human activities threaten the delicate Tsavo ecosystem.
The conservationists argued that land in Tsavo National Park was shrinking placing thousands of endangered wild animals at the risk of extinction.
A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) honorary warden, Ben Kigo said Tsavo National Park was a delicate national heritage that needed to be conserved for posterity. He added that there was need to stop viewing Tsavo as a vast idle land stating it was home to millions of wildlife including plants, animals and insects.
Kigo, who is also the chairman of Tsavo Rangeland Foundation, said the government projects should be tempered with awareness on the importance of conserving the environment.
“The designers of the expressway know the importance of Tsavo as a national resource. It should be spared for future generations,” he said. He added that most locals would be economically empowered from the compensation they would receive.
The Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway will be amongst major multi-billion government projects that have passed through the region within the last ten years. Other projects include Standard Gauge Railway, Zakhem Oil Pipeline and KETRACO power-line project.
The expressway will be a dual carriage with four lanes to ease congestion. According to the design, the road will involve 85 million M3 of excavation and will have 76 overpasses, 21 underpasses, 189 culverts and 13 viaducts for wildlife movement. The road will have 19 interchanges with Mtito, Tsavo River, Voi, Maungu and Mackinnon townships having an interchange each. At Voi, the road will have a provision for construction of Special Economic Zone.
The project is expected to employ over 4, 000 people. The project, which is in 10 sections was slotted to start in 2018 and be completed in 2023. Once done, travel time between the two cities will be only four hours.
By Wagema Mwangi